Paper Towel Math


"Hey there," I called to a supermarket employee who had just appeared in the paper goods aisle. "Can you help me with something?"

"Sure," he said.

I pointed to the miles of paper towel above my head.

"If I want a better deal, should I buy 6 = 18 or 8 = 20 rolls of paper towel?" I asked. "And does it change the equation if I get 8 rolls of select-a-size? And also, what if I only use the paper towel on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, during high tide, and for messes that only begin with the letter "m," like milk?"

He stared at me with his mouth agape. I couldn't tell if he thought I was merely a lunatic or if he was as befuddled as I was by the confusing marketing campaign known as "paper towel math."

"2 = 5," said one label.


"6 = 18," said another

"8 = 20," said one more.

I shook my head. It made no sense. If 2 equaled 6 and 6 equaled 18, I could see a trend. But there was no trend. It was almost like someone was just throwing out random numbers: 10 = 100! 12 = 15,000! Of course, I wasn't going to unroll the sheets and count them to check. I had better things to do... like figure out if I need "ultra-soft" or "ultra-strong" toilet paper.

Now, I'm no math dummy, but... wait, check that. I am a math dummy. I passed high school math, barely. But apparently even knowing algebra and trigonometry wasn't enough to help me figure out paper towel math. Sadly, not much math has stuck with me through the years, and whatever I did retain was in the brain cells I lost in childbirth, which is why I had to stop helping my kids with their math after they finished 3rd grade because I had no idea what they were doing. But even so, I don't recall 2 = 5 as any formula I was ever taught in any class, in any grade, in my school, or probably any other school on this planet, or any other planet in the universe. Of course, it could have been taught in my kids' 4th grade math class, but I'll never know because I didn't get that far.


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