teaspoon based research
March 28, 2022 4:30 PM   Subscribe

 
They are all in my silverware drawer. I drink my tea and coffee black and work from home, and yet strange spoons still manage to migrate there on a regular basis. Same goes with weird ugly stained tea mugs that show up in our cupboard and forks of unknown provenance.

Mrs. Fimbulvetr denies all knowledge of where they come from.
posted by fimbulvetr at 4:42 PM on March 28 [7 favorites]


It's so hard to get an office job, you know? It's so hard. There are the degrees, the qualifications, the resumes, the calls, the outfit selections, the interviews -- three or worse -- and then finally you're shown in, you settle in, and ... people steal the spoons. They steal each other's lunches. Sometimes, they do anatomically improbable things in the bathrooms. They're as weird and thoughtless as anyone else, maybe more.

For myself, I am an American and therefore not to be listened to on the subject of tea, but when I drank it in my last office job, I used an unbent paper clip instead of a spoon. I was always unbending them out of anxiety anyway, and I didn't stir anything into my tea. I mainly just had to use it to fetch out Celestial Seasonings bags.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:47 PM on March 28 [15 favorites]


Someone at the office is doing heroin. Or perhaps that's a particular & specific job I had...
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:54 PM on March 28 [15 favorites]


Before I clicked through, I didn’t suspect that it was about actual spoons and not the unit of measurement! There have always been disposable stirrers wherever I worked.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:06 PM on March 28


great find. botw.

Someone at the office is doing heroin.

I can confirm this phenomenon for the home, as well.

srsly, if you have a kid at home or an addiction prone partner, be aware of the Disappearing Spoons. also, spoons that are discolored only on the bottom. that's from cooking a dose up with a flame.
posted by j_curiouser at 5:11 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


This is why I have a teaspoon in my desk that I carry in my cardigan pocket when I get up to fix tea. But, my office kitchen does have a whole drawer full of butter knives, but no other cutlery.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 5:32 PM on March 28 [6 favorites]


We keep our teaspoons in the same metal can as our other cutlery. The teaspoons are too short, so you can only get to them by emptying out all of the knives, forks, spoons, soup spoons, dessert knives and dessert forks (which we can the 'kids cutlery')

So far, no teaspoons have escaped.
posted by pipeski at 5:35 PM on March 28


I believe based on observation of my own kitchen that teaspoons slowly morph into other cutlery, perhaps a soup spoon or a salad fork.
posted by muddgirl at 5:46 PM on March 28 [9 favorites]


Guessing from my own observations: one spoon is sacrificed to the dark god insinkerator every three months; one or two vacation in the bottom of the dishwasher in the food trap tray until someone is forced to clean it out at gunpoint; the rest are blown away by a tempest... in a teacup.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:51 PM on March 28 [6 favorites]


This is why I have a teaspoon in my desk that I carry in my cardigan pocket when I get up to fix tea.

None more twee. I hear Belle & Sebastian music playing.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:18 PM on March 28 [23 favorites]


spoon theory, indeed
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:25 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


I can confirm this issue is not confined to research institutes but also applies to federal government agencies. My (limited) experience tells me that the reverse occurs at state government agencies, that do not generally provide spoons for staff, where random cutlery and crockery will spontaneously appear in various places and nobody will know where they came from.

An interesting follow-up study could be to broaden the scope of workplaces to see if this is merely nature trying to maintain the balance of teaspoon density across workplaces. My theory is that teaspoons missing from workplaces where such are provided would mysteriously appear in workplaces where they are not.
posted by dg at 6:36 PM on March 28 [9 favorites]


None more twee. I hear Belle & Sebastian music playing

Ask not for whom the spoon strolls. It strolls for twee.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 6:36 PM on March 28 [17 favorites]


Ali Baba search for "Teaspoons" 250 teaspoons a year works out to about $200/ year + shipping. Honestly, if having teaspoons available saves everyone in the workplace 1 minute a week, that's about 2 hours a week for the 140 staff listed in the paper. Assuming that the people are paid more than $10/hour; and the order can be completed with less than $800 or so of overhead costs, buying the number of teaspoons the article suggests are needed to maintain adequate coverage will more than pay for itself.

This is the wonderful thing about cost accounting; in my experience it's usually pretty easy to demonstrate that for any given minor purchase, not only will it pay for itself, but the discussion involved in deciding not to buy it, would cost more than just buying whatever it is. I also suspect this kind of thing is why people don't like accountants; this topic has the potential for all kinds of whimsy and speculation, lovely little rituals, and wonderful wonderful discussions can be had on these things, and then there's some person with a calculator who's pretty sure they can prove the the optimum solution is just buy more fucking spoons and get back to work.
posted by Grimgrin at 6:46 PM on March 28 [31 favorites]


What this study adds

People have no control over teaspoon migration; escape to a spoonoid planet and resistentialism are equally plausible explanations.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:52 PM on March 28 [4 favorites]


Now do socks
posted by sjswitzer at 7:10 PM on March 28 [5 favorites]


I thought Australia used the metric system.
posted by octothorpe at 7:11 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]


... it's usually pretty easy to demonstrate that for any given minor purchase, not only will it pay for itself, but the discussion involved in deciding not to buy it, would cost more than just buying whatever it is.

Well, if you work in an Australian Government agency, this gets tricky when that expenditure must be publicly reported and is subject to cross-examination in minute detail during Senate Estimates by the opposition, who routinely submit extensive questions on notice about such things (the all-time favourite is expenditure on office plants) looking for ways to embarrass the government. In the agency I worked for, we solved the problem by sending someone around with an envelope soliciting donations and used that to buy our own fucking spoons and then went back to work. To be fair, we mostly did it to avoid a certain person that insisted cutlery be locked up and allocated by them and entered into a register getting their own way.
posted by dg at 7:15 PM on March 28 [11 favorites]


I thought Australia used the metric system.
I took it as read that these were metric teaspoons (which have the same capacity as imperial teaspoons).
posted by dg at 7:18 PM on March 28


Only Anoia knows.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:37 PM on March 28 [11 favorites]


Spoons and ball point pens look like separate species, but they're actually the larval stages of an organism with quite a complex lifecycle whose adult form is the wire coat hanger.

If you want to know where the teaspoons and pens have disappeared to, just look in the wardrobe. They'll be there, hanging on the racks. And you know perfectly well that you never put them there.

Case closed.
posted by flabdablet at 7:41 PM on March 28 [25 favorites]


I can't remember where I read this story (it may have been the second volume of Isaac Asimov's autobiography), but the author was speaking with an Oxford University professor, who explained that there were only two things that could get one fired from the job:
"One is gross sexual impropriety on the office furniture -- I think it's all right on the floor -- and the other," he added, "is nicking the tea-things."
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:47 PM on March 28 [6 favorites]


I thought Australia used the metric system.

Indeed we do.
If we assume that the annual rate of teaspoon loss per employee can be applied to the entire workforce of the city of Melbourne (about 2.5 million), an estimated 18 million teaspoons are going missing in Melbourne each year. Laid end to end, these lost teaspoons would cover over 2700 km—the length of the entire coastline of Mozambique—and weigh over 360 metric tons—the approximate weight of four adult blue whales.
Please note the appearance of the Mozambique Coastline and the Blue Whale in the quoted paragraph. These are the international standard units for long distances and large masses respectively.
posted by flabdablet at 7:49 PM on March 28 [9 favorites]


My workplace manages to keep track of the spoons, but forks disappear as if an entire department is secretly comprised of mermaids.
posted by Comet Bug at 7:54 PM on March 28 [13 favorites]


Ironically, while Mozambique Coastlines and Blue Whales are distance/volume measurements and can be applied to the service lives of teaspoons, poets know that lives are measured out in coffee spoons. You just have to know.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:35 PM on March 28 [7 favorites]


the all-time favourite is expenditure on office plants

So not just in Canada, eh? They took away all of our office plants years ago because someone during the Harper government decided they cost too much to have watered.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:36 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


forks of unknown provenance

That's my new sockpuppet name.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:17 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]


Don't tell my parents, or my ex, but sometimes the spoons do get thrown away. They just do. It's not intentional, it's not malicious, and it's not even something I usually notice when I'm doing it. And I will deny the everliving crap out of it if accused. But the answer to where all the spoons went is the trash.

Thanks, ADHD.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:20 PM on March 28 [11 favorites]


The last time I saw my cousin was at the reading of the will. I don't know what happened between Aunt Juniper and her, but when it became clear that I would inherit all the Wiltshire Burgundy series teaspoons... well, that seemed to be the final indignity. She stood, glared, and strode across the office to the door, pilfering the estate lawyer's teaspoon from the sideboard and pocketing it as she went. It was only a Kmart spoon, no provenance, no class. A teaspoon of no great importance to anyone but her.

I think of her from time to time, as I am doling out and stirring. I often wonder how she manages - with hardly any spoons.
posted by Thella at 9:49 PM on March 28 [16 favorites]


I think a certain amount of them get accidentally thrown away with empty yoghurt pots.

Eat yoghurt with spoon, put spoon in pot, take pot to bin, throw pot away, don't realise spoon is in it.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:53 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


But the answer to where all the spoons went is the trash.

This is my answer too. Mostly I think cases where I was eating something from a takeout container, dropped the spoon inside to keep it from messing up the table or couch, and then forgot about it when throwing the container away. The only counter argument is that I don't lose forks as often, but the dinner forks in my current cutlery are quite heavy and I'm likely to notice they are still inside.
posted by tavella at 10:08 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


I have to assume the garbage thing is the culprit because I live alone so I can't blame anyone else...
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:56 PM on March 28


Wait ... y'all have metric whales ?
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 11:14 PM on March 28 [5 favorites]


Thanks for this FPP!

discreetly numbered with red nail polish on the undersides of the handles

I do not believe that discreetly and red nail polish belong in the same sentence. The figures showing the teaspoons show only the top, not the undersides. This does not ruin the work for me, I am simply disappointed that I cannot see what the discreet numbering actually looked like.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:58 AM on March 29 [4 favorites]


If you could, it wouldn't be very discreet, would it?
posted by flabdablet at 2:09 AM on March 29 [4 favorites]


We steal ours from the canteen. This feels legit since it turned out that the hospitality people who run the canteen go round the kitchens and steal all the teaspoons on the basis that they were probably stolen from the canteen. So all the ones that were brought in are long gone and what else are we to do?

We keep a tight grip on our cake knife.
posted by biffa at 2:57 AM on March 29 [3 favorites]


The end result of office cutlery nicking versus public administration rules is my ornamental paper-cutter being used for all birthday cakes because it's the only long blade available. I've stopped protesting it, I just enforce actually washing it before putting it back in its sheath.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 3:14 AM on March 29 [3 favorites]


This is gold:
If we assume that the annual rate of teaspoon loss per employee can be applied to the entire workforce of the city of Melbourne (about 2.5 million), an estimated 18 million teaspoons are going missing in Melbourne each year. Laid end to end, these lost teaspoons would cover over 2700 km—the length of the entire coastline of Mozambique—and weigh over 360 metric tons—the approximate weight of four adult blue whales.
posted by CCBC at 3:57 AM on March 29 [2 favorites]


This absolutely deserved an Ig Nobel. Disappointed not to see it on the list.
posted by eirias at 5:12 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


I thought Australia used the metric system.

Honestly, the fact that this volume of missing teaspoons was not expressed in terms of MCGs is an affront to Victoria. The bloke should be deported to Albury.
posted by pompomtom at 6:07 AM on March 29


Laid end to end, these lost teaspoons would cover over 2700 km—the length of the entire coastline of Mozambique—and weigh over 360 metric tons—the approximate weight of four adult blue whales.

18 million teaspoons is ~89 cubic metres and a blue whale occupies ~87 cubic metres. Well within measurement error, implying a satisfying blue whale : city's worth of annual spoon loss ratio of 1 : 1.
posted by saturday_morning at 6:37 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


"Have you ever stolen a teaspoon?"

'Stealing' implies some cognizance on my part. They just follow me. I can't help it if I'm attractive to spoons, can I?

This study is clearly denialist against spoon autonomy.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:48 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]



"Spoon Shifters" is delightful
posted by mmrtnt at 7:26 AM on March 29


This is definitely a Reproducible Result and so not a candidate for the Journal of Irreproducible Results.
posted by neuron at 8:29 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


There was once a study very similar to this teaspoon study where the authors tracked the breakage of drinking glasses in a cafeteria. The rate of breakage is essentially steady, so the population of glasses declined linearly. I encountered this in an excellent 1996 book called "How and Why We Age" where the author contrasts it to the decline in surviving members of an aging cohort, which is logarithmic.

More on that: the average life expectancy of an 80 year old is 8 years--easy to remember. It declines by half each decade, so the life expectancy at 90 is 4 years, at 100 is 2 years, at 110 is 1 year. And at 70 is about 16 years. These numbers are approximate but are good enough.
posted by neuron at 8:37 AM on March 29


Spoons and ball point pens look like separate species, but they're actually the larval stages of an organism with quite a complex lifecycle whose adult form is the wire coat hanger.

I thought it had been established that coat hangers are the pupal stage of the bicycle (and safety pins are the larvae).1 Someone wrote to the BMJ about this in response to the teaspoon study.2

1 Davidson A. Or all the seas with oysters. Galaxy Science Fiction 1958:49-58.
2 Dugan S. Or all the seas with oysters. BMJ 2005;331:1498.

posted by Gerald Bostock at 9:06 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


"Spoon Shifters" is delightful

It sounds like the title of a sci-fi thriller movie.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:21 AM on March 29


y'all have metric whales ?

Everybody does except the US.
posted by flabdablet at 9:29 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


I thought it had been established that coat hangers are the pupal stage of the bicycle

That was indeed the prevailing wisdom in the 1950s, but subsequent research has demonstrated it not to be the case.
posted by flabdablet at 9:34 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


the average life expectancy of an 80 year old is 8 years--easy to remember. It declines by half each decade, so the life expectancy at 90 is 4 years, at 100 is 2 years, at 110 is 1 year. And at 70 is about 16 years.

And at 30, it's 256 years.
posted by nickmark at 10:11 AM on March 29 [3 favorites]


Spoooon shifters, wider than a mile...
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:15 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


Spoon!
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:48 AM on March 29


More on that: the average life expectancy of an 80 year old is 8 years--easy to remember. It declines by half each decade, so the life expectancy at 90 is 4 years, at 100 is 2 years, at 110 is 1 year. And at 70 is about 16 years. These numbers are approximate but are good enough.

This is better known as Zeno’s Codger Paradox.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:32 AM on March 29 [2 favorites]


My wife held up a teaspoon that was blackened on the bottom and this was the actual conversation:

Wife: Hey, what's this?
Me: Science! I'll get that cleaned off.
W: So, not heroin?
M: I was popping a single kernel of pop-corn with MAPP gas.
W: ...
M: Science!

Also, some of the little spoons in the drawer are the 'good' spoons and are not rated for science.
posted by flyingfox at 11:59 AM on March 29 [5 favorites]


Science!
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:57 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]




Five seconds later some right-wing anti-intellectual makes a meme about how your tax dollars are being wasted on studies about teaspoons.
posted by signal at 4:37 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


As readers know, whales are neither metric or imperial, but come measured as folio, quarto, and duodecimo whales. There may be other whales, uncaught and unknown, but doubtless they will fit into this cetology.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:06 PM on March 29 [5 favorites]


Just as an aside, am I the only one who says, "tisps" and "tibbles" when reading "tsp." and "tbl." in a recipe?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:20 PM on March 29 [2 favorites]


I the only one who says, "tisps" and "tibbles" when reading "tsp." and "tbl." in a recipe

Nope, not just you!
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:42 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


Agreed, though I usually see it as "Tbsp" and say "tibbisps".
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:07 PM on March 29 [2 favorites]


whales are neither metric or imperial, but come measured as folio, quarto, and duodecimo whales

I think you'll find that this only still applies to right whales. Blue, sperm, humpback and minke whales have been on ISO size series W since 1977.
posted by flabdablet at 11:45 PM on March 29 [2 favorites]


Not to.be confused with Wales which is the standard unit for comparison of large areas.
posted by biffa at 12:57 AM on March 30 [2 favorites]


Please note the appearance of the Mozambique Coastline and the Blue Whale in the quoted paragraph. These are the international standard units for long distances and large masses respectively.

I refuse to accept the standardization of blue whales and will forever hold out hope there is an undiscovered big round deliriously happy blue whale out there just floating, farting and totes krilling it.
posted by srboisvert at 5:41 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


First assume a spherical blue whale of uniform density...
posted by flabdablet at 8:33 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


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