The 18th Camel – An Innovative Solution to a Problem.


By T.V. Antony Raj


If I had 60 minutes to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes defining it, and 5 minutes solving it” – Albert Einstein


Camels (Source:
Camels (Source:


Long ago a rich Arab was nearing death. He wanted to bequeath all his worldly possessions to his three sons, born to three different mothers. Since the sons were young, he wanted a wise man to look after them and his possessions. To find that wise man he devised a plan. He called his sons and relatives of his three wives to his room. He told them to divide his possessions among the three sons soon after his death.

One elderly relative pointed out that everything the rich man possessed was divisible by three except the 17 camels.

All remained silent, waiting for an answer from the dying man.

The rich man said: “Yes, I know that it is a problem. I want my 17 camels divided in the following proportions: My eldest son shall have half of them, my second son shall have one-third, and my youngest son shall have one-ninth.

There was a murmur among those present in the room.

“I also want a wise person to administer my possessions and be the guardian of my sons,” the dying man said. “If there is a wise person amongst you who could solve this problem of dividing the 17 camels in the ratio I have bequeathed, then let him be the guardian.”

A few days later, the rich man died after writing his will, leaving his three sons and relatives of his three wives confounded.

The relatives approached the Sultan. Even in the Sultan’s court there was no one clever enough to solve the old man’s request.

A lot of suggestions came from various quarters. One minister suggested dividing the camels after they produced offsprings. Another suggested selling the camels and then dividing the proceeds among the three sons. The learned old judges of the Sultan’s court told the Sultan to declare the will void because it was inexecutable.

Then the court jester raised his hand.

“What do you suggest?” the Sultan asked.

“Your highness, if we think that there is no solution, we won’t be able to find any. The first step in solving any problem is to believe that there is  a solution.”

“So, what should we do?” the Sultan asked.

“Why not we ruminate on this vexing problem for a week and then see whether we can come up with a solution,” the court jester replied.

“I think this clown is correct. We will meet again after a week and find out whether anyone comes up with a good solution.”

After a week all assembled at the Sultan’s court. But no one came forward with a solution.

The court jester approached the Sultan and said he has a solution. Everyone laughed. The court jester too laughed along with them.

The court jester smiled and said, “I will add your camel to the flock of the dead man. So, we now have 18 camels. The eldest son gets one-half of the flock, which is nine. The second son gets one-third, which amounts to six. The third son should get one-ninth that is two. So, nine plus six plus two amounts to 17. That will leave just one camel, the 18th camel, which is yours and I return it to you.”

Everyone at the court, including the Sultan, marvelled at the wisdom of the jester. Without any hesitation, they chose him to be the guardian to the dead man’s three sons.

So, whenever a challenging problem confronts you, always remember this story of the 18th camel. Since there is always a solution to any problem emulate the court jester and try to come up with an innovative solution.

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