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Mind-boggling matchstick puzzles have people scratching their heads

The puzzles just require turning incorrect equations into correct ones, yet people find them challenging.

Puzzles are to the brain what exercise is to the body. Recently, a certain form of puzzle called the “matchstick puzzles” has been running viral among the TikTok community. A matchstick puzzle is a rearrangement puzzle. It can be a non-math problem or a math problem. One TikToker who has been posting these teasing math puzzles since 2023 is @salikefree.

Typically, in a matchstick puzzle, the person is presented with an incorrect math equation in which numbers are formed using matchsticks. The rules are simple: the person is required to move one or multiple matchsticks or remove one or multiple matchsticks to arrive at the correct solution by turning the mathematical expression into a valid equation. However, no extra matches can be removed, and symbols like ≠, ≥, >, <, or ≤ cannot be formed.

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A post shared by Math Tricks (@fractiontricks)

According to the University of Waterloo, the puzzle has its origins in the past times when pubs and taverns routinely put boxes of wooden matches on the bar and tables for customers. These puzzles were a common activity. Writing in “Creative Puzzles of the World, New York: Harry N. Abrams,” Pieter van Delft and Jack Botermans said that long-term convicts sometimes passed their time with matchstick puzzles. Historical references also suggest that sailors solved these riddles on long voyages.

Matchstick puzzles became widely popular during the 19th century when some match companies started putting them on the backs of matchboxes, as per Michigan State University. Soon there were print books about these puzzles.

One of the most popular matchstick puzzles shared by @salikefree is the equation “5 - 4 = 6,” made up of a total of 18 matches. The player can move only one match to solve this equation. @romayssaeablaa commented, “6 – 4 = 2.” But this is an incorrect answer as it would require 2 matches to be moved. Some said, “5 – 11 = 6,” but this, too, is an incorrect answer because five minus eleven is minus six.

The correct answer is “9 – 4 = 5.” This is received by removing the lower left match of “6” and moving it to the upper right position of “5” which was originally empty. Hence the “5” on the left side becomes “9,” and the “6” on the right side becomes “5,” thereupon revealing the correct equation, that is, “9 – 4 = 5.” In some of the comments, the TikToker said that to find solutions to puzzles like these, one needs to “think differently.”

Here are some more intriguing matchstick puzzles shared by the TikToker:

1) 7 – 7 = 60

The correct answer is “7 – 1 = 6 - 0”

2) 5 – 9 = 1

The correct answer is “6 – 5 = 1”

3) 8 – 2 = 8

The correct answer is “6 + 2 = 8”

4) 12 – 34 = 56

The correct answer is “12 + 44 = 56”

5) 99 + 99 = 1

The correct answer is “99 – 98 = 1”

You can follow @SALikeFree on TikTok for more brain-teasing matchstick puzzles!

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