Three wisest men

Question:

The King called the three wisest men in the country to his court to decide who would become his new advisor. He placed a hat on each of their heads, such that each wise man could see all of the other hats, but none of them could see their own. Each hat was either white or blue. The king gave his word to the wise men that at least one of them was wearing a blue hat; in other words, there could be one, two, or three blue hats, but not zero. The king also announced that the contest would be fair to all three men. The wise men were also forbidden to speak to each other. The king declared that whichever man stood up first and correctly announced the colour of his own hat would become his new advisor. The wise men sat for a very long time before one stood up and correctly announced the answer. What did he say, and how did he work it out?

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C

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N

I

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W

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Solution: Suppose that there was one blue hat. The person with that hat would see two white hats, and since the king specified that there is at least one blue hat, that wise man would immediately know the color of his hat. However, the other two would see one blue and one white hat and would not be able to immediately infer any information from their observations. Therefore, this scenario would violate the king’s specification that the contest would be fair to each. So there must be at least two blue hats.
Suppose then that there were two blue hats. Each wise man with a blue hat would see one blue and one white hat. Supposing that they have already realized that there cannot be only one (using the previous scenario), they would know that there must be at least two blue hats and therefore, would immediately know that they each were wearing a blue hat. However, the man with the white hat would see two blue hats and would not be able to immediately infer any information from his observations. This scenario, then, would also violate the specification that the contest would be fair to each. So there must be three blue hats.
Since there must be three blue hats, the first man to figure that out will stand up and say blue.

Alternative solution: This does not require the rule that the contest be fair to each. Rather it relies on the fact that they are all-wise men, and that it takes some time before they arrive at a solution. There can only be 3 scenarios, one blue hat, two blue hats or 3 blue hats. If there was only one blue hat, then the wearer of that hat would see two white hats, and quickly know that he has to have a blue hat, so he would stand up and announce this straight away. Since this hasn’t happened, then there must be at least two blue hats. If there were two blue hats, then either one of those wearing a blue hat would look across and see one blue hat and one white hat, but not know the color of their own hat. If the first wearer of the blue hat assumed he had a white hat, he would know that the other wearer of the blue hat would be seeing two white hats, and thus the 2nd wearer of the blue hat would have already stood up and announced he was wearing a blue hat. Thus, since this hasn’t happened, the first wearer of the blue hat would know he was wearing a blue hat, and could stand up and announce this. Since either one or two blue hats are so easy to solve, and that no one has stood up quickly, then they must all be wearing blue hats.

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