As was traditional in their society, each son received camels according to his age. So, the will stipulated the eldest son should receive half the camels, the middle son a quarter of them and the youngest a sixth. Unfortunately, the rich merchant had died owning eleven prize stud camels.
The brothers were in torments of despair as to how to divide the animals: half of eleven is 5½, and half a camel is of no value to anyone. Time passed until, one day, a visiting wise man arrived in town riding his own somewhat disreputable camel. In desperation, the sons of the rich merchant pressed themselves on him. Could he resolve their problem? If he could, he could name his reward. [That’s a different story. Get on with it.—Ed.]
The wise man thought (or, maybe, pretended to). He then led his own somewhat disreputable camel into the enclosure containing the eleven prize stud camels. To the puzzlement of the sons, he addressed himself to the first son: “Please select half of the camels in front of you”. The son duly chose the best six of the twelve in front of him.
The wise man addressed the second son: “Please choose your quarter of the camels”. This son duly chose three fine beasts. Finally, there were three camels left. The wise man addressed the youngest son: “Now it is your turn to choose a sixth of the total number of animals”, and he selected two, still fine creatures as camels go.
And so the wise man walked up to the single remaining camel—his own somewhat disreputable beast—greeted it, and led it away.
As told by Jeremy Marchant (I do not recall where I learnt this little puzzle: any information welcome) . © 2013 Jeremy Marchant Limited . uploaded 20 february 2013