So the puzzle is like this:
An ant is out from its nest searching for food. It travels in a straight line from its nest. After this ant gets 40 ft away from the nest, suddenly a rain starts to pour and washes away all its scent trail. This ant has the strength of traveling 280 ft more then it will starve to death. Suppose this ant's nest is a huge wall and this ant can travel in a whatever curve it wants, how can this ant find its way back?
I interpret it as: I start at the origin. I know that there is a straight line with distance 40 ft to the origin, but I don't know the direction. In what parametric curve I will sure hit the line when the parameter $t$ is increasing, while the total arc length is less than or equal to 280 ft.
I asked a friend of mine who is a PhD in math, he told me this is a calculus of variation problem. I wonder if I could use basic calculus stuff to solve this puzzle (I have learned ODE as well). My hunch tells me that a spiral should be used as the path, yet I am not sure what kind of spiral to use here. Any hint shall be appreciated. Thanks dudes!
Clarification by dfeuer
As some people seem to be having trouble understanding the problem description, I'll add an equivalent one that should be clear:
Starting in the center of a circle of radius 40 ft, draw a path with the shortest possible length that intersects every line that is tangent to the circle.