Russell Crowe attempting to solve the chicken wings problem. © 2001 Universal Pictures
In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute announced the launch of the Millennium Prize Problems: a list of seven of the most important maths problems still uncracked by humanity’s biggest eggheads. The institute offers $1 million U.S.D. in prize money for each problem solved, and eighteen years later, only one of the seven has been.
Officially, then, there are just six maths conundrums worthy of our abacuses. But after reading this Twitter thread from user @seanposting, we think there’s a strong case for adding another to the list.
The thread starts with a photo of a menu for chicken wings, taken by Sean at an unnamed Chinese restaurant:
Even at a cursory glance this is a pretty complicated document. Let’s just focus on the left-hand column, which, from four wings up to 30, lists wings in increments of one. From 30 wings it jumps up in units of five, until 50, when it goes up in units of 10. It dips back down to units of five between 70 and 80, then back to 10 from 80 to 100. At which point it jumps up by 25 units for two rounds, ending with a jump of 50, taking us to 200.
That’s already complicated enough. But it’s in the right-hand column, which calculates price, that things get really interesting.
And by interesting, we mean complicated enough for Maths Twitter to jump in. User @CyclopsDragon compiles a useful spreadsheet.
Then @chordburg attempts to calculate the menu’s bonkers price increments in a formula. Which kind of works, so long as you don’t order more than 24 wings.
Thankfully @CyclopsDragon comes back to break things down for us a little more:
Others still have questions, though:
Perhaps the biggest revelation: the menu’s 200-wing price of $222.50 is actually a bit of a ripoff. User @blizzzilla has a more thrifty idea:
None of which answers the most obvious questions: who in their right mind is ordering 200 chicken wings? Or more bafflingly, who orders 19 and not 20? The mystery – and the mathematical theorising – continues.