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11 Banned Math Word Problems

Updated on September 10, 2015
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TR Smith is a product designer and former teacher who uses math in her work every day.

Today, public school curriculum is sanitized to avoid upsetting children with offensive math word problems. But you can still find "gems" in non-mainstream teaching materials.

Pre-1950s textbooks often have sexist and racist math word problems. In other countries, math lessons may feature references to oppressive regimes or be used to indoctrinate children. Some independent publishers use word problems that discuss alcohol, violence, drugs, sex, crime, death, and other topics unsuitable for children. Others mix too much religion into a secular education.

Here is a sample of scandalous math problems that would be banned in modern public schools for their inappropriate scenarios. How many of them can you solve?

Word Problem 1: Dead Children

Jerry's uncle gave him 597 glass marbles for Christmas. Jerry ate 102 of them and died. At his funeral, Jerry's parents distributed the remaining marbles among five of his classmates who came to the burial. How many marbles did each classmate receive?

Word Problem 2: Alcohol Math

Jed operates an illegal distillery. In the month of May he produced 60 gallons of moonshine. In June he produced 2/3 of what he produced in May. In July he produced 30% more than what he produced in June. If distilleries are taxed at a rate of $0.85 per gallon produced, how much did Jed pay in alcohol taxes for the months of May, June, and July?

Word Problem 3: Cannibal Math

For a cannibal tribe in Papua New Guinea a missionary or explorer is a rare treat. A missionary can feed 13 people while an explorer can feed 16. For a tribe of 257 cannibals, how many missionaries and explorers do they need to capture to feed everyone exactly one portion?

Two of the cannibals die of kuru and the tribe is down to 255. How many missionaries and explorers do they need to capture to feed everyone exactly one portion? What is strange about the answers you obtained?

Word Problem 4: Slavery Math

Master Henry has three slaves -- Abraham, Benjamin, and Curtis. From past experience, Henry knows that working together, Abe and Ben can clear a 2-acre field in 60 minutes. Abe and Curt can clear the same field in 60 minutes as well. And Ben and Curt can clear the field in 90 minutes if they work together. How long will it take to clear the field if all three slaves work together?

Word Problem 5: Moonshine Riddle

While Jed was out of town his three cousins Paul, Quinn, and Randy each broke into his still and stole some bottles of moonshine. Upon his return, he discovered that 25 bottles were missing and he knew his three cousins had stolen them. With a shotgun, he went to their hangout to collect payment for each missing bottle, and to extract an extra payment from the one who had stolen the most.

When he got to their hangout, Paul said "Yes, I stole some of your moonshine, but Quinn stole 4 more bottles than I did." Quinn said, "I did steal some of your shine, but Randy stole 7 more bottles than I did." Randy said, "I stole from you, but Paul stole 6 more bottles than I did."

Jed said it was impossible for all three statements to be true and that some or all of them were lying. His cousin Maria was in the room during the discussion and told Jed that exactly one of the three was lying, but wouldn't tell him which one.

Which cousin was lying, and how many bottles did each one steal?

Word Problem 6: Spanking Math

If Tom steals one egg from the chicken coop during the day, his father will find out and give him three whippings at night. If Tom steals two eggs, his father will give him five whippings. Tom never steals more than two eggs, and his father never beats him for other reasons. Over the course of two weeks, Tom's whippings amounted to 54. What is the least number of eggs Tom could have stolen? What is the greatest number?

Word Problem 7: Third Reich Bombing Raid

A bomber is loaded with 29 bombs that weigh 11 kilograms each and 1620 kilograms of fuel. It flies to Warsaw, the international center of Jewry, drops its bombs and then returns to base. At takeoff the plane weighs 8500 kilograms and when it returns it weighs 6840 kilograms. How much fuel is left?

Word Problem 8: Delilah's Delights

Delilah runs a brothel with 80 girls. 20% of them are between 14 and 19 years old, 55% are between 20 and 30 years old, and the rest are over 30 years old. The 14- to 19-year-olds can work 15 hours per week, the 20- to 30-year olds can work 20 hours per week, and the rest can work 17 hours per week. The 14- to 19-year-olds bring in $200 per hour, the 20- to 30-year-olds bring in $180 per hour, and the rest bring in $150 per hour. How much does Delilah's brothel bring in per week?

Word Problem 9: The Wrath of God

God smote a city full of sinners in the following manner. On the first night he struck down 1 sinner, the second night 4 sinners, the third night 7 sinners, the fourth night 10 sinners, etc. If God continued striking down the wicked following this pattern, how long did it take to destroy a town of 1001 sinners? How many did God kill on the last night of his wrath?

Word Problem 10: In da Ghetto

Mr. Lake teaches in the inner city. In his class, the semester grade is determined as a weighted average of weekly homework and two tests. The weekly homework is worth 20% of the grade and each test is worth 40% of the grade. All three components are scored over 100. His three worst students are Latonyah, Deshaundra, and Tyleisha, in some order.

  • Latonyah has a homework average of 37 and she scored 52 on both tests.
  • Deshaundra has a homework average of 60. She scored 65 on the first test and 22 on the second test.
  • Tyleisha has a homework average of 52. She scored 30 on the first test and 56 on the second test.

Who is the worst student? Who is the second worst student?

Word Problem 11: Adultery Math

Two men discuss the ideal age for a man to divorce his wife and marry his mistress. Robert says the best time for a man to marry his mistress is when she is half the man's age plus seven years. Crosley says the best time is when the mistress is 2/3 the man's age minus 2 years.

Jim is 37 years old and his secretary Bettie is 20. When should Jim leave his wife to marry Bettie according to Robert's rule? According to Crosley's rule? Whose rule is better?

Harry is 47 years old and his secretary Margot is 23. When should Harry leave his wife to marry Margot accroding to Robert's rule? According to Crosley's rule? Whose rule is better in this case?


Each of Jerry's friends receives 99 marbles. Let's hope they don't eat them and die too.

This is a trick question because the operator of an illegal distillery pays zero tax.

It takes 5 missionaries and 12 explorers to make exactly 257 cannibal portions. It takes 11 missionaries and 7 explorers to make 255 cannibal portions. The odd thing about the two answers is that they are solutions to a cannibal math word problem intended for 5th graders. (The other odd thing is that it takes a total of 17 victims to feed 257, but a total 18 to feed 255.)

It takes the three slaves working together 45 minutes to clear the field. This is an example of a combined work algebra problem.

Quinn is the liar. Randy stole 3 bottles, Paul stole 9 bottles, and Quinn stole 13 bottles.

The least Tom could have stolen was 20 eggs -- 6 times stealing 2 eggs, and 8 times stealing 1 egg. The most Tom could have stolen was 21 eggs -- 9 times stealing two eggs, and 3 times stealing 1 egg. The trick to getting the correct answers is to realize that Tom cannot steal more than 14 times in two weeks, since two weeks equals 14 days.

279 kilos of fuel are left.

The brothel makes $257,400 per week.

It takes God 26 nights to kill all 1001 sinners. On the last night he kills 76 sinners.

Tyleisha is the worst student and Deshaundra is the second worst student.

Jim: Under Robert's rule, he should marry his secretary when he is 48 and she is 31.Under Crosley's rule, he should marry his secretary when he is 45 and she is 28.

Harry: Under Robert's rule, he should marry his secretary when he is 62 and she is 38. Under Crosley's rule, he should marry his secretary when he is 66 and she is 42.

Which rule is "better" in each case? Presumably the rule that allows each cheating husband to divorce his wife sooner. In Jim's case it is Crosley's rule and in Harry's case it is Robert's rule.


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    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 20 months ago from USA

      Oh my, and these sound like problems for the younger grades too! Where did you get these?

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 17 months ago from Ohio, USA

      Can we add these to Common Core?

    • calculus-geometry profile image

      TR Smith 16 months ago from Eastern Europe

      LOL. I've come across a lot of strange teaching materials over the years. Religious homeschooling workbooks are veritable treasure troves.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 16 months ago from Ohio, USA

      The president of the college my kid attends told me this:

      He was invited to the statehouse to testify on behalf of common core. His response was "I'll support you by opposing it.".

      I love that guy.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 16 months ago from The Beautiful South

      You do some crazy stuff! Very interesting...and a little shocking.


    • eugbug profile image

      Eugene Brennan 8 months ago from Ireland

      I had to check the date on this and it wasn't April 1st. Bizarre and mildly hilarious stuff from pre-PC times!

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