You may by now have seen the image below knocking around on Twitter and other social medias, in which a maths question appears to be almost a parody of itself:

The text reads:

An orchestra of 120 players takes 40 minutes to play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. How long would it take for 60 players to play the Symphony? Let P be the number of players and T the time playing.

Well, once you’re done laughing, we’ve done some investigative journalism and found the origin of this question. And it turns out it’s quite nice!

I wrote this!! How did you get this??? I am a maths teacher in Nottingham UK. Wrote this 10 years ago. Here is the original whole worksheet pic.twitter.com/jYX55GSBKz

— Claire Longmoor (@LongmoorClaire) October 11, 2017

The question is from a worksheet developed by maths teacher Claire Longmoor (who is, based on current evidence, brilliant) ten years ago. Claire put together a selection of example questions with relationships in direct and inverse proportion, and deliberately included the orchestra question as an example of something where it doesn’t work that way. It’s a nice activity to help reinforce the difference, and in context the question works nicely.

Other examples on the sheet include a bricklaying example with creditably diverse gender representation, a car with terrifyingly low fuel efficiency, good cow names and a delightful insight into the bygone world of fruit picking.

You still can’t play Beethoven’s 9th in 40 minutes, though.

“It doesn’t say that they play it *nicely* in 40 mins” – Will Hornby on Twitter.

In fact they play all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.

Well, it says an orchestra plays it. Without a choir and vocal soloists, they really couldn’t do the 4th movement. So I reckon they just played the first 3 movements, which is about 40 minutes!

Well, the conductor could always have a unique interpretation of tempo markings and conduct everything

tutti.Why do you say “by-gone world of fruit picking”?

Do you not think people still pick fruit? Does it just come out of a factory?

Takes the same time. The music notes and tempo don’t change regardless of the numbers of musicians.

Thanks last week!