Old School Math Word Problems

Welcome! If you would like to figure out how long it will take to get from here to the end of this post via reading, grab your calculators!

Who else remembers this type of shenanigans?

A train leaves the station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday at 10:00am. This train’s destination is a station in Las Cruces, New Mexico. During the trip of 2054 miles, the train will maintain an average speed of 66 miles per hour. How long will the trip take in whole hours and what will the time be in Las Cruces, New Mexico when the train gets to the station?

Back in school I absolutely loathed these types of problems. I would have to read these darn things like three times to make sure I didn’t miss any important information. Then for giggles the problem’s author would include some random things that didn’t even figure into the equation just to make sure you really did fathom the problem. For example: One of the wealthy passengers, in the fifth car, has on twenty-seven pieces of flair but she is shy about speaking to strangers because of her four dozen orange freckles so she only speaks in code to her two pet poodles who are riding with her.

Oh the fourth and fifth grade math quizzes were just a hoot! I’m not sure if the present day students are subjected to these types of torture but I sincerely hope so. While these things were annoying, they help you later in life by weeding out the stupid crap and focusing on the real deal issues.

So let’s get back to solving our problem from above:

What is the train ETA in Las Cruces, New Mexico (which is a real place!)

2054 miles divided by 66 MPH = 31 hours (rounded down from 31.12 per the instructions)

So let’s figure out the time difference next:

Philadelphia is in the Eastern Time Zone and Las Cruces is in the Mountain Time Zone; there are two hours difference between the locations (Las Cruces is two hours BEHIND Philadelphia)

Hypothetically, the trip will take 31 hours to complete but we take off two hours for the time difference since Las Cruces is actually two hours behind (i.e. 10:00am Eastern Time = 8:00am Mountain Time)

Twenty-four hours later than Tuesday at 10:00am is Wednesday at 10:00am and add the five additional hours (to make 29 total hours (31-2=29)) and that would put the train in the Las Cruces, New Mexico station at 3:00pm Mountain Time on Wednesday.

Obviously this is an over-simplified example wrought with flaws. Factoring in the average speed to smooth over acceleration from the originating station and deceleration heading into the destination station, you are still ignoring other factors such as but not limited to: detours, refueling, repair delays and simple human errors. But none of that is taken into consideration because all these high and mighty word problem writers want is their simple, cut and dried answers! Just for the record, let me state that it isn’t always that easy so be prepared for some debate on the topic!

So tell all your friends the answer is Las Cruces, New Mexico at 3:00pm on Wednesday! If they look at you blankly, you can just nod your head and smile at them smugly!

To all: A Good night!


P.S. I looked up the phrase ‘Cut and Dried’ because I was unsure if it should be ‘Cut and Dry’; but according to the Google machine, Cut and Dried is the correct usage so there you have it and there you are.

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