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another sum exlusive

Issue 6 - January 2001

Sum readers to probe the mystery of murphy's law

Sum readers to probe the mystery of murphy's law Readers of The Sum are being invited to take part in the biggest-ever probe into the truth behind Murphy's Law - jointly organised by Count On and Lurpak - called "If something can go wrong, it will".

Long dismissed as just a silly urban myth, Murphy's Law is often blamed when simple things go wrong: why our queue in the supermarket is the slowest-moving, say, or why it rains when we've forgotten our umbrella.

But scientist Robert Matthews of Aston University in Birmingham believes Murphy's Law is no mere myth - and he's inviting readers of The Sum to put his theory to the test.

To do it, Robert is designing a set of experiments exclusively for The Sum, aimed at probing that most notorious manifestation of Murphy's Law: "If toast can land butter-side down, it will do".

Robert told The Sum: "Everyone's had this happen to them - yet scientists typically dismiss it as nonsense. They say it's just as likely to land butter-up as down, and we just remember all the times it goes wrong".

Scientists even claim to have good evidence for their explanation, says Robert: "In 1991 there was a BBC-TV programme about Murphy's Law, where people tossed buttered bread into the air hundreds of times. And they found that butter-up landings were just as common as butter-down ones.

But, says Robert, there's a problem with this: "The trouble with their experiment, of course, is that toast doesn't often get tossed up into the air like a coin - well, not in most homes I know, anyway. Toast usually ends up on the floor after falling from plates or tables.

"I've done some sums that take this into account - and they suggest there's a genuine Murphy's Law effect going on that really does tend to make toast land butter-side down more often. And it's nothing to do with the presence of butter or jam or whatever. It's more fundamental than that - in fact, it has its roots in the birth of universe !"

Robert admits that while his sums look correct, the only real test is to do an experiment to see if his account is right, and show that Murphy's Law really is at work in our homes.

So he's hoping that thousands of readers of The Sum will respond to his call to take part in the biggest-ever experimental study of Murphy's Law.

Full details will appear in the February issue, but Robert says everyone will be able to take part, from primary school to Sixth Form College.

He said: "The plan is not just to find out if Murphy's Law is at work on tumbling toast" he said. "We'll also look at the basic cause of butter-down landings - and whether we can stop them happening.

"The results will be released to the national media, and I'm sure there'll be huge interest in what we find. After all, everyone would like to see Murphy's Law defeated".

So watch this space next month - when the bumper Murphy's Law Issue is published - to find out how you can take part in the world's largest Murphy's Law experiment!

Source: Robert Matthews

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Murphy's Law

Colour Confusion

The Question of Eternity

It's a Small, Small World

Accidental Millionaire

Maths Crossword And Cartoons

Goal For Learning

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