Friday, July 17, 2015

How Many Monks?

how many monks riddle
There's a monastry of fifty monks that have taken a vow of silence. They go through the same routine every day. They wake up, pray. They go to lunch, their only meal of the day, were they all sit round a big circular table, and eat a simple meal. Then they go back to their rooms and pray. Then they fall asleep.

One day, the head monk of the area comes to visit. He's a bit different - he's allowed to talk and has a life outside the monastry. He tells them that there is currently a plague ravaging the land. People everywhere are dying. The disease manifests itself as red blotches on the forehead. The blotches are the only manifestation of the disease for three months, whereupon the next stage starts, a horribly painful death.

The head monk tells them that at least one of their midst will have the disease, probably more. Anybody with the disease should kill themselves, to save all of the pain and suffering. By killing themselves, they will restrict the movement of the disease, and will go to heaven. Anybody with the disease will show the first symptoms within a month. The chief monk then leaves. He returns two months later, to find that all of the infected monks have killed themselves, and they all did it on the same day.

Bear in mind the following:
  • They have no mirrors or any other way of seeing themselves
  • The blotches appear only on the forehead and cannot be seen by the monk
  • Infected monks feel no different - the only manifestation of the first part of the disease are the blotches.
  • The monks cannot talk to each other or in any other way communicate.
  • Any monks with the disease will display the blotches within a month of the head monk leaving.
  • At least one monk definitely has the disease.
  • The monks only see each other once per day, at lunch, when they are all sat round the round table.
  • These monks are brighter than the average monk....
How did they know whether or not they were infected and why did they all kill themselves on the same day?

How Many Monks? Puzzle Solution

The way they work this out and the reason it happens on the same day is as follows. It is important to note that not only are the monks intelligent but they all know all their fellow monks are as well.
Start with one monk:

He knows he is the only one who can have the disease so he kills himself on
day 1.

Then two monks:
They know that either one of them has the disease or both do. If monk1
doesn't see the mark of the disease on monk2 then he will realise that he
must have it so will kill himself. If he sees the mark then he knows that
monk2 will following the same reasoning and kill himself. If the next day
the other monk is still alive then he realises that the other monk must have
seen the mark on him and so they both have the disease and he must kill
himself. Both follow the same reasoning and kill themselves on day 2.

Three monks:
If only one of the monks has the disease he will see no mark on the other
two and so diagnose himself. He will kill himself on day one. If two monks
have the disease then they will each see one monk with the mark and one
without. When they see each other again the next day they will deduce that
the monk they see with the mark would only not have killed himself if he
could see someone else with the mark. They know it is not the third monk so
it must be them. Both diseased monks follow the same reasoning and kill
themselves on day two. If all three monks have the disease then they are all
in the same position as the healthy monk in looking on in the previous
example. Each of them can see two diseased men. When they haven't both
killed themselves on day two there can be only one reason - the viewing monk
must have the mark as well. All taking the same reasoning they all kill
themselves on day three.

And so on...
N monks all with the disease will all kill themselves on day N.