Issue #187:
A Good Problem to Have
by B.J. Novak

187-coverA man leaves Chicago on a train heading for Cleveland at 60 miles per hour. Another man leaves Cleveland heading for Chicago on a train going 85 miles per hour. How long before the two trains cross paths? This standard math question is something we all eventually face in grade school. To solve it, determine the distance (308 miles), the relative rate of the two trains (60 + 85=145), and use the formula Distance ÷ Rate=Time. But what if some of the elements of this equation changed? What if the two people traveling weren’t strangers, but a man and woman who are in love? What if the distance wasn’t 308 miles, but the years since one of them has passed away? What if the child solving this problem learns not math—but how to live a fuller life? All of these questions come into play in our new issue, B.J. Novak’s “A Good Problem to Have.” This short piece begins as a mad-cap lark, when the aged author of our famous train problem arrives and demands compensation from a fourth grade class. But as he settles in and tells his tale, the students soon learn that the truth behind this equation isn’t arithmetic—it’s a love story and life lesson hidden within the numbers. Be sure to read Contributing Editor Will Allison’s Q&A with B.J. Novak about the inspiration behind this sharply-written, funny, curious and moving story. And check out B.J.’s story collection, One More Thing, when it hits bookstores next month.  In the meantime, take out a piece of scrap paper and start crunching those numbers. (The answer is: two hours and twelve minutes. The other answer is: make every second count.)

 

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