Popcorn Science

POPCORN SCIENCE….As a regular moviegoer and an equally regular consumer of movie popcorn, I’m intrigued by Felix Salmon’s summary of recent research done by local UC Irvine professor Richard McKenzie:

McKenzie did a fair amount of real-world research on the popcorn front, and his most important finding (as far as I’m concerned) is that if you’re in a cinema which gives you a choice between buying a medium bag of popcorn and a large tub of popcorn, there’s a greater-than-50% chance that the medium bag will actually contain more popcorn than the large tub.

Now that’s an academic with his research priorities in order. The tub is still a better buy if you plan to get refills, he says, but otherwise you’re better off with a bag. In an email, McKenzie explains why:

Oh, one last point of little consequence: The prospects of getting more popcorn in the medium than the large is higher here [in Irvine, I assume –ed], since the medium is a bag with flexible sides and the tub has rigged sides. [Actually, that’s not universally true here, but it’s true in Edwards Theaters, which dominates the market in Orange County and positively monopolizes the market for theaters within five miles of UCI –ed again] Both mediums and large sizes in Winston-Salem are bags with flexible sizes. There I always got more in the large (not much more!). Here, a little more than half the time I got more in the medium. It all depends on the clerks, and how she/he holds the bags and then chooses to literally stuff the bags by pressing the popcorn down. But then the ounce measures are not a firm indicator of value, since a higher weight can mean more bottom of the popping cabinet crumbs and un-popped kernels.

Note the careful disclaimer at the end about the possibility of unpopped kernels distorting McKenzie’s measurements. That’s the kind of rigor I like in my science. All it’s missing is a chart.

Via Tyler Cowen. More here and here.

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