'Cheryl's birthday' maths problem "useful in the workplace", says organiser of test

SINGAPORE - A maths question that went viral tests analytical skills that are useful at work, said organisers of the high-level maths contests where the question first appeared.

In answer to critics online who questioned the value of such questions, Mr Henry Ong, founder of the Singapore and Asian Schools Math Olympiads said that such skills are needed at work.

"We are pleased that this problem has generated so much interest and thinking from the public. There is a place for some kind of logical and analytical thinking in the workplace and in our daily lives," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

"In the workplace, very often many people need to analyse something. How much analysis or how sophisticated the analysis is depends on the nature of their job or the situation."

He added that the problem is not for every student, but helps to stretch the better ones.

"This kind of problems trains a person to analyse a problem in order to come to a logical conclusion. We are not saying this problem is for every student (since it involves rather sophisticated reasoning). But if this kind of problems can be used to stretch the better students to sharpen their analytical power, why not?"

In the statement, Mr Ong also said that many have written to them suggesting an alternative date for Cheryl's birthday - Aug 17.

He said: "This 'alternative solution' has also appeared many times in online comments. If there are two possible answers, then this problem is ambiguous. In this reply, we will explain why Cheryl's birthday is not Aug 17."

chuimin@sph.com.sg