Anne Mikolay

For your edification (frustration or amusement), I present the viral math equation:  6 ÷ 2 ( 1 + 2). Have at it; I’ll wait.

Do you have your answer? Bear in mind that nothing is as simple as it seems.

The answer is 1…or 9…depending upon how you look at things.

Allow me to explain.


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Harken back to math class and review the BODMAS rule. BODMAS is an acronym for Bracket, Order, Division, Multiplication, Addition, and Subtraction. According to BODMAS:



2×3 =6


Answer: 1

However, according to the contemporary version of the order of operations, the answer is different.

(1+2), of course, is 3. The equation then becomes 6÷2(3). Here’s where the modern interpretation of BODMAS kicks in. (3) implies the value 2×3, which is 6. The equation is then 6÷2×3. According to the modern BODMAS, multiplication does not come before division; they have the same precedence. Thus, working left to right, 6÷2 is 3, and 3×3 is 9. Thus, the answer is 9.

Wait a minute! Hold your horses! The answer is 1, and the answer is 9. That can’t be…at least not where I come from!

Admittedly, I am not a mathematician and don’t care much if the answer is 1 or 9. However, that there can be two correct answers to a math equation shatters what I have known to be true. Stick with me on this.

Merriam-Webster defines math as: “The science of numbers and their operations, interrelations, combinations, generalizations, and abstractions, and of space configurations and their structure, measurement, transformation, and generalizations. Algebra, arithmetic, calculus, geometry and trigonometry are branches of math.”

Translation: Math is math, a sort of unchangeable truth. If you suffered through Catholic school, you know one thing is certain: there is only one answer to an equation. You either get it right or you get it wrong. There is no varied interpretation of the rules. There is no credit for process, no room for interpretation. Showing your work, justifying your answer, will not change the outcome (believe me, back then, I tried). In math, there is only one correct answer. You either know it or you don’t. You pass or you fail.

And now I find out the Sisters of Divine Charity were wrong. There can be more than one answer to a mathematical equation. The rules, and thus the answers, can change with the times. Your answer to an equation can be correct depending upon how you interpret the rules. Applying this logic to our viral equation, if you’re old-school, the answer is 1. If you’re not, the answer is 9. What good, then, are the rules? Rules subject to interpretation lead to chaos…and weird viral math equations with debatable answers.

I don’t like math, never did, but I have always respected the fact that there was truth in numbers. I could rely on the answers. If I hold two five dollar bills in my hand, I know I have ten dollars, not two dollars because I’ve applied some wacky interpretation of the two bills in hand. I suppose you could argue math is science, and as science evolves with new discoveries and new ways of thinking, so, too, does the mathematical process, Yes, you could argue that point, but I don’t buy it. Math is not fluid. Math is concrete, solid evidence of what is. Math is not alternative thinking or alternative facts. (We all know what happens when alternative facts are presented.) Math is steady, reliable, unchanging. Am I right?

So, then, riddle me this: what is your answer to  6 ÷ 2 ( 1 + 2 )?

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Anne Mikolay

Anne M. Mikolay joined The Atlantic Highlands Herald as a columnist in 2008. Prior to penning “The Armchair Critic,” Anne wrote feature articles for The Monmouth Journal. Her work has appeared in national...