Bruce is an inmate at a large prison, and like most of the other prisoners, he smokes cigarettes. During his time in the prison, Bruce finds that if he has 3 cigarette butts, he can cram them together and turn them into 1 full cigarette. Whenever he smokes a cigarette, it turns into a cigarette butt.
One day, Bruce is in his cell talking to one of his cellmates, Steve.
“I really want to smoke 5 cigarettes today, but all I have are these 10 cigarette butts,” Bruce tells Steve. “I’m not sure that will be enough.”
“Why don’t you borrow some of Tom’s cigarette butts?” asks Steve, pointing over to a small pile of cigarette butts on the bed of their third cellmate, Tom, who is out for the day on a community service project.
“I can’t,” Bruce says. “Tom always counts exactly how many cigarette butts are in his pile, and he’d probably kill me if he noticed that I had taken any.”
However, after thinking for a while, Bruce figures out a way that he can smoke 5 cigarettes without angering Tom. What is his plan?
Bruce takes 9 of his 10 cigarette butts and turns them into 3 cigarettes total (3 cigarette butts can be turned into 1 cigarette). He smokes all three of these, and now he has 4 cigarette butts.
He then turns 3 of the 4 cigarette butts into another cigarette and smokes it. He has now smoked 4 cigarettes and has 2 cigarette butts. And finally he goes and borrows one of Tom’s cigarette butts. With this cigarette butt plus the 2 he already has, he is able to make his 5th cigarette to smoke.
After smoking it, he is left with 1 cigarette butt, which he puts back in Tom’s pile so that Tom won’t find anything missing.