Traveling by Hitchhiking Across Wyoming

A long time ago, when I was still a student, I worked from morning to night for several years during the semester breaks in order to be able to realize my dream: a trip across the USA. It finally happened in my senior year. I flew to New York and wanted to fly back from Los Angeles six months later. In the USA, I hitchhiked – as was usual for young people at the time – to save money.

I had been traveling for several weeks when I crossed through Wyoming on my way from South Dakota to Utah. In the extremely sparsely populated state, only about two people live on average per square kilometer. So it didn’t surprise me that I had to wait for hours on the street until an ancient, rusty pick-up finally stopped. “Are you going to Smithfield?” I asked the driver, who looked as old and rusty as his car. “Yes,” was the monosyllabic reply. He took me with him. I tried to strike up a conversation with the man, but rarely got an answer. Finally I fell asleep. It was already dark when the man woke me with a nudge in the ribs. “Frensway. End of the line,” he said, turning off the engine. “Frensway?” I thought, startled. I was stranded in the wrong city. The county I was in was bisected by three straight country roads. Two each crossed in Smithfield, Little Creek, and Frensway—three places, none of which consisted of more than a gas station, a bar, and a few houses. The road I was planning to take ran due east to west through Smithfield and Little Creek toward Utah.

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I got out and went to the bar across the street. The landlord and the only two customers, two men in work clothes, stared at me. “How far is it to the road that runs through Smithfield and Little Creek?” I asked. “The nearest point on the road is 10½ miles from here,” replied the innkeeper, whose name was Abe. And Ike, the older of the two guests, added: “Of course, as the crow flies”, which I translated as “as the crow flies”. Then Jake, the third man, explained to me that Little Creek was 14 straight miles from the road that went through Frensway and Smithfield, and Smithfield was 30 straight miles from the road that went through Frensway and Little Creek. “So Frensway has the best transport links of the three cities,” said Abe proudly. “I’m going to Little Creek in the morning, on to Smithfield in the afternoon and then straight home to Frensway in the evening,” says Jake. “If you can tell me how long my round trip is, you can sleep on my sofa tonight and drive to Little Creek with me tomorrow morning.” How was this to be figured out from the three men’s cryptic statements?

I added, subtracted, and multiplied the numbers, but didn’t get any meaningful results. Finally I shrugged and gave up. “It’s either brains or money,” Jake said. Ike translated: “Either you can solve the problem or you buy a round of beers.” Relieved, I chose the second option.

Do you know how many miles Jake drove on his round trip?

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I think

Anyone can participate, except for the employees of the publishing house and their relatives. The legal process is excluded.
Please send your solution by April 30, 2023:

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The solutions and the names of the winners will be published here and in the July 2023 issue.


We are giving away five copies of the book “The Flight of the Starlings” by Giorgio Parisi from among the senders of the correct solution. In it, the quantum physics professor from the University of Rome describes “the miracle of complex systems”. He received the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics “for discovering the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from the atomic to the planetary scale”. His research is about the ubiquitous phenomenon of self-organization, as can be seen, for example, in the natural spectacle of the flight of starlings, the formation of clouds and tiger stripes, or the physics of spin glasses. In addition, Parisi gives insights into his life as a scientist, he describes how new ideas arise and what role intuition plays in this. He reflects wisely on the exchange of metaphors between physics and biology, as well as the meaning of science and its importance to society. Additional Information:

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