Cultural Measurement

By The Metric Maven

Mini-Bulldog Edition

A long time back I used to spend a lot of time at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu California. The museum has a large collection of classical Greek and Roman artifacts. On display they had an example of a set of armor that a Roman soldier once wore. What immediately struck me was the size of the armor—it looked like it would fit a small woman. One of the guides told me that Roman soldiers were not all that large. It should be obvious to anyone who has a modern world view (I’m looking at you John Quincy Adams) that using body sizes as a measurement standard, is, well, ludicrous.

In 2013 a controversy unfolded when patrons of Subway in Australia, and later in the United States, discovered their footlong sub sandwiches were only eleven inches long.

Now, one must keep in mind that Subway appears to have only stated their torpedo with toppings was a “foot long” and did not define the length in inches (as far as I know). In this case, we must consult a reference to determine the distance in question. My favorite reference is Measure for Measure by Richard A. Young and Thomas J. Gover. They have these definitions for a foot:


Ancient Babylon 353.9 mm

Canada Quebec 325.0 mm

Ancient Egypt 360.0 mm

France 324.8 mm

Greece Ancient Olympic 320.5 mm

Greece Ancient 308.9 mm

International 304.8 mm

Iraq Ancient 316.0 mm

Netherlands 283.1 mm

Phoenicia Ancient 495.0 mm

Rome Ancient 296.0 mm

Russia 304.8 mm

South Africa 304.8 mm

US Survey 304.8 mm

Assuming the eleven inch subs were measured in US inches, 25.4 mm per inch, then they are 279.4 mm. Well, Subway is still way too short, even when compared with the
foot of the Netherlands (283.1 mm – 279.4 mm) = 3.7 mm. This is close but no cigar for Subway. Even with all the variation in feet over the ages, they still managed to create a sandwich that is not even within the range of the most common definitions of a foot.

But the complaint was that the Subway sandwich offered was only eleven inches, and not twelve. Well, then let’s see if we can show that the sandwich is actually plenty
long and indeed a 12 inch sandwich by using “traditional measure.” The smallest definition of an inch I can find is for Spain at 23 mm per inch. This means that 12 Spanish inches is equal to 276 mm, and therefore the Subway sandwiches are indeed 12 inches long. As the complaint was that the sandwich was not 12 inches long, I must protest that when using pre-metric units, the Subway sandwich in question, is longer than 12 inches, and therefore endowed with enough length to justify its claim—at least in Spain.

But did Subway actually have the good sense to argue this way? Nooooooooo……they had to claim that “footlong is not intended to be a measurement length.” Then Subway changed their mind, and embraced the footlong rubric as a measurement length. Good move, because now I’m sure you have the backing of the former NIST director who embraces “multilingualism” in measurement, and does so specifically with Spanish. He must be on board with the idea that Subway in the US has met its claim, and Subway sandwiches are 12 Spanish inches long, and that’s good enough for US multicultural measurement. This conversion will finally make American footlong hotdogs match their name. Indeed there seems to be a human obsession with long hotdogs, currently 203.8 meters is the longest.

There is a nearby chain burrito establishment that sells “Burritos as big as your head.” They managed to avoid any measurement unit comparison by using a head instead of a foot. I’ve never found a unit called a head. But then the burrito chain just might mean “big as your head” as a metaphor—-perhaps? Many American men have this as their only excuse for unjustifiable measurement distortion when dealing with the opposite sex. The concern about the size of Subway sandwiches started in Australia, with good reason. They are a metric country and it seemed that rather than proclaiming their sandwiches are as big as your head, Subway tried to slip implied measurement into metaphor. As Australia is metric, one would think that Subway might realize that in metric countries comparing their sandwiches with feet might not be a good marketing strategy. Everyone knows a quarter pounder with cheese in France is a Royale with cheese. Why was Subway so culturally insensitive to Australians! They only managed to put their foot in their mouth. You know what I mean!

The Metric Maven has published a book titled The Dimensions of The Cosmos. It examines the basic quantities of the world from yocto to Yotta with a mixture of scientific anecdotes and may be purchased here.


Okay—What’s The Scoop on Two Scoops

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

I have no idea when I first saw the commercial. It’s part of our collective commercial culture. We all know there are “two scoops”  of raisins in a box of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. Internet academics ask that if there are “two scoops” of raisins in a box, then is there a larger ratio of raisins to cereal in the small boxes than in the large ones? Gregory J. Crowther, Ph.D. and Elizabeth A. Stahl, J.D have done the research and published it in the Science Creative Quarterly. They formalized the hypotheses into: always two scoops, or the scoops are proportional to the box size. The boxes come in 15, 20 and 25.5 ounce sizes. Or when related to people with refined culinary sensibilities:  425, 567 and 723 gram sizes. These intrepid explorers of knowledge at SCQ counted the raisins in these different size boxes, and have reported their results as a range. The credibility of these scientists suffers as they report their results in Ye Olde English units, but I have converted them to the metric system so they may be seriously discussed:

425 gram box  201 (47.29 raisins/100 g) — 241 (56.71 raisins/100 g)

567 gram box  381 (67.12 raisins/100 g) — 294 (51.85 raisins/100 g)

723 gram box  308 (42.60 raisins/100 g) — 331 (45.78 raisins/100 g)

This data forced them to abandon their original hypotheses which they labeled A and B. Like most research it creates more questions than it resolves. They now offer these alternative hypotheses to contemplate:

(C) Kellogg employees are poorly trained in the operation of the scoops.

(D) Kellogg factories are equipped with a very large number of scoops of different sizes such that no two scoops are alike.

(E) Kellogg allocates raisins via some stochastic process rather than with scoops.

I have translated their conclusion to SI so that my readers might understand their weighty observations:


If you like raisins, you should buy Kellogg’s Raisin Bran in [567 gram] boxes, which appear to contain the most raisins per [100 grams]. If you dislike raisins, we recommend the [723 gram] boxes or, better yet, a raisin-free cereal.

To achieve truth in advertising and avoid lawsuits, The Kellogg Company should replace its misleading “Two scoops!” slogan with a statement listing both the mean number of scoops per box (presumably 2) and the standard deviation (roughly 0.4).

Number 50 Disher — click to enlarge

Their research did not provide an answer to “what size is the scoop used for allocating raisins to the boxes?” They did not even offer a hypothesis of what its size might be. Thankfully I have my friend Pierre to diligently work his way through the US culinary forest of literature where there are “ounces, and pottles and quarts—oh my!” The question of scoop size first entered my mind when Alton Brown of Good Eats was discussing the dispensing of—probably cookie dough? He pointed out there is a number printed on the inside of the disher, on the sweeper. My sweeper has a 20 on it. So how big is this scoop? Why 1/20 of a quart of course. You all can visualize that—right? Pierre obtained this information from a top cooking reference which explains the volumes found in US scoops (and confuses mass and weight):

Well, this graphic uses the Scoop  Number like a gauge and 20 is 1/20th of a quart or 0.05 quarts–but only tell you that in the text. The quarts are suppressed and you are offered alternating fluid ounces and cup values to explain the fractional gauge values. I’m even more confused when I use my conversion program to check the table. Well, number 20 should be 0.05 quarts which is 1.6 ounces? The answers are 1.5 fluid ounces and 1.75 ounces. Wow, my converter doesn’t offer either of those:

Ok, let’s get this straightened out. Certainly it must get the metric volume right—right? Well the output is 47.31 mL instead of 45 mL. Ok, that’s enough of this. I truly appreciate Pierre’s hard work finding the cooking reference, but I’m going over their head to Wikipedia. Their entry for scoop has this table:

Wow, there it is, Wikipedia explains the number is scoops per quart, has 1.6 US fluid ounces, and 47 mL, which would be the correct rounding from 47.31 mL. I also have a number 50 disher, which is conveniently left off of the list.

This mess, and other culinary metrology disasters, inspires me to write a one sentence book with the title: Why Johnny and Jane Can’t Cook. The sentence: Because the US does not have the metric system.

But all of this has been for not, as Wikipedia explains, there are more than one kind of scoop:

In the technical terms used by the food service industry and in the retail and wholesale food utensil industries, there is a clear distinction between two types of scoop: the disher, which is used to serve ice cream, measure a portion e.g. cookie dough, or to make melon balls; and the scoop which is used to measure or to transfer an unspecified amount of a bulk dry foodstuff such as rice, flour, or sugar.

Alfred Cralle

The disher or ice cream scoop was created by a Pittsburgh inventor one Alfred L. Cralle in 1897. Mr Cralle at least had the good sense to create a scoop which is calibrated. Even if it is in Ye Old English volumes.  This would certainly allow a merchant to keep track of the amount of ice cream or other commodity they sold to the public which would in turn help them stay in business.

Wikipedia has an illustration of a transfer scoop:

Transfer Scoop — Wikimedia Commons

Scoop of Raisin (85 Scoop)

Transfer Scoop of Raisin (85 Scoop) — Two Scoops would still be two scoops of raisins.

“Two Scoops? I love the idea Darrin”

Uh—oh. This image looks like one of the two scoops shown on the Raisin Bran cereal box, which are expertly utilized by Sol who is apparently a two fisted scooper. I’ve seen this kind of scoop many, many times. I’ve seen it vending screws and nails at hardware stores. When this is done, one always uses a scale to measure the quantity for pricing purposes. These scoops are ubiquitous in grocery stores and supermarkets. They all have one thing in common, I don’t recall ever seeing one with any sort of graduation on it. They are just used to transfer bulk quantities to a scale of some sort, which does measure them. So, at the end of our measurement quest, we have been yet again taken in by a marketing scheme. A transfer scoop does not imply any manner of quantity. It only will transfer the raisins to a device, such as a mass or volume scale, which will then be used to quantify the substance. So kids, there is no such thing as two scoops of raisins, no matter how much that amiable animated sun cheerfully claims otherwise. There is only an unaccountable advertising campaign, which almost certainly designed it that way. Sorry you had to hear it from me first kids.


The Metric Maven has published a new book titled The Dimensions of The Cosmos. It examines the basic quantities of the world from yocto to Yotta with a mixture of scientific anecdotes and may be purchased here.