The Case Of the Disappearing Teaspoons

In January 2004, researchers at the Burnet Institute in Australia found their break room completely out of teaspoons. Although a “gofer” was rapidly dispatched to purchase a new batch, those replacements disappeared within a few months. Exasperated by their inability to stir sugar and to accurately dispense instant coffee, they decided to respond in time-honored researchers fashion and measure the phenomenon. A quick search of Google yielded no scientific literature on the phenomenon of teaspoon loss. Lacking any guidance from previous researchers, they set out to answer the age old question: “Where have all the teaspoons gone?” They aimed to determine the overall rate of loss of teaspoons and the half life — the time required for a quantity to reduce by half — of teaspoons at the institute, whether teaspoons placed in communal break rooms were lost at a different rate from those placed in particular research rooms, and whether better quality teaspoons would be more attractive to spoon thieves or more highly valued and respected and, therefore, disappear more slowly. After five months, 56 of the 70 teaspoons disappeared during the study. The half life of the teaspoons was 81 days. The half life of teaspoons in communal break rooms was 42 days, significantly shorter than for those in rooms associated with particular research, which was 77 days. The rate of loss was not influenced by the teaspoons' value. The incidence of teaspoon loss over the period of observation was 360.62 per 100 teaspoon years. At this rate, an estimated 250 teaspoons would need to be purchased annually to maintain a practical stock of 70 teaspoons. Conclusion: The loss of workplace teaspoons was rapid, showing that their availability, and hence office culture in general, is constantly threatened.