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The Internet Is Questioning Everything Thanks to This Teacher’s Trick Question

2 minute read

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, while always a classic, is currently having a viral moment.

The classic orchestral arrangement became an internet meme after a curious math test question began circulating online. “An orchestra of 120 players takes 40 minutes to play Beethoven’s 9th symphony,” the question goes. “How long would it take for 60 players to play the symphony?”

At first glance, this seems to be a question of inverse proportions: half the players should mean double the time, right? But as internet denizens were quick to point out, that would be absolutely wrong. A symphony’s timing is fixed, more or less, adjusted only by the rate of play as dictated by the composer — not the number of participants.

Luckily, the frustration at the question quickly cleared up when the original writer — a teacher from Nottingham in the U.K. — discovered her work being shared on Twitter, and had the receipts to prove it. As she explained, it was a trick question to keep students alert while making their way through the worksheet.

Of course, there’s a separate issue with the question, as classical music lovers have noted: Beethoven’s 9th is not a 40-minute symphony. In fact, it clocks in at over 70 minutes. No matter how many players, it seems, the question fails its own test.

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Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com