Math was my worst subject. I had no trouble with regular math—adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying—but when it came to story-related math problems, I was lost. Without much hope, I looked at the first question:
Ants on a stick
One hundred ants are dropped onto a meter stick. Each ant is traveling either to the left or to the right with a constant speed of one meter per minute. When two ants meet, they bounce off each other and reverse direction. When an ant reaches the end of the stick, it falls off.
At some point, all the ants will have fallen off. The time at which this happens will depend on the initial configuration of the ants.
Question: Given all possible initial configurations, what is the longest amount of time that you would need to wait for the stick to have no more ants on it?
I read the question again and again and again. My hands balled into fists as I racked my brain trying to come up with the right answer. I had no idea how long it would take for all the ants to be off the meter stick.
“Lily, I can hear you sighing,” Mom called. “Don’t you understand the question?”
“I understand the question, Mom, but I don’t know the answer.”
“Then you don’t understand the question,” Mom said, pushing herself out of her chair in the sitting room. “I don’t think I’ll be of much use, but let me have a look.”
Having put on her glasses, she peered over my shoulder and read the word problem about the ants.
“Good Lord,” she commented, “I can’t help you with this Lily, but Luc will know. Ask him when he comes downstairs.”
Moments later, Luc sauntered into the living room.
Even though Luc was seven years older than I, we looked very much alike. He was tall and lanky with blue eyes, a straight nose, and a generous mouth. His blond hair was cut very short.
My hair used to be long, almost to the middle of my back, but when my ponytail hung in my plate of soup one day when I turned to look at a bird on the windowsill, Mom cut it off. She got so angry that she went to the kitchen, took a pair of scissors out of the drawer, and cut the whole ponytail off. Luc gasped in shock and waited for my reaction, but I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I may have been young, but I had my pride, and I would be damned if I showed her how she hurt me. Mom was like that, sweet
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