A math question in Beijing elementary school entrance exam

I’ve seen this question before. A Ph.D. student Wu Baojun (吴宝俊) of Chinese Academy of Science claimed that no one in his office could solve the problem. This time, it is brought up to media during the 2011 NPC & CPPCC sessions. So, let me translate it to English:

Given nine digits 1 through 9. You will be asked to separate them into different categories. For example, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9; and 2, 4, 6, 8 are separated by odd and even numbers. Now here are three categories: 1, 3, 7, 8; 5, 9; and 2, 4, 6. How are they separated?

I have to say that it is unfair for a non-Chinese speaker to try this problem. But the reality is that none of Chinese speaker can solve the problem. Is this fair to ask a Chinese preschool child to solve the problem?

The answer to the question: They are separated by the tones of these characters. The tone of “1, 3, 7, 8” is the first tone; the tone of “5, 9” is the third; the tone of “2, 4, 6” is the fourth. Ask IBM’s Watson to see whether it can solve the problem. I doubt about it.

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