New Barber Math

Apr 19, 2004

This puzzler was sent in by Khalid Balamah.

He says, "I like your radio show. I started listening just to improve my English, since I am a non-native, and I am now addicted to the show." And, his last sentence is, "Just remember to fabricate a story, as usual."

Here it is:

A barber had his first customer of the day, who happened to be a friend. When he was done, the barber refused to take the money from the customer. The fellow said, "Look, I know we're friends, but, business is business. I want to pay for my haircut."

The barber said, "Here's what we'll do. You open the cash register. I don't have any idea how much money is in there. But, you match whatever is in there, and then take out 20 bucks."

The customer says, "Okay," and he does that.

The barber says, "Gee, I kind of like this." So, the next customer comes in, he gets his haircut, and the barber says, "You can do the same thing my first customer did. Open the cash register, match what's in there, and then take out 20 bucks."

The second customer does that, and he leaves. The third customer does the same. The fourth customer, after receiving his haircut, opens the cash register, and says, "I can't do it. "

The barber says, "Why not?"

"There's no money in here. Not a cent."

The question is, how much money was in there to start?
RAY: The last guy obviously saw nothing in there.

So the next to last guy, i.e., the third customer had to have seen $10 dollars because he matched it and took out $20.

TOM: And there was nothing left.

RAY: In order for him to have left $10 in there, the guy before him in had to have seen $15 dollars in the cash register. He matched it. That made $30 dollars in the cash register.

TOM: Took out $20, left $10.

RAY: The first guy when he opened it saw $17.50. He matched it, took out his $20 and left $15 bucks. Do we have a winner?

TOM: It's Richard Wenck from San Raphael, California. And for having his answer selected at random from among the thousands of correct answers that we got, Richard Wenck from San Raphael gets a $26 dollar gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division of

And with that certificate he can get our brand-new official Car Talk unmarked bill carrier which is actually a gym bag. We put unmarked bill carrier on it because we thought that sounded better than rancid sock carrier. And in retrospect I think that was still a good decision.

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