Do the Math

Wandering through the grocery store I felt this overwhelming desire to buy potato chips. Sea salt and malt vinegar to be precise.  There’s one particular brand of these particular chips that I quite enjoy, and as I passed them in the aisle I tossed two bags into my basket not taking into consideration the impulsiveness of the future purchase let alone the cost.  A few more steps down the unusually shiny sort-of-white grocery store floor, and on the left, was a collection of little yellow signs obnoxiously proclaiming “4 for $5” right below a whole shelf of blue chip bags of the usual variety of flavours: Regular, BBQ, and Salt & Vinegar.  Sea salt and malt vinegar!

I stopped dead in my tracks, which seems kind of dramatic now that I’ve written it down but it’s also exactly what happened.  I looked down at my basket.  Confused.  Not that I had any real reason to be confused, they were just chips, and the particular brand I had come to enjoy had always been a fine choice in the past.  But at this moment I looked back to my right and checked the price of these well-known salt and vinegary crunchy treats.  Just to keep the math simple, let’s round down by $0.09 and say they were $3.50 a bag.  In a split second (or two) the calculations were complete.  The chips in my possession at this moment were almost 3 times the cost of these mysterious blue discount chips.  Three times!

It was right then that I had a revelation.  Minimally, it was a nifty bit of insight (considering I was standing in a grocery store somewhere between the chips and pretzels).  I was ready to spend almost 3 times as much for chips, that in all likelihood, were not 3 times as satisfying as the competing brand.   For a potato chip to be 3 times better than another potato chip it would have to be a really freaking awesome potato chip.  It’s a potato chip for heaven’s sake, we’re not talking about HD TV or the Mars Rover.

In of itself this revelation is not that startling, but what occurred to me was that there was likely a whole host of things out there, bigger things, important things, for which I was unnecessarily paying considerably more (either in monetary costs or other less tangible forms).  Further to this, I was certain that I was not alone in this regard.  People EVERYWHERE were (figuratively, and in some cases literally) buying chips 3 times as expensive as they needed to be ALL THE TIME.

For some reason this seemed utterly unacceptable.  Something had to be done.  But what?  Well for starters I put back my usual brand of chips and bought 4 bags of the discount chips.  Two bags of the salt & vinegar and one bag each of “regular” and BBQ.  Before I left the parking lot I had already cracked open a bag of the bargain S&V and you know what?

They sucked.

In the chip makers defense, they were definitely more than 1/3 as good as the other brand, but not quite half.  My regular brand was priced at $3.59 and I was convinced that this was an inflated number.  This was just an arbitrarily assigned cost the chip company came up with (actually, it was probably based on millions of dollars in market research in an attempt to find out just how much they could charge and still have loads of people buy the damn chips).  So, I just as arbitrarily assigned a bag value of $1.74 to the chips I just purchased for $1.25 each.

By my math I thought I had just received a deal.  Not much of one, but a deal nonetheless.  I paid 49 cents less for my chips than I thought they were worth.  The only problem was they still sucked.  So really, I didn’t get a deal at all.  I just paid $5.00 for 2 bags of chips that I didn’t really like and 2 bags of chips I didn’t really want when I could have spend only $2.18 more for 2 bags of chips I would have really enjoyed.  I drove home very disappointed with my trip to the grocery store and was mildly depressed that I would now have to eat all these shitty/unwanted chips (crappy or not, it would seem wasteful).

The moral of the story? Something about getting what you pay for, or at the very least appreciating the value in the things you already know you enjoy.  That, or I just proved bus stop advertising works.

Wanna buy some chips? Three bags for 5 bucks.

2 thoughts on “Do the Math

  1. Anonymous

    I stumbled onto this blog by chance. I was searching for the math of potato chips. That is, why a potato that is sliced into a nice flat thin region of a spheroid with planar section faces distorts into a saddle shape when it cools from the cooking oil. I think it has something to do with the difference between the way the bounding periphery shrinks and the way the ex-planar surfaces shrink. This difference creates causes the surfaces to become negatively curved, in the Gaussian sense. Whatever …

  2. Andrew F. Butters

    Well I'm glad you stopped by, regardless of the path that led you here.I like your theory about potato chip curvature. It's been a few years since I did any math or physics but it seems like a sound theory 🙂


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