Have you ever come across a math problem on the internet that left you scratching your head? Well, you’re not alone. There was one particular math problem that went viral a couple of years ago, and it had everyone, from regular folks to scientists, debating the answer.

The problem was simple, or so it seemed: 8 ÷ 2(2 + 2). However, when people tried to solve it, they got different answers, leading to a full-blown debate on social media. The question was, what is the correct answer to this perplexing equation?

One group of people, including some editors from Popular Mechanics, argued that the answer is 16. They used the popular rule “PEMDAS” (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction) to solve the problem. According to this rule, the equation should be solved in the order of operations: first parentheses, then exponents, and so on, from left to right.

Using this approach, they solved the equation by first solving the 2 + 2 in the parentheses, which gave them 4. Then, they divided 8 by 2, which resulted in 4. Finally, they multiplied 4 by 4, giving them a final answer of 16.

But the debate didn’t end there. Another group of people, including other editors from Popular Mechanics, argued that the answer is 1. They also used the PEMDAS rule, but with a different interpretation.

They agreed that the 2 + 2 should be solved first, but they treated the sum as if it were in parentheses: 8 ÷ 2(4). In their interpretation, a multiplication operation in parentheses trumps division, even if it’s on the leftmost side of the equation. Following this approach, they divided 8 by 2, giving them 4. Then, they multiplied 4 by 4, resulting in a final answer of 1.

As the debate raged on, mathematicians and scientists joined in. Mike Breen from the American Mathematical Society cited that based on the order of operations, 16 is the correct answer. However, he acknowledged that the way the equation was written was “ambiguous.”

“In math, there are often ambiguities. Mathematicians try to make rules as precise as possible. According to the strict order of operations, you’d get 16, but I wouldn’t scold someone if they said 1,” he explained.

To further add to the confusion, Physics Professor Rhett Allain from Southeastern Louisiana University suggested that the equation should have been written as 8/(2*(2+2)), which would be 1.

In the end, it became clear that there was no definitive answer to the viral math problem. Different interpretations and conventions led to different solutions. Just like with spelling, where some say “gray” while others say “grey,” math problems can be subject to different conventions.

So, the next time you come across a math problem that leaves you puzzled, remember that sometimes there is no one right answer. Math can be a bit ambiguous, but that’s part of what makes it so intriguing.