The case of the disappearing teaspoons

That is the title of a new research paper, by Lim, Hellard,and Aitken, and here are some of the key results:

Subjects 70 discreetly numbered teaspoons placed in tearooms around the institute and observed weekly over five months.

Main outcome measures Incidence of teaspoon loss per 100 teaspoon years and teaspoon half life.

Results 56 (80%) of the 70 teaspoons disappeared during the study. The half life of the teaspoons was 81 days. The half life of teaspoons in communal tearooms (42 days) was significantly shorter than for those in rooms associated with particular research groups (77 days). The rate of loss was not influenced by the teaspoons’ value. The incidence of teaspoon loss over the period of observation was 360.62 per 100 teaspoon years. At this rate, an estimated 250 teaspoons would need to be purchased annually to maintain a practical institute-wide population of 70 teaspoons.

For the pointer I thank Tord Mule, guitar shredder.



Not as bad as the missing one side sock. I have often wondered if anyone has a theory for why pairs of matched socks always come out of the wash unmatched.

every few years I buy two-dozen identical pairs of black socks, and a dozen identical white. The old ones become rags.

never have to match socks again, and who cares if one goes missing!

I also use this strategy, and recommend it highly -- particularly as I do the laundry in the household.

Socks are larval hangers.
When exposed to water and heat they molt and migrate to closets, becoming wire hangers.
This process produces an excess of hangers in closets and a recurring sock shortage.

My theory has always been socks are the larval form of coat hangers. You may have noticed socks disappear and coat hangers accumulate. What I'm interesting in discovering is why, when coat hangers lay eggs, the matched pair both hatch into socks but generally only one larva matures.

Opps, I see PD beat me to it.

Maybe "new" isn't the best way to describe a paper published 8 years ago...

I read this paper years ago. When I saw the title by Tyler, I thought that this was a new paper shedding more light on the issue. This literature is clearly in need of more research. I have been particularly interested in the following intriguing hypothesis, which I hope someone can test one day:
"Unattended spoons make their way to this planet, slipping away through space to a world where they enjoy a uniquely spoonoid lifestyle, responding to highly spoon oriented stimuli, and generally leading the spoon equivalent of the good life."

Has anyone done similar work on the half-life of pens?

Mitch Hedberg identified price as a key variable here: "I bought a $7 pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring."

They did do the study in one of the convict states. Had they done it in South Australia the results would have been entirely different.

I know where the teaspoons went. Hint: "All your teaspoons are belong to us."

Advancing the cause of human knowledge. Makes me proud to be an Aussie.

I thought at first this was going to be an article about the paradox of American silverware. Despite being the land of plenty, where in almost any field more and bigger is considered better, Americans are incredibly parsimonious with the cutlery. Separate butter knife, please...

No queen is going to dictate to us which fork goes with which course. It's all going the same place, anyway.

I found the root cause:

The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute.

What else would you expect when you cross a prison colony with a tea drinking culture.

It is from 2005...
I remember it from when it came out.
Great epidemiological case study though!

And whether "research" applies to a BMJ Christmas piece is another question.

The paper is not new; I recall when it came out in 2005.

The British Medical Journal must have a special comedy section. They also published the hilarious article on why we need a randomized controlled trial of parachute use.

British Medical Journal must have a special comedy section. They also published that hilarious article arguing for randomized controlled trials of parachute usage:

There is no (tea)spoon.

I often steal toilet paper from public restrooms. I very rarely buy any now.

I went through college without purchasing a single napkin.

Ok, its because I was a slob, but I could have stolen them from the cafeteria if I wanted to.

Circa 1982 my employer opened a new engineering facility. The engineers wanted real plates, real knives and forks (and spoons), real trays, so the already under construction kitchen was modified to accommodate the required dishwasher.

Both disposable and reusable service was provided - when orders were placed for plated foods, they asked "here or to go".

Over the next decade, the facility manager tried everything to get the plates and utensils returned, but by the 90s, lots of people made a point of throwing it all away in their offices.

Obviously, everything became plastic. With many complaining about the waste and the fact that they hated plastic.

Along the way, people complained about the cramped dining area, but as the facility expanded, that problem was addressed with wide views of woods (with paved trails to the specs of runners). It seemed after the expansion and the expanded and improved dining area to remove one reason for taking trays back to the office that the attitude shifted to one of just throwing away ceramic plates and metal utensils.

I'm pretty sure is was tied to generations - boomers more likely to return the reusable, or at least put them out for someone else to collect and return. But those who started working in the 80s or later seemed to consider everything throw away.

I operate a small motel in Victoria, Australia and I rarely lose a knife or fork but I reckon I lose 10 teaspoons a month. I have no idea where they go.

Oh so this is why they only provide us with plastic teaspoons in my lab.

Ah, this seems to be connected with the mystery of the 70 to 100 teaspoons mysteriously found in the institute's garbage every five or six months. Thank you, this study saves the waste management industry some valuable resources doing a similar study on that matter.

More from BMJ: proof that surgeons are better looking than other doctors:

And this: "Orthopaedic surgeons: as strong as an ox and almost twice as clever? Multicentre prospective comparative study".

I blame the Sackville-Bagginses.

Comments for this post are closed