Sunday, August 7, 2011

How Many Licks......

A recent conversation with Noor:

N: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?
B: I honestly don't know.
N: Do you think anyone has ever counted?
B: I bet lots of people have tried, but I'm guessing most forget that they're counting somewhere along the line and loose track.
N: I think it takes more than a 1000 licks.
B: You could test your theory.
N: It takes a long time to lick it down to the tootsie roll......
B: How long, do you think?
N: I could time myself!
B: Oh, that's a great idea! You could see how many licks you make in ten seconds and then multiply that number by how long it takes you to get to the center.
N: I lick really fast at first, and then just kind of suck when it gets smaller.  How would I count sucking?
B: Hmmm......
N: I suck it when it gets small because it's more yummy. I don't lick as much as it gets smaller. No, mom, it wouldn't be the same amount of licks at the end as it is the first ten seconds.

We'll let you know if Noor conducts further tests.

But, in the meantime, it seems a few folks have had the wherewithal to see this question through to the end: George Waksman and friends found that, 
The data suggests that it takes approximately 508 licks to reach the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop when alternating the licking side. Since the procedure calls for equal licking of both sides of the Tootsie Roll Pop and completion is determined by core contact on either side, one could reach the core with fewer licks by focusing on only one side of the Tootsie Roll Pop. If one were to select the side closer to the core, it would theoretically require approximately 254 licks to reach the center.
There you have it.

(so, we talked about surface area, scientific inquiry, research methods, standard deviation, and means and averages, all thanks to a blue Tootsie Roll Pop.)


  1. I did count when I was a kid.
    Noor is on the right track, that it's different towards the end.
    I came up with 670 licks, BUT I don't think they were all of the same value. What, exactly, is a "lick"? How much tongue contact for how long? Where is the line between a "lick" and a "suck"?

    As the guy you quoted mentioned, it also matters whether you are equally distributing your licks.
    It's a very complex problem.

    But probably the most difficult part is what you mentioned first- counting without losing track or forgetting where you are. Or, like the owl in the ad, biting because you forgot what you were trying to do- or can't help yourself.

  2. hi there! I came to your blog by way of your post on the Evernote and Easybib apps (which I have yet to read ;) And I plan to puruse your blog some more, as I think you have shared lots of great ideas that we could be inspired by! It occurred to me (seeing your "9:17pm" post, and thinking it looked alot like our place!) perhaps your daughter would be interested in corresponding or connecting with our daughter. We are an US family, located just outside of Barcelona, Spain. Our daughter is 6.5, and loves to draw, among many other things. It might be a cool experience for both, no? With Skyping potential, etc...!?

  3. Linda, I love it! (and I love that you remember exactly how many licks all these years later!). I read Noor your observations and she was very excited to think all these parameters through. We had a great conversation and will be buying more pops soon!

    One of the best parts for me was how she brought my schooly prompting back to earth. Real-world scientific thought isn't as neat and clean as standard formulas, is it? Leave it to an unschooled youth to point that out!

    So, one question: how'd you stay focused on the task at-hand?

  4. Lisa,
    Sounds fun! Email me at:

  5. I tried this many, many years ago. Got a sheet of paper and marked every lick, I think I gave up around 2- or 3-thousand :)

  6. I was not successful with staying focused on my first try. It took several. :-)
    In the end, it was a combination of things. Partly it was because I had tried several times before, so I was emotionally pretty invested in figuring it out.
    I don't remember exactly, but I know I ended up keeping track by writing things down. One of the earlier tries, I had tried making a mark for each lick, in the usual arrangements of five, but ended up getting distracted anyway. So in one try, I wrote down every time I reached ten, and then put the tootsie pop down for a moment. Then I would pick it up again, do another ten, and take a short break. The idea was that I'd only ever be doing ten, and I could keep from getting distracted for at least that long! And at least one time, I had my sister help keep me on track.
    Oddly, I don't remember exactly what combination of those things happened the time I finally made it. I think it was more the determination to finish than anything else. After trying several times, and losing track or giving up after several hundred licks, and having to start over, I didn't want to go through that again- and I also didn't want to give up!