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TRG’s Muffin Theory

12 December, 2013

At a recent family breakfast there were seven people eating and six muffins in the packet. “How many do we cut these into,” my brother asked, waving the knife as he tried to gauge the angle of incision, “so that we can share them equally?”

“Well it must be seven pieces per muffin,” I said, with a spontaneous Eurekan leap of logic, “then we would all get six-sevenths each.”  I hadn’t thought about it, I had instinctively known this would be the answer. “That must be right,” I proposed, “because seven is prime. And if that’s true then in every case in every similar circumstance, if one of the numbers is prime then that will be the answer.” Again, the solution ran ahead of my logic – my brain had presented me with a solution but not shown its working in the margin.

We began to dissect this theory, testing it by surmising different numbers of people, different numbers of muffins. And it held true. My brother pointed out that what we were doing was finding lowest common denominators and this proved the theory conclusively – if one denominator is prime then the LCD is the product of all denominators. QED.


This may not be a revelation to rival Newton’s musings on gravity, or Higgs’ proposal that there is a Boson (I’m sure if there are any mathematicians reading they are rolling their eyes at how glaringly obvious this all is, and to be honest so was I when we boiled the whole thing down to denominators) but this was the first time in my life I had ever come up with a mathematical hypothesis – that if one number is prime then this will be the number of slices per muffin – and I felt damn chuffed with myself.


I am fascinated by geeky stuff like maths and science – I like the rules and the order, I like the fact that there are answers that can be proved and that will be conclusively true. So little in life is predictable and consistent. Maybe this gives life colour and variety and romance even, but that isn’t how my head works, it doesn’t like unpredictable. There is a reason why my favourite painters are Damien Hirst and Piet Mondrian and Bridget Riley – their most famous works have order and logic and progression that calms me. I see beauty in systems, and the perfection of my Muffin Theory had beauty.

Back at the breakfast table, we decided cutting into sevenths wasn’t going to be practical so we just cut the muffins in half and put butter on them. And not everyone wanted one, meaning there were some left over so the theory wasn’t actually used in practice, but that’s the real world for you. Non-conformist, unpredictable, whimsical, spontaneous.




From → Blogging, My Head

  1. Delilah permalink

    That is actually pretty cool. My daughter made 100% on the math section of testing last year. She also exceeds in Science, so I’m hoping for an Engineering Degree.

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