It’s the Friday Puzzle!


Yesterday I saw a column in the middle of town.  It was exactly 200 feet high and 16 feet 8 inches in circumference.  Someone had wrapped a spiral garland around the column exactly five times.  What was the length of the garland?

As ever, please do NOT post your answers, but do say if you think you have solved it and how long it took.  Solution on Monday!

I have produced an ebook containing 101 of the previous Friday Puzzles! It is called PUZZLED and is available for the Kindle (UK here and USA here) and on the iBookstore (UK here in the USA here).


118 comments on “It’s the Friday Puzzle!

  1. Adam C. says:

    Think I have it. It’s fairly easy, took about 5 minutes.

  2. Joe says:

    Took about twenty seconds – hardest part of the puzzle was working in imperial instead of metric 😀
    Great puzzle!

  3. Adam C. says:

    Mind you, I did take a ridiculous amount of maths classes.

  4. AMWhy says:

    Solved. 10 seconds debating what complex math to use to solve it, 2 seconds of inspiration and then 15 seconds to do a quick calculation for the answer!

  5. Gib says:

    Solved it, about 20 seconds worth of thinking why anyone would work in Imperial, followed by some abuse hurled at you for that, and then a quick diagram drawn on paper, and a calc.
    Total of about a minute and a half.

    • Feet and inches are surprisingly common here in England. One wonders why the unit ‘miles’ remains popular in many parts of the world (they, strangely enough, break down into these smaller units).

      There’s no accounting for parochialism.

  6. ScottMeisterM says:

    Not 10, not 20, but 30 seconds, thinking and execution. I now know why I attended high school. For this very day.

  7. rmb says:

    5 minutes.

  8. Rob J says:

    Do we assume that the garland runs from tip to tail and is evenly spread (like the garlands in the picture) rather that tightly coiled and all bunched up (like an unstretched spring)?

  9. Alexj says:

    Pleasingly elegant/straightforward solution once I’d finished being distracted by pi. Took about a minute including making clumsy iPhone calculator errors. Thanks!

  10. Edroscher says:

    Just some basic math and a little abstract thinking, you don’t even need to convert units, just use the numbers arbitrarily and add the units at the end

    • Engywuck says:

      That’s what I was expecting, but than I realized, I can’t just use the numbers, first I must know how many inches there are in one foot 😉

    • Edroscher says:

      Yes good point!

  11. Chris Emerson says:

    10 seconds to work out how to do it, then 15 secs with a calculator to work out the answer!

  12. Andy says:

    Quickly saw a method. Made the calculation (needed a calculator). Got an answer which suggested that there was an easier method. About a minute.

  13. M says:

    I got it. Did not take too long. I am not used to imperial, just like joe.

    Nice inputvalues. It gives an answer that looks like the inputvalues themselves.

    • Lazy T says:

      It is now saturday and I agree , hooray!

    • Devan says:

      Haha – I didn’t actually twig about that relationship between the original numbers and the answer until I read your post. You are right.

      Logically, I would say that wouldn’t be the case, but the maths gives that answer, so I will be intrigued to see what the ‘correct’ solution is…

  14. Confusing picture, each of the columns actually has two garlands around it!

  15. Daniel says:

    Well 15 secs – and I will not calculate the actual length – I just can’t work with imperial units without calculator 😉

  16. RdL says:

    The columns that are shown each has two garlands each spiralling around the column two and a half times.

    Also, being slightly pedantic, an ionic column should correctly have a height of about 9 times the diameter of the base. The shaft would taper slightly, affecting the result.

    • Ah … playing the entasis card now young RdL!

    • ivan says:

      Greek columns also often bulge slightly, which owing to an optical illusion creates the appearance of it being straight-sided, whereas a straight-sided one would tend to appear pinched.

      The fact that this particular square root will come out as an integer is a lot less well known than the canonical famous one. I wonder how many people instantly spotted it, as opposed to going through with the calculation.

    • fustbariclation says:

      If the buldge at the bottom was symetric with the tapering at the top, then the answer would be the same.

  17. Tony says:

    Mmmm nice neat answer. Now I want to know why that’s the answer…!

  18. Anonymous says:

    I worked out how to do it in less than half a minute. Actually doing the arithmetic took another minute.

    If it had been a 60m high column and 5m in circumference, I could have done it a lot quicker, and without reaching for pen or calculator!

  19. Tufty says:

    Helical, not spiral. A common mistake.

  20. drew says:

    no problems today, about 30 secinds from reading to answer

  21. neil j says:

    Nice problem. Thanks Richard.

    No pedants complaining about the width of the garland yet ?

  22. DaddyLouLou says:

    30 seconds to visualize it it, and 30 seconds with a calculator.

    Interesting answer, and I’m wondering if there’s a quicker, simpler way to do it.

  23. Timdifano says:

    A couple of seconds to figure out how to do it and a couple of minutes wrestling with imperial units. Nice puzzle.

  24. Roberth says:

    Got it.

    Hint: a cylinder has zero Gaussian curvature.

    Has not calculated the answer though as it is against my religion to use imperial units.

    • Pedro says:

      Now that you mention Gauss, another hint: Instead of maths, go to the toilet. Unroll the toilet paper. Take the cylinder and scissors…

    • Anonymous says:

      Not sure what you all are talking about; all I used was Pythagorean Theorem. I got what I think is a very reasonable answer.

  25. Fake Name says:

    takes within a minute if you know the formula (because of all the multiplication by 12), more if you need to derive the formula

  26. RobHes says:

    Yep, think I’ve got it. Seems too easy in some ways, but questions are easy when you know the answer, aren’t they?

  27. Suzanne says:

    Not too puzzled by the puzzle but manipulating the feet and inches was more of a challenge!

  28. Savant says:

    Goodness! This is an old one; at least 100 years old. Use of imperial units probably means it’s partly been brought up to date, so don’t complain.

  29. Carmen says:

    I would prefer with IS units.

  30. Eddie says:

    It would have been easier if pythons had been wrapped around the columns.

  31. richard says:

    its not a spiral, but a double helix on each pillar

  32. Craig says:

    As usual, dived into a plethora of unnecessary maths, then the penny dropped.

    About 2 minutes for me this week.

  33. Gib says:

    Hmm, I got a very ugly number (imperial or not), so based on the comments I think my answer must be wrong….

  34. Gib says:

    Ah, it’s the circumference is 16.66, I thought it was the diameter. Got it.

  35. adros47 says:

    Simple mathematical problem. 5 mins.

  36. Michael says:

    About a minute to work it out and type it in. Rolled off the cuff, to mix metaphors.

    I don’t agree that the units make this particularly harder.

    Surprising solution!

  37. Jules says:

    I did this the hard (Pythagorean) way with pen and paper in about five minutes, only to see a blindingly obvious answer that I’m still not sure if I believe…!

    • Sohvan says:

      I too solved it with help from the greek mathematician, but I can’t figure out why the answer is what it is.

  38. Gib says:

    Aha! I’ve figured it out, and so I have another column which will give you a similarly nice answer:

    Column height = 200 metres
    Column circumference = 50 metres
    Spiral goes around the column 3 times.

    How long is the garland?

  39. Dodgy says:

    Erm…it’s a helical garland, not a spiral

    • Berhard says:

      Nice Point…

      Or it is just a spiral gland, horizontally spriralling around the foot of the column, which in turn simplifies the calculation (when assuming a very small diameter of the gland ;-)… It is not said in the question that the gland is wrapped as shown in the picture….. from top to bottom..

    • SimonP says:

      You’d get the wrong answer if you ignored the height of the column.

  40. Gib says:

    Or, try:
    column height of 200 metres
    Column circumference of 5 metres
    Spiral goes around the column 9 times.
    How long is the garland?

  41. Marktech says:

    I enjoyed that! Ten seconds of horror at such a nasty problem, one flash of insight, about thirty seconds of mental arithmetic. Yeah, I’m old and British enough to do feet and inches in my head.

  42. Berhard says:

    I instantaneously knew how to solve it, so i lost interest to acutally calculate and cope with the imperial system… Then i couldn’t avoid to ask myself which diameter the gland has, and if the space it is located in is acutally euclidic..

  43. Lazy T says:

    I got a straight forward answer and a too complicated one. One is slightly more than a furlong the other is a good few chains and poles and perches more. I think both maybe wrong.

  44. Lazy T says:

    Furlongs are wrong , what are those units some wher between a cricket pitch and a horse race?

  45. Magoo says:

    About 1 minute.

  46. Paddy says:

    Spotted the method immediately. Took a couple of minutes to do the maths, mostly because of the imperial units.

  47. Bletherskite says:

    As soon as it got mathematical my brain dribbled out of my ears and ran and hid in the corner. Counting thousands of pounds at my work and balancing spreadsheets/ledgers/stocktaking etc. and I’m fine – show me a mathematical puzzle, hell no.

  48. Mr.D says:

    I think I have it. I remember a way of calculating the length of a helix using parametric equations, but somehow I doubt that’s the answer Richard is looking for. I found a much simpler and more elegant solution using some basic geometry.

  49. SimonP says:

    Ah. Spent a long while trying to calculate it in feet and dealing with annoying rounding errors. Try inches, its much easier!

  50. Greg23 says:

    I had no clue how to do this, read some of the responses and came up with my own (simple) solution. Have no idea if it’s correct but it IS a nice round number in inches!

    If that’s not the solution then I’m ‘screwed’.

  51. Sam says:

    I have the solution in 5 lines of python if anybody wants it…

  52. spiderabc1 says:

    I don’t think it’s got anything to do with maths. Maybe I’m just in denial as I hate numbers. Think it’s more to do with what is actually being done.

  53. Jerry says:

    I got the answer almost immediately. There seems to be some unnecessary information in this one. I will have to wait until Monday to see if I’m right.

  54. UXO says:

    Hey mittfh, you’re not supposed to give the solution in your comment. Yes, we’re all very impressed that you figured out something requiring middle school geometry, bravo.

    • mittfh says:

      I don’t think I gave away any more information than many other commentators, who’ve mentioned converting units, a certain Greek chap, and having spent ages on geometrical solutions before noticing an alternative. Besides which, I was slightly vague and deliberately omitted several intermediate steps.

      I have no idea whether my calculations are correct, and of course they assume the garland has a negligible diameter.

    • UXO says:

      I agree there are a couple of other comments that need moderating, but yours was the worst offender. But yes, Ivan and Michael need their wrists slapped too.

  55. Pete says:

    Took zero time to solve. Insoluble: question ambiguous.

    • ivan says:

      The Friday problems are usually ambiguous. Usually you have to say “given that this is supposed to be a problem of interest that I can solve fairly easily, what is the best resolution to the ambiguity”. Sometimes the whole point is the ambiguity and we can have fun arguing about it. Without it, there’d be much less of of interest.

  56. Paul Pearson says:

    I wouldn’t even TRY to figure this one out, as it would be an impossibility for my mathematically retarded brain.

    However, I did notice that there are 2 garlands on the picture snaking up from the base in the columns in the picture …

  57. Scott says:

    Took about 3 minutes, 10 and three eights of a seconds… Damned imperial

  58. Simon says:

    3 hours and 40 minutes. Not sure about my answer. I give private math classes, anyone interested?

  59. fustbariclation says:

    Real garlands, of course, stretch.

    But we’re in the land of weightless rods and frictionless pulleys here, I can see.

  60. patrick says:

    this one too easy – simple maths.

  61. Tree says:

    Insanely easy 😦

    Figured out how to do it by the time I got to the end of the puzzle. All that remained were the calculations.

  62. Dee says:

    ~30s, and a pita dealing with 0.6′ 🙂

  63. I’m worried that my answer is wrong now, took 10 seconds for a method, slightly longer to do the maths and 5 minutes wondering at the result because it looks neat…

  64. SereneBlueSky7 says:

    Oh, frak it, this bugs me anyway. Been watching some things but still thinking why I can’t wrap my mind around calculations that involve three-dimensional things. Obviously multiplying involved. But exactly how? Maybe Pi needed too?

  65. Anonymous says:

    I think I got it… Assuming the garland has and an insignificant amount of depth.

  66. Noel says:


    Why couldn’t you use something as small as a toilet roll. So the dumb ones like me can wrap a piece of string around it.

    I’m having trouble finding a 200 foot pole

  67. Maria Merrow says:

    You guys are so smart!

  68. The other Matt says:

    Easy to solve, i think….
    Have to checkout whether the picture is showing the column exactly or its just for distraction.

  69. CymroLlundain says:

    Yes, solved. About one minute.

  70. spiderabc1 says:

    And it’s to be done from top to bottom not wrapped round the middle giving a shorter length? Kinda want to give up.

  71. […] It’s the Friday Puzzle! Yesterday I saw a column in the middle of town.  It was exactly 200 feet high and 16 feet 8 inches in circumference.  […] […]

  72. Daryl says:

    the answer suggests an easier method, I just want to know whats so special about 5. that blew my mind…

  73. GreenSnake says:

    1min to figure out the solution,2 mins to find the fomular and 30sec to calculate the answer.

  74. richard says:

    it isn’t the calculation that is difficult, or easy, its just the quirky answer that quirks.

  75. Camel says:

    The penny finally dropped this morning, a full 36 hours after I had read the question, and about 35 hours 45 minutes after I had stopped thinking about it. The brain is a weird thing!

  76. Tom says:

    12 inches in a foot, right? And I assume the garland is going from the top to the bottom (if it’s just coiled around at the bottom, it would be trivial)

    If so, slightly over 1 minute for me.

  77. Lee Christie says:

    Only took 2-3 minutes. Was most unsure that I was getting the bloody imperial units right though. Had to keep using Google Calculator to check the feet/inches conversion.

  78. Anonymous says:

    5 min reeling from reading the problem the first time

    10 min working against my dad to get the answer first

    5 min convincing him I was right

  79. Andrew D says:

    I’m good at math, but not that good. I told my computer how to do the problem, and had it come up with the answer!

  80. Paritus says:

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  81. Paritus says:

    ne oldu anlamadım. teşekkürler.

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