One of my biggest challenges in math is solving word problems. A word problem is given. I have never seen it before but it is not hard to solve. However, I cannot, for the life of me, reason the problem out or create an equation leading to the right answer.

I am not talking about word problems that I've recently been taught to solve. I am talking about correctly answering word problems usually given on standardized exams. On the other hand, there are people who did not major in math who can reason their way through a math word problem and without creating the needed equation, can successfully answer the applications or word problems.

I find, for example, probability word problems to be a bit fuzzy. In fact, I find probability word problems far more complicated than those usually found in algebra 2, college algebra and precalculus trigonometry textbooks.

Geometry word problems at the high school level are not too bad. Below are two word problems that someone like me, who has been playing with math textbooks for many years, should be able to solve with ease. Honestly, I don't know where to start.

Two Sample Word Problems

(1) 40 boys and 28 girls stand in a circle, hand in hand, all facing inwards. Exactly 18 boys give their right hand to a girl. How many boys give their left hand to a girl?

(2) The Coughlin family discovered they can stand in a row for their family portrait 720 different ways. How many members are in the Coughlin family?

Please, explain how you would reason your way through the questions.