Editorial for World Tour Contest Problem 2 — Fireplace Poker


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Author: quantum

In Russian, the grammar uses noun cases to indicate the grammatical function of the nouns, instead of using word order as you would in English. For example, in the sentence "here is a fireplace poker", the word "fireplace poker" would appear as "кочерга", which is in the nominative case. However, in the sentence "I stabbed myself with fireplace pokers", the word "fireplace pokers" would appear as "кочергами", which is in the instrumental case.

When expressing a certain quantity of an object, the following rules must be obeyed:

  • If the decimal representation of the quantity ends in 1 (but not in 11), the noun appears in the singular in the grammatical case suitable for its role in the sentence.
  • If the decimal representation of the quantity ends in 2, 3, or 4 (but not in 12, 13, or 14), the noun appears in the singular in the genitive case.
  • Otherwise, the noun appears in the plural in the genitive case.

When filling out the form, you are simply mentioning a number of fireplace pokers, and so the default case would be nominative.

Therefore, to complete the form, you simply need to look up the correct form of the noun кочерга in the following table:

casesingularplural
nominativeкочергакочерги
genitiveкочергикочерёг
dativeкочергекочергам
accusativeкочергукочерги
instrumentalкочергой
кочергою
кочергами
prepositionalкочергекочергах

If only it were so simple. Unfortunately, the genitive plural form is irregular, and most people do not know the actual form. This includes your boss. While you may be able to fill out the form correctly, your boss thinks you are just making something up, so you need to pull some tricks to make your boss happy.

Fortunately, the bureaucrat is supposedly human and able to understand slightly more complex orders. The natural instinct would be to order something like "3 fireplace pokers and 2 fireplace pokers". However, it is not guaranteed that you would be able to avoid the genitive plural in this manner.

Obviously, the solution would be to use circumlocution through another word. In English, one could say "3 fireplace pokers and 2 extra". This should be obvious enough, and the actual solution is left as an exercise for the reader.


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