Who knew the intellectual pursuit of cheeseburgers could find its way into Aiken Technical College's orientation program on Thursday.

Eight burgers, actually, but only as virtual props in trying to figure out a puzzle. Alex Gantt, a first-year ATC student, pondered over it with three other new students. A team is the best way to solve issues, but Gannt said he wasn't sure he wanted to talk with the media.

“I may say it wrong,” he said. But he and his teammates did figure out the puzzle.

There's a back story, of course. ATC faculty members include problem-solving and critical-thinking skills in their classrooms every year, said Bruce McCord, the department chair for history, social studies and public service. The instructors offer exercises throughout the semester and “by the final assignment, the students have improved exponentially,” McCord said. “They've become stronger students, and we've become stronger instructors.”

OK, here's the puzzle: ATC students and roommates Ted and Bill go out to McBurgers one night. Bill buys three cheeseburgers, Ted gets five. When they get home, their other roommate, Justin, is there, and he offers to pay them if Ted and Bill will share. They divide the eight burgers into thirds, so that each gets the same amount of burger heaven.

Justin only has eight coins, and Bill says he and Ted should get four coins each. That's not fair, says Ted, because he purchased more burgers. He wants five coins, leaving Bill with three.

So the three of them go to ATC's critical-thinking expert, who happens to be McCord. Here's his surprising answer: Ted gets seven quarters and Bill settles for the other one. McCord explains and they agree with him. But why?

Well, there are 24 burger slices. Bill originally had nine of them, so he gives Justin one of his slices. So Bill gets a single coin back. As for Ted, he initially had five burgers, which are now 15 slices. He gives Justin seven slices to make the count even. Ted winds up with the other seven coins.

“There's only one answer in this particular exercise,” McCord said. “But in general terms, critical-thinking looks for alternative solutions – encouraging thinking outside the box. It's about looking at issues from multiple angles.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.