Talk:As I was going to St Ives

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One hundred thousand[edit]

Why on earth would the answer be one hundred thousand? (talk) 19:15, 10 December 2007 (UTC)

In Media section?[edit]

Could a "In the Media" (or something like that) section for this article be added? I don't want to add it myself, in case there is something wrong with wikipedia quoting TV shows. Here's what I would end up adding:

In the anime show L/R, a variation of this riddle is used:
English Version:
On the way to Ivory,
I saw women, three times three.
Each woman fine, nine bags had she.
In each bag, six dogs and three.
Each dog, a dozen pups less three.
Pups, dogs, bags, and women free,
How many were trekking to Ivory?
Japanese version (translated):
On the way to Ivory,
I saw a man with nine women.
Each woman had nine bags,
In each bag, there were nine dogs,
and each dog had nine puppies.
Puppies, dogs, bags, and women.
How many were on the way to Ivory?

Thanks. ih8evilstuff 17:13, 6 September 2006 (UTC)


Whether or not which people were walking to or from the church is So Obviously Apparent if you were contemporary to this rhyme. Speaker is going on a pilgrimage. The man he meets, with seven wives, is not COMING FROM the church, he's having nothing to do with it at all. He's a Muslim! (Albeit a Muslim (Mohammadean?) from a misguided 1700s view of Muslims, but a Muslim nonetheless.) I'm on board with "Different Interpretation". This isn't a math problem.—The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs).

A muslim goin to pilgrimage to St Ives? Thats a strench --Armanalp (talk) 07:49, 8 February 2008 (UTC)
Muslims (other than Muhammad himself) are only allowed to have four simultaneous wives. Anyway, in earlier English the word "wife" often meant simply "woman"... AnonMoos (talk) 13:38, 7 December 2008 (UTC)
Polygamy is not restricted to Islam - the Mormons, for example, permit it and various other sects and movements have also practised it over history. (talk) 14:14, 23 May 2014 (UTC)


Anyone know more about the manuscript from 1650BC, such as where it's from. ThereIsNoSteve 00:50, 13 Oct 2003 (UTC)

I think the St Ives they were referring to is the one in Cornwall. And sorry, I don't know any more about the manuscript. 10:14, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)

wrong answer.[edit]

the actual question in this riddle is "kits, cats, sacks, and wives - how many are going to st. ives?" since the man is neither a kit, a cat, a sack, or a wife, he cannot be included in the answer. therefore, the answer is zero.—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)

You assume the the narrator of the riddle is a man. He could well be a kit, cat, sack, or wife.--Greasysteve13 04:55, 19 May 2006 (UTC)


While that is true, it wouldn't matter. The way the last two lines are written
   Kits, cats, sacks, wives
   How many were going to St Ives? 
It means how many of each were going to St Ives. Since the narrator met a man with seven wives, he could not be one of those kits, cats, sacks, or wives. Because of the way those sentences are worded, the narrator nor the man are included in the people going to St. Ives. In the end, the riddle has no answer, as we do not know the current position of the kits, cats, sacks or wives. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 03:58, 24 April 2008
The line simply says "Kits, cats, sacks, wives", not "The kits, cats, sacks, wives I've explicitly listed as such". So if the narrator is a married woman at all, then she was a wife going to St Ives, and therefore counts in the answer to the riddle.
On this basis, you can claim that the answer depends on the gender and marital status of the person who told you the riddle. — Smjg (talk) 12:15, 14 April 2013 (UTC)
Have you ever tried to cram 56 live wriggling animals into a single sack? They tend to resist this procedure.
My theory is that all the cats and kittens were dead. The man and his seven wives had just finished exterminating felines from the town. --Rpresser 14:07, 5 June 2008 (UTC)

Well, that's a bummer. (talk) 00:52, 31 January 2011 (UTC)

wrong answer 2.[edit]

Mathematical answer: The sacks are not a person or animal and therfor can´t be just in the Multiplication, you can´t meet a sack - so the answer whit 2802 is wrong it is not the number of entities, but of persons the narroter meets - if the person go to St. Lves meets all of them, then the narrator whil have meet, 2752 persons and animals or if not including the animals and he meet all then he whil have meet eight persons (the man and his seven wives) 0008 persons. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:31, 31 October 2011 (UTC)

different interpretation[edit]

The rhyme itself doesn't specify whether the entourage is going to or from St Ives, so the description of how many cats, wives, et al are going from St Ives is faulty. sheridan 14:44, September 10, 2005 (UTC)

Besides, polygamy is not recognised in the United Kingdom, therefore six of the so-called "wives" can't really be considered wives at all. --Bonalaw 08:11, 17 October 2005 (UTC)
It doesn't say they were all his wives, just that he was traveling with "seven wives". User:Zoe|(talk) 02:08, 17 August 2006 (UTC)
Thank you for your suggestion regarding [[: regarding [[:{{{1}}}]]]]! When you feel an article needs improvement, please feel free to make whatever changes you feel are needed. Wikipedia is a wiki, so anyone can edit almost any article by simply following the Edit this page link at the top. You don't even need to log in! (Although there are some reasons why you might like to…) The Wikipedia community encourages you to be bold. Don't worry too much about making honest mistakes—they're likely to be found and corrected quickly. If you're not sure how editing works, check out how to edit a page, or use the sandbox to try out your editing skills. New contributors are always welcome. -- ALoan (Talk) 22:14, 10 September 2005 (UTC)
The article should reflect the 'normal' answer to this riddle and then, as a secondary issue, discuss any flaws, ambiguities etc. so I've split the solution section into 2 to reflect this. Riddles are nearly always ambiguous as they use natural or poetic language rather than strict mathematical terminology. They assume a common social expectancy between the setter and the solver, and this changes through time. For example: "What does a man do standing up, a lady sitting down and a dog on three legs?" The answer is "shake hands" which is clearly placed in polite western society of a hundred or more years ago. Btljs 07:55, 15 October 2006 (UTC)


Should we include parodies? If so I remember this from Mad Magazine:

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives.
Of course, the seven wives weren't his,
but here in France, that's how it is.

The only "sources" I found for thise were [1] [2] [3] and we should also note that there is no place called St. Ives in France.--Greasysteve13 10:46, 27 June 2006 (UTC)

Just a comment, but perhaps the person headed to St. Ives is leaving from within France to go to Britain? I don't know, just thought. Feel free to blast whatever I've said :)

And although the link is tenous, here is my favorite parody:
As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with eight wives
Now you may think that's rather loony
but that man was Mickey Rooney

--Roisterer 16:09, 7 September 2006 (UTC)

Yeah well probably have to deduce that as we'll never be sure of the author's intention, I think can both of these to the article though...--Greasysteve13 08:31, 18 December 2006 (UTC)

Another possiblity includes condsidering the wives belong to the narrator, and not the man met.—The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs).

Thank You[edit]

I would like to give a big thank you to the author of the article in it's current state as I found it truly hilarious. Thank you oh so much :D Has brightened my day considerably. Weden 16:35, 14 October 2007 (UTC)

OR, references[edit]

A nice subject, but for the moment the article is filled with WP:OR and is badly in need of references. A substantial clean-up is in order... Nsk92 (talk) 19:33, 7 July 2008 (UTC)

I've started to clean it up, but I can't fully view the source it is based on. I'm a little unsure about the section titled solution, as it implies the solution but we don't have a direct source to base that on that anyone can read. So for that reason I'm thinking it should be removed.-- (talk) 03:17, 20 July 2008 (UTC)

Which St Ives?[edit]

Looks like we have some difference of opinion of which St Ives it is. We now have references one claiming it is Cornwall, the other Cambridgeshire. It would be helpful if we could get other sources, on either (or both) sides. Unfortunately my books are in store so I can't look it up myself, only on the Web (which I doubt will be more authoritative than what we already have.) Thanks SimonTrew (talk) 20:27, 1 April 2009 (UTC)

Hi SimonTrew, thanks for raising this rather interesting question. Though quite busy I've found some time to look into it. As a starting point I googled the search-string +"as I was going to st. ives" +cornwall apparently getting "about 2,000" results (however on steadily looking through them I found there were 137 on 15 pages). I then googled for +cambridgeshire +"as I was going to st ives ", this time apparently getting 599 results (that turned out to be 74 over 8 pages). Next I googled +huntingdonshire +"as I was going to st ives” which generated 375 results (that turned out to be 42 results on 5 pages). Many of these were duplicating the +cornwall results (and occassionally, though not so frequently, vice versa).
After carefully looking through and documenting all results I then repeated the exercise on google books (Cornwall - 51, Cambridgeshire - 7, Huntingdonshire -5], and then again on google scholar, although this time just for +"as I was going to st ives” as well as the three more specific searches.
I followed links taking a look at anything I found that seemed both relevant and potentially authoritative as a potential source of reference or information. By this point it was becoming clear that statistically the consensus (though not necessary "correct answer") seemed weighted in favour of Cornwall as opposed to Cambridgeshire/Huntingdonshire.
After continuing to investigate available accademic research, books and references to various combinations of "going to st. ives" and "seven wives" (and "nine wives" as that is what the earliest printed version I've so far managed to find of this riddle says) pluss "huntington", "huntingdonshire", "cambridgeshire" and "cornwall" I then moved on to looking for pubs, inns and hotels around the world called "the seven wives" (as I noticed you recently added mention under St Ives, Cambridgeshire - Popular Culture of the existence of "the Seven Wives" on the Ramsey Road, PE27 5RF)..... perhaps needless to say there are plenty of such establishments around the world! There currently does only appear to be one in England, however the one near you was built in the 1960s and so far as I can tell is not on the site (or even near to the site) of a substantially older public house with demonstrably long established use of the same name. It's reasonable to suppose the “Seven Wives” in Ramsey Road adopted the name relatively recently and simply to reflect the popularity of the notation and connection of ideas. Its use of that name in itself in no way provides any reliable evidence of any more ancient tradition in the area.
I know that googling, no matter how in depth, is not “proper” research but it's a fundamental principal of Wikipedia that no original research can be published here anyhow, so I believe the approach I've adopted for this investigation is perfectly adequate. Only previously known and published information (preferably with clear and accessible sources referenced or cited can be accepted). As you know, personal opinions and the dreaded point of view are not allowed!
Incidentally I decided to phone the current Landlord, Tony Herrick (who gave his consent for me to mention his name online), of The Seven Wives (Ramsey Road) to ask if had any further information that might shed some light on the mystery. During a very pleasant conversation he explained to me that he certainly was interested and indeed had previously researched the subject in some detail himself. He agreed that there was no conclusive proof one way or the other but did concede it likely that the “the other” St. Ives had just as good, if not better, claim in reality to be the destination to which the narrator had been “going” when he met all the wives and so forth. (This in no way invalidates the name of his pub which is just as memorable and lovely either way). Given that in the earliest currently known printed copy of the riddle there were in any case nine, not seven, wives it seems to me that the pubs name is not as relevant as it might first appear.
Out of interest I have also phoned a couple of highly relevant (and extremely pleasant and helpful) people in "the other" St. Ives (Cornwall) for advice. Between them they have provided invaluable information which I'll incorporate shortly, but more of this later.
My researches show that there have in the past been over pubs with exactly the same name, including in Cornwall and indeed in St. Ives, Cornwall, however none are currently trading with that name. I only had access to records going back to the early 1950s, though perhaps the name has been used from time to time and place to place for much longer.
I then spent some time carefully studying and collating all the results. I won't bore everyone by publishing my full findings here prematurely on this talk page - suffice it to say it turns out to be both more interesting and less simple than one might at first imagine!
More to follow when I have time (and I’ll also be updating and correcting the article in stages as and when time permits and I’ve had a chance to properly review and collate all of the information)...
Thanks again for inspiring me to investigate... it's been fun! -- Kind Regards Barryz1 (talk) 15:56, 2 April 2009 (UTC)
Goodness me. And that was just for starters? Minor query - over how many pubs with exactly the same name? Thanks. Martinevans123 (talk) 16:07, 2 April 2009 (UTC)
Ha, ha, not really, no.... the query was over which St.Ives - Cornwall or Cambridgshire - the famous riddle was about. As it happens there's more to it than you might at first imagine! Actually the riddle might, one way or another, go back as much as 4,000 years (!) but there again it might not.... -- Barryz1 (talk) 16:13, 2 April 2009 (UTC)
Well it's not really about any St.Ives at all is it. It's a numerical and/or verbal riddle. The sole significance of the name seems to be that it conveniently rhymes with "wives". It seems we are trying now to narrow down the geographical location (or even geograghical knowledge) of an anonymous and very possibly illitarete English poet at some indeterminate time in the past. And as for pub names, well, the Royal Oak might be a useful compararive yardstick (of ale?)Martinevans123 (talk) 16:31, 2 April 2009 (UTC)
Well it might or might not be. If it is not about a specific St Ives then that is interesting too, we could say so. SimonTrew (talk) 16:38, 2 April 2009 (UTC)
Good work Barry. BTW Huntingdonshire = the Cambridshire one (Hunts is now part of Cambs) I am sure you knew that it was just a slip on your edit summary. As you say, the Cambs references are not themselves referenced, neither are some of the others. The correct link for the Hunts DC report is here:

BTW I did not add the reference to Seven Wives pub but I went past it last Friday so can confirm its existence. I suppose I should have taken a photo (I will not be going past that way again soon) but it is just a very boring new town-style pub on a busy crossroads.
Best wishes SimonTrew (talk) 16:36, 2 April 2009 (UTC)
Yes, just a slip of the mouse - had there been enough cats around it might never have happened!
I tend to agree with Martinevans123 that "St.Ives" was probably added to the riddle more for its rhyming than relevance. However there do appear to be a lot of connections between cats and "the other" St. Ives (Cornwall) and of course even if (as seems to be the case) the riddle itself is very ancient there's no doubt that as it evolved over time some bright (though "anonymous and very possibly illiterate") poet did presumably re-do it and include St. Ives and presumably had knowledge of or even a connection with a specific St. Ives - as I hope to establish once I have firmer evidence.
There may already be one or two photos of the "Seven Wives" online for example this one and also this one? Anyhow, happy drinking! -- Barryz1 (talk) 16:48, 2 April 2009 (UTC)
I've edited the St_Ives,_Cambridgeshire#Popular_culture article to damp down its outright claim to fame (which I didn't add but have probably sub edited over time). Seems only fair. I think I will check the other St Ives's too. SimonTrew (talk) 17:19, 2 April 2009 (UTC)
Well, good luck! Although (possibly) not innumerate, even if our unknown poet had had access to WP, I suspect his rhyme would have been deemed WP:OR or, worse still, just part of a much larger menagerie. But I'll watch with interest. Martinevans123 (talk) 17:40, 2 April 2009 (UTC)

Well this has generated plenty of "talk" after all! Thanks Martinevans123 ;-) ...and good idea SimonTrew.... I think it's much better now; fine to leave the bit about the "Seven Wives" pub in St Ives, Cambs - Popular Culture but as well as emphasising its a fairly new pub (as you have, but could also add link to photo), maybe also worth adding (in a footnote?) that there have previously been older pubs with the same name in other parts of the country (including Cornwall) even if not currently? Also, and perhaps most importantly, it may be worth mentioning that the riddle/rhyme/poem/whatever has been changed over time and at least one copy (around 1730) mentions nine wives anyhow, so the pub name is just for fun and not necessarily any historical significance! -- Barryz1 (talk) 17:58, 2 April 2009 (UTC)

Yeah, there is one good picture which is on a Commons license, I have not used Wikepedia Commons before so I will have to learn how to do that. I could add the bit about nine wives, and pubs elsewhere (I couldn't find any either-- I found some establishment in a village near Penzance-- cursoe, something like that-- but it wasn't clear what it was as it seemd to be on a business park. Perhaps just a cafe or something. Got them via, via google.
I don't want to replicate too much info, better to divert it to the main article I think. Perhaps indeed it should have a "Main article" tag. Hmm yeah. SimonTrew (talk) 23:39, 2 April 2009 (UTC)
I added the pic of the pub to the St Ives (Cambs) page. I know this is tangential to this page here, just thought you might like to know. It is talk about an article-- just not directly this one! SimonTrew (talk) 00:42, 3 April 2009 (UTC)

Hi SimonTrew, I just took a look at the St Ives, Cambs - Popular Culture section... you've certainly improved it, and I must say The Seven Wives looks a whole lot better at night than during the day! Smile.svg

Now we've done all this work between us I think we should add a short (or even medium to long, if relevant and interesting) "Which St. Ives?" section to the main article - don't you? I don't mind whether you start it and I make a few changes or vice-versa... I'm still hoping to find time to properly review and consider all the known/published facts (or at least information I've acquired on this so far) as its quite interesting and surprisingly complex so needs further checking (which all takes time). -- all the best Barryz1 (talk) 22:33, 3 April 2009 (UTC)

Yeah that would seem like a good idea. I think you should do it since you did most of the work, but I will start it off if you want. It would be nice to have a bit more concretely about the "third option", i.e. that it doesn't apply to any particular place. SimonTrew (talk) 01:09, 4 April 2009 (UTC)
Third the most likely, I'd guess. But what makes you think it's got any concrete? Martinevans123 (talk) 08:54, 4 April 2009 (UTC)

Another potential solution[edit]

I stumbled across this article and was surprised to learn of the solutions given. I was always told and had told it as the answer being one - the man that was met. Whether he had seven wives or cats or anything was irrelevant - it was implied that they were at home, and the man was the only person that was met by the narrator. This then is also dependant on the idea of which direction the man was heading and whether or not the narrator is intended to b included in the solution. [16:52, July 26th 2010 (GMT)]. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

When I was at primary school, my teacher insisted that the correct answer was 2753 (narrator + man + wives + cats + kittens) - the sacks shouldn't be included in the "How many?" answer, only as part of the calculation. But this is (for the moment) OR. Tevildo (talk) 22:32, 4 September 2011 (UTC)

Information included that isn't useful[edit]

Under the heading "Answers" one suggested answer is "427: You can't say this isn't the "answer", that's rubbish." Without supporting how one comes to this number, it is "rubbish". Please either add how this number is arrived at or remove this suggestion as an answer. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:38, 27 November 2012 (UTC)

Yet Another Wrong Answer (a.k.a. "Wrong Answer 3" ^^)[edit]

Guys this is ridiculous! You put so many funny answers there that you forgot to calculate one of them correctly: 2752 is wrong because 1 + 1 + 7 + 7 * 7 * (7 + 7 * 7) = 2753 (YOU FORGOT THE NARRATOR!) And btw the "Kits, cats, sacks, wives." line might be actually a fraud to make people think the wrong way like "White, white, white. What drinks the cow ?" — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:50, 25 December 2012 (UTC)

7 to the fourth power equals 2401[edit]

Where did the 2800 figure come from? It looks suspiciously like 7 x 4 x 100. This is not consistent with the riddling rhyme, which instead suggests seven times seven times seven time seven . . . no? (talk) 16:42, 25 January 2013 (UTC)

2401 is only the total number of kits. You have to count the cats, sacks and wives as well. — Smjg (talk) 12:15, 14 April 2013 (UTC)

Number of kits - more thoughts[edit]

It's generally assumed that there are seven kits per cat, and that they are part of the party. There are problems with this interpretation:

  • Is a kit a cat, just the same? If so, they would have to count in the seven cats in each sack, just the same. But if each cat had seven kits, then you have to consider the kits' kits as well, and so ad infinitum. If the kits weren't in the sacks but were left at home, then (aside from the arguably implied existence of infinitely many felines) we don't have the number in the party to worry about. (Furthermore, we don't even know that the cats were part of the party - we are just told that each wife had seven sacks, not that each wife had the seven sacks (and therefore 49 cats) actually with her.)
  • A kit has two parents. So given seven cats, for all we know they could be three couples and one single parent. That would make only four sets of seven kits between them. We just don't have enough information to determine how many kits there really are between the 343 cats. But if there really are 343 cats, then the minimum number of kits on this basis would be 1204. — Smjg (talk) 15:05, 21 April 2013 (UTC)

possibly infinite answers[edit]

People keep removing the "possibly infinite" from the number of mathematically possible answers. According to the quote which is cited in the paragraph above: "at least one, the person asking the question plus anyone who happens to be travelling in the same direction as him or her", then mathematically the possible answers are n:1..∞ You have to start making other arbitrary assumptions to limit it e.g. only counting what is mentioned (why? if I was driving down the M1 and saw 3 lorries going to London would the maximum number of lorries going to London be 3?) Btljs (talk) 08:25, 1 November 2014 (UTC)

I'm one of those people. I can only explain my reasoning for removing but likely the others following similar thinking. If you wish simply skip to the last sentence as that covers all possibilities.

First I am assuming that the rhyme stays within "common sense" constraints. The questioner asks indirectly for the number of kits, cats, sacks, and wives travelling to St. Ives. The English language being ambiguous, most people (I actually didn't on first hearing this rhyme) also assume that you include the asker and the man with the wives assuming you don't go for the trick answer. So you end up with 2802 people.

Now since we're being very technical in this part of the article, it is possible that after the meeting the asker/man/wives/sacks/cats/kits changed their destinations (the sacks can be dropped/exchanged and thus uncoupled). That leads to 2803 (include zero going to St. Ives as the asker could have decided not to go after all) possible solutions.

If you wish to lift the limitation on the number of people/cats/kittens/sacks as you state (it is technically correct to do so) there are still a finite number of people/cats/kittens/sacks in the world. While there may be a very large number of solutions, there are still finite solutions. Even if the asker was being completely neurotic and by "how many were going" meant "how many things were going", there are still a finite number of things in the universe, not infinite. Muchthoughtacgsgtwy65y6 (talk) 22:47, 11 November 2014 (UTC)

My point is that if you either a. accept the trick answer or b. look at it as a mathematical problem. If it is a mathematical problem then there are different solutions depending on what you accept as the a priori knowledge of the universe in which the problem takes place. You take the view that the universe is physically finite (which is debated: here) but mathematics is not bounded by physical reality and neither, arguably is a fictional universe in a story or riddle. In set theory, the set of all things that could be going to St Ives is unbounded: for any number you could always add 1. Any subset of things that could be going to St Ives is a possible solution. Therefore the number of possible solutions is infinite. QED. Incidentally, the "kits, sacks and wives" line is not grammatically part of the question as in "Constantinople is a very long word. How do you spell it?" But even if it were, the riddle could take place in a universe with an infinite number of them. Btljs (talk) 19:38, 13 November 2014 (UTC)

Concerning a priori knowledge, it is necessary to make some assumptions in order to come up with any answer/set of answers to the riddle. In mathematics basic assumptions such as these are known as axioms. To explain infinite answers, you assume that the Universe (U) contains countably infinite discrete objects/elements. You also assume that U exists. Therefore to justify infinite answers we have the following axioms:

  • There is a U.
  • U is countably infinite.

This is a very broad view, but still requires prior knowledge/assumptions. If you wish, you can use this as justification for possibly infinite answers. However in the broadest view the question is unanswerable. Taking this position is more the realm of philosophy than mathematics however, even if mathematics can be used to justify it.

If you're going to assume the riddle has an answer/set of answers, it is necessary to make certain assumptions. Virtually all readers would use at least the following assumptions:

  • There is a U.
  • U consists only of the asker, man, wives, sacks, cats, and kits referred to.

Which if no other assumptions are made gives 2803 (could technically have zero going to St. Ives, despite the first line) possible answers. Typically other assumptions are made, which leads to a single answer.

Arguing that there are possibly infinite answers is slightly less technical than arguing that the question is unanswerable, but still unreasonable imo. Muchthoughtacgsgtwy65y6 (talk) 18:40, 26 November 2014 (UTC)

Comment. Guys, you may have philosophical fun here as much as you want, but in order to modify the article, you have only one solution: find a reference. -M.Altenmann >t 03:25, 27 November 2014 (UTC)

It's not a philosophical question & I did use a reference which I quoted at the start of the paragraph, viz. "at least one, the person asking the question plus anyone who happens to be travelling in the same direction as him or her". To my mind that leaves so many possible solutions that it is possibly infinite (OK, "unknowably large" or "undefined" might be a more accurate description). Nobody has added any references to the ones I found in order to change this. Previously, the paragraph just had a list of what people thought were possible solutions, unsourced. Do we really want to go back to that list, even if they are all nicely referenced? Btljs (talk) 08:54, 27 November 2014 (UTC)
  • I didn't write "philosophical question". I wrote "philosophical fun", with philosophy="love of original research" in Ancient Greek :-). Your "to my mind" is precisely what wikipedia defines as OR. If we meet by a cup of coffee, I can tell you why I think your reasoning is faulty, but wp talk pages are for discussing wp articles and possible sources, not our opinions on the subject. (BTW "unknowably large" is an epistemologic statement, i.e., you are slipping into philosophy after all:-) -M.Altenmann >t 00:45, 28 November 2014 (UTC)
  • Yes, referenced solutions may be added. I am pretty much sure there is a very finite number of the published ones. -M.Altenmann >t 00:45, 28 November 2014 (UTC)
Well there are certainly a finite number of published sources discussing whether there are infinite solutions, but as I put in that statement to discourage people from endlessly (there I go again) adding solutions to the page, it would by counter-productive to add them so I'll leave the somewhat weaker but less controversial "numerous solutions" stet. Thanks for all the philological fun. Btljs (talk) 07:32, 28 November 2014 (UTC)

Standard Answers[edit]

There are two standard answers to this riddle. The implied math calculation is merely a distraction.

1. One. The narrator.

2. None. The narrator changed his mind. (After and because of meeting this group.)

I figured this out over half a century ago. I have much more recently run across mention of these two choices on the internet, where the choice is made "depending on your mood". As this was 5 or 10 years ago I can't give a source, but I think it was on a math or science type of page.

agb — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:01, 13 April 2017 (UTC)

Or maybe one or two of the wives decided to accompany the narrator to St Ives. Or he took a cat. Maybe the narrator was going to St Ives, Cornwall and the others to St Ives, Cambridgeshire and they met halfway. Btljs (talk) 06:54, 13 April 2017 (UTC)

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The short and long of it?[edit]

As I see it, the almost universally made mistake with this riddle is reading the question as "How many were (there) going to St. Ives?". This seems quite strange to me, as it's very clearly "Kits, cats, sacks, and wives; how many were (there) going to St. Ives?" The fact that the speaker is going to Saint Ives is thus irrelevant, as the speaker is not part of the party of kits, cats, sacks, and wives. Mysha (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 10:21, 22 January 2018 (UTC)

The weight of the cats ...[edit]

The aggregate weight of the cats and kits is problematic. Per Google, a housecat weighs from 8 to 10 pounds. (Ignore your outliers, we're going typical) Kittens range from 7 Oz at 2 weeks to 16 Oz at five weeks. Taking the average of each and multiplying, each sack weighs approximately 100 pounds. And each wife is carrying seven?

If you've ever gone backpacking, forty pounds is a lot of gear to lug, and those backpacks are well designed to bear weight across your hips and shoulders. Military carry even more. But hand carrying sacks in your hands for days long walks between towns? I don't think so. I've done do-it-yourself moves, and lugging a 60 to 70 Lb box from the truck to your new bedroom is not fun; I'm not going hiking with it.

Also problematic, one housecat is not an unreasonable volume of bulk to carry. The equivalent of ten per sack is, and seventy? Imagine walking to the next town over carrying an empty refrigerator box. Daunting, isn't it? Hence the sacks I guess, but that leads to other difficulties. Too heavy to carry, the sacks are being dragged, and would soon rip from abrasion.

At some point, being stuffed into close proximity to their fellow felines, shuttered in and helpless, these cats are going to be rather agitated. Have you ever attempted to transport a scared cat? The claws are out and moving. In close proximity, they are shredding each other and pitching a fit; the odds are, you would never meet their transporters, because you would avoid the cacophony.

Which may mean that the cats and the kits are all dead, possibly mitigating the weight issue, assuming they were desiccated before transport.

Or, perhaps the cats and kits are all trussed up to prevent clawing.

Not mentioned in the puzzle, but what about the food for the cats, assuming they are being transported with the intent of having them arrive alive? If the cats were on their own, they could feed themselves, but stuffed into sacks for days, you'd better have provisions. Water? When do they excrete?

The implied polygamy is the least of the problems with this puzzle, and I'm convinced that the narrator was hallucinating; none of this actually happened. The narrator cannot be trusted, probably never made the trip to St. Ives. So the answer is zero. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2620:117:503F:C7:0:0:0:D061 (talk) 19:12, 4 October 2018 (UTC)