A Known Problem

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Joined Jan 27, 2019
An engineer and a mathematician were both hired and set to start work on the same day. Each, entering their office for the first time found, to his surprise, the metal wastebasket next to his desk had burning paper in it. Each immediately went to the water cooler, filled a cup, then returned to extinguish the fire.

The next morning, upon arriving, the engineer found his wastebasket not only burning but on top of his desk this time! He moved it to the floor and rushed to get water to put it out. On the way, he passed the mathematician's office and noticed his wastebasket on the floor, burning, while the mathematician busied himself with some complicated looking equations. "Aren't you going to put that out?", he asked? "What?", asked the mathematician, distractedly, "Put what out?" "The burning wastebasket!", said the engineer.

"Oh, that.", said the mathematician with dawning comprehension, "I'd forgotten about it." "Forgotten about it?!", asked the engineer incredulously. "Well, yes...", said the mathematician, "I came in and found it on the desk. Once I put it on the floor it was reduced to a known problem and I lost interest."