#1-Four Coins = 83 Cents

In Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything, my grandfather Gumpy gave me a math problem while he was tapping his fingers together. Here’s what it was:

“Let’s say (tap, tap) there’s eighty-three cents in my pocket,” he said. “What’s the fewest number of coins I could have?”

“United States coins?” I asked.

He nodded (tap, tap).

I thought for a few seconds and answered, “Four.”

His forehead wrinkled up like he was surprised at me. “Nope. Six. A half-dollar, a quarter, a nickel, and three pennies.”

But I proved I was right . . . and he was amazed.

Did you figure it out?

Most kids think the correct answer is seven: three quarters, a nickel, and three pennies.

massachusetts-quarter newyork-quarter

But that’s wrong because most kids don’t even think about a half dollar because they usually never see one. (I can’t remember the last time I held a half dollar!) But Gumpy knew about half dollars. That’s why he thought the answer was six.

So why is the correct answer four coins? Because in the 19th Century—at two different times, 1851-1873 and 1865-1889—the United States minted three-cent coins. I learned that when I was researching the 1909 Lincoln Cent that Georgie and I found in his basement.

I have never seen a three-cent coin for real.

If you want to try to puzzle your family and friends with questions like this, you need to know that the United States also had twenty-cent, two-cent, and half-cent coins.

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Update: Look what I got in the mail!

Here’s what was in the letter.  I made the image much, much larger so the details are visible. You can see that it’s not the same as the three-cent coin above. The USA made two different designs in the 19th century. And now I actually own one. How cool is that?!


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Comments from my Readers & Friends

  1. I’m. Reading your book right now and your sister is mean maybe get her witha prank and tell Alex welch to back off.ive always Been bad at math what should I do?!?(I study every day )

    • The math question is hard to answer (I’m not a teacher or an authority on how to learn math). I guess the best way to get better in math is to find a way to get more interested in the subject. I have always found that if I’m interested in something, I remember it better.

      • Some kids are good at math and some aren’t. If you’re not good at it, you shouldn’t hate it because math is really important in all of life. I happen to be good at it (I guess I’m lucky my brain works that way), so it’s easy for me to stay interested. But if you aren’t good at it, you just have to try harder. I’m serious. it’s really important when you grow up. My dad drives limos, and because it’s his own business, he tells me he uses math all the time. Same with every other adult I know. I think everyone uses math in their lives.
        It’ll get better if you don’t get angry or upset, Charlotte…I promise.

  2. Wow
    thanks for coming to my school warner
    now im in pope the one near it.

    thank you
    your books are the only one my dad likes me to read!

    im a big fan please email me back

  3. I did some research, and apparently 3 cent nickels were initially composed of 75% silver and 25% copper so that people wouldn’t melt them for the silver.

  4. I LOVE your book Cheesie i got your second book too i cant wait until i finish the first

    P.S: i am sorry i paid you the wrong ammount the first time but i sent you the extra money in an envelop (hehehe)