A second version is:
An alternate answer is zero because the question implies how many kits, cats, sacks, and wives are going to st. ives, and none of those 4 categories are going.
This answer is based on the ambiguous language of the riddle.
The narrator, while heading to St. Ives, may have met the large party who are going away from St Ives; this is the most common assumption. Alternatively, the group encountered is not going anywhere - perhaps they are in their home town. In either assumption, the rhyme only tells us that they are "met" on the journey and gives no further information about the intentions of the group, only that of the narrator.
The problem appears to be an illustration of an algorithm for multiplying numbers. The sequence 7, 7 × 7, 7 × 7 × 7, ..., appears in the right-hand column, and the terms 2,801, 2 × 2,801, 4 × 2,801 appear in the left; the sum on the left is 7 × 2,801 = 19,607, the same as the sum of the terms on the right. Note that the author of the papyrus miscalculated the fourth power of 7; it should be 2,401, not 2,301. However, the sum of the powers (19,607) is correct.
The problem has been paraphrased by modern commentators as a story problem involving houses, cats, mice, and grain, although in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus there is no discussion beyond the bare outline stated above. The hekat was 1/30 of a cubic cubit (approximately 4.8 litre).
The rhyme was also the basis of a Sesame Street Muppet skit from the show's first season, in which the boy muppet holding a numeral "7" sings the rhyme as a song to the girl muppet twice (the second time, the girl is busy writing down the calculations) and finally, in keeping true to the spirit of the riddle, reveals the answer as 1 (the traditional answer), because the kits, cats, sacks and wives were going the other way. Then the girl asks how many were going the other way and reveals the mathematical answer from her calculations: 2801. Astonished, the boy responds, "How about that?!"
MAD magazine once used in one of its articles the following parody:
2. Oystein Ore, "Number Theory and its History", McGraw- Hill Book Co, 1944
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