I have two questions about the following problem, taken from Challenging Problems in Algebra by Posamentier and Salkind: (1) Why is the answer not 1 person? (2) The answer given, without solution, is 26. Is the correct answer not 27?
Assume that every resident of a city with population 8,000,000 has at least 1 hair on his or head but not more than 300,000 hairs. What is the least number n in the assertion that there are n persons in the city with the same number of hairs on his or her head?
Yesterday a student of mine asked (1), arguing that, theoretically, it is possible for 1 person to have $a$ hairs on his or her head and for 7,999,999 people to have $b$ hairs on their heads, $a \not= b$ and $1\leq a \leq 300,000$, $1 \leq b \leq 300,000$. What is wrong with this argument?
What is wrong with the following solution, which gives 27? Assume that each of the 300,000 possible numbers of hairs corresponds to disjoint sets of 26 people. This accounts for $26 \times 300,000=7,800,000$ people. Now, for some 200,000 of the 300,000 possible numbers of hairs, assign 1 more person. Those 200,000 numbers of hairs will all have 27 people associated with them, and this accounts for the whole population. Thus, in the scenario where every resident has $a$ hairs or $b$ hairs, $\max(a,b) \geq 27$.