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How to Use Toilet Paper

Certain aspects of human life are simultaneously private and universal -- everyone experiences the same stuff privately and almost no one talks about it. Pretty much everything that happens in the bathroom falls into this category, which is why I was amazed to discover that serious thought has gone into the challenges presented by toilet paper. Here are a few examples.

The Toilet Paper Algorithm

Design guru Don Norman decided to confront a common toilet paper crisis: the problem of the roll running out just when you need it most. When remodeling his home, Norman installed a dual-roll toilet paper dispenser, under the theory that there'd always be a second roll available for just such emergencies. But he quickly found that, for some reason, both rolls seemed to run out at the same time!

Norman applied some logical thinking to his problem, resulting in the article Toilet Paper Algorithms: I didn't know you had to be a computer scientist to use toilet paper. The gist of it is that Norman and his wife were subconsciously selecting whatever roll was larger at any given time, leading them both to become roughly the same size, thus running out at the same time. (Read the article for more details on the various available toilet paper algorithms...it's neat.)

For the record, Norman determined that the optimal strategy for using toilet paper in a dual-roll holder is to always use the smaller roll. This will tend to drive one roll to become empty, but will leave a full roll available.

Norman isn't alone in his analysis of toilet paper roll consumption -- Donald E. Knuth published a mathematics paper entitled The Toilet Paper Problem in The American Mathematical Monthly in 1984, including equations for analysis of toilet paper usage.

The Fold Versus Crumple Debate

I'll try to put this as delicately as I can. Apparently there's a significant debate about whether it's better to fold several sheets of paper, or crumple them together in a bunch. One major argument in favor of the "fold" method is that depending on the quality of your paper and your folding technique, you can refold (and thus reuse) a single set of sheets. The counter-argument is that this is super-gross. I have my own opinions on this issue, but let's just say I've tried multiple methodologies over the years and feel that I've perfected my technique.

So what's the distribution of crumplers versus folders in the wild? An online toilet paper usage survey has received almost 5,000 responses. At the moment, the folders are slightly in the lead (52%), but tend to be a little older than crumplers. Also, far more crumplers are male than female (70% of crumplers in the survey are male). You can take the survey or just hit the 'View' button to see the results without contributing your own.

Toilet Paper Requisition Denied

Here's some fun WWII trivia. Lieutenant Commander J. W. Coe of the submarine USS Skipjack requested 150 rolls of toilet paper from the supply officer at Mare Island Naval Base in July of 1941. The request was denied in November of 1941 with a notation saying, "Cancelled -- cannot identify." By June 1942 the situation onboard USS Skipjack was dire, and Coe sent another request, reading in part:

During the 11-3/4 months elapsing from the time of ordering the toilet paper and the present date, USS SKIPJACK personnel, despite their best efforts to await delivery of the subject material, have been unable to wait on numerous occasions, and the situation is now quite acute, particularly during depth-charge attacks by the "back stabbers."

...

SKIPJACK personnel during this period have become accustomed to the use of "crests," i.e., the vast amount of incoming non-essential paper work, and in so doing feel that the wish of the Bureau of Ships for reduction of paper work is being complied with, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Read the rest at the wonderful Snopes page detailing the event.

Got any toilet paper trivia, or an opinion on fold-versus-crumple? Share it with us in the comments!

(Toilet paper photo courtesy of Brandon Blinkenberg and Wikimedia Commons.)

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No One Can Figure Out This Second Grade Math Problem
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Angie Werner got a lot more than she bargained for on January 24, when she sat down to help her 8-year-old daughter, Ayla, with her math homework. As Pop Sugar reports, the confusion began when they got to the following word problem:

“There are 49 dogs signed up to compete in the dog show. There are 36 more small dogs than large dogs signed up to compete. How many small dogs are signed up to compete?”

Many people misread the problem and thought it was a trick question: if there are 36 more small dogs and the question is how many small dogs are competing, then maybe the answer is 36?

Wrong!

Frustrated by the confusing problem, Angie took to a private Facebook group to ask fellow moms to weigh in on the question, which led to even more confusion, including whether medium-sized dogs should somehow be accounted for. (No, they shouldn’t.) Another mom chimed in with an answer that she thought settled the debate:

"Y'all. A mom above figured it out. We were all wrong. If there is a total of 49 dogs and 36 of them are small dogs then there are 13 large dogs. That means 36 small dogs subtracted by 13 large dogs then there are 23 more small dogs than large dogs. 36-13=23. BOOM!!! WOW! Anyone saying there's half and medium dogs tho just no!"

It was a nice try, but incorrect. A few others came up with 42.5 dogs as the answer, with one woman explaining her method as follows: "49-36=13. 13/2=6.5. 36+6.5=42.5. That's how I did it in my head. Is that the right way to do it? Lol I haven't done math like this since I was in school!"

Though commenters understandably took issue with the .5 part of the answer—an 8-year-old is expected to calculate for a half-dog? What kind of dog show is this?—when Ayla’s teacher heard about the growing debate, she chimed in to confirm that 42.5 is indeed the answer, but that the blame in the confusion rested with the school. "The district worded it wrong,” said Angie. “The answer would be 42.5, though, if done at an age appropriate grade."

Want to try another internet-baffling riddle?


Here's the answer.

[h/t: Pop Sugar]

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If You Can Solve This Math Puzzle, You Might Be a Genius
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by Reader's Digest Editors

Do you think of yourself as a secret mathematician? This math brainteaser has even the biggest number nerds scratching their heads.

People’s Daily, China tweeted out this math puzzle in which each picture represents a number.

These algebra problems might seem easy at first glance, but hold on. People’s Daily was nice enough to give away the answer before you began. If you didn’t get 16, you did something wrong. Take a closer look at the pictures—you probably missed a few key details.

Still stumped? We’ll walk you through it. For the sake of the explanation, we’ll call the shoes S, the cat C, and the whistle W.

The first equation sets up the whole math puzzle. Three pairs of shoes added together equal thirty. S + S + S = 30, so divide 30 by three. Each pair of sneakers represents the number 10. Easy enough.

 
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Now the second equation is clearer. Sub the shoes out for a 10, and you’ll find out 10 + C + C = 20. Subtract 10 from each side, so C + C = 10. Each cat must represent the number 5.

Look closely at the next equation before you jump into it. In the third equation, there are two whistles in each line, but the final one only has one whistle. So 5 + 2W + 2W = 13. If 4W = 8, then each whistle represents the number 2.

OK, so that clears up a bit of the next equation—until you plug the numbers in. Sub S + C x W for 10 + 5 x 2. Remember your order of operations? Multiply first, then add. So 10 + 10 = 20. What went wrong?

The key is in the cat’s clothes. In the second and third equations, the cat has a whistle around its neck—but not in the last one.

No need to go back and redo all your hard work. Just change the last equation to S + (C – W) x W. Now plug the numbers in: 10 + (5 – 2) x 2. Work your way through it. The equation goes to 10 + (3) x 2, then 10 + 6. Finally, you get 16—problem solved!

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