Menu Mayhem: Part II

In part I of our exploration into the subject of restaurant menus, we observed that the way in which we read those menus is both chaotic and thoughtless. But for those who do examine their menus systematically, another problem becomes apparent: inconsistent pricing.

To clarify, we’re not discussing the issue of overpriced food, since all restaurant prices are inevitably excessive, nor are we questioning the difference in price between eateries. We’re talking about the inconsistencies in price within the selection of items on a single menu. To begin, let’s look at an example of a typical menu of an imaginary breakfast diner. We are using a diner menu because their simplicity makes the incongruencies more pronounced.

After a brief scan of the selections, it may appear that the pricing makes sense. However, when we begin to break down the meals into their components and price them, it becomes apparent that individual ingredients are priced differently throughout the menu. The Eggs & Toast, for example, is priced the same as the Bacon & Eggs at $5.99. Let’s use some basic algebra to solve for the price of an egg.

  • Let e = egg, b = bacon, t = toast
  • 2e + 2b + t = 3e + t
  • 2e + 2b = 3e
  • e = 2b

So according to the pricing of these two meals, 1 egg is worth 2 strips of bacon. Now let’s compare the Bacon & Eggs and the Meat Lovers meals to get a better understanding of sausage.

  • Let e = egg, b = bacon, t = toast, s = sausage
  • 2e + 2b + t + 1 = 2e + 2b + 2s + t
  • 1 = 2s
  • s = 0.5

So each sausage is worth $0.50, which seems kind of strange, but let us persist in our efforts. According to the Jump Start meal and Side Orders section, bacon and sausage are of equal value.

  • Let b = bacon, s = sausage
  • b = s
  • s = 0.5
  • b = 0.5

Since we know from our first equation that an egg is worth 2 strips of bacon, we can now determine the exact value of an egg.

  • Let e = egg, b = bacon
  • e = 2b
  • b = 0.5
  • e = 1

So a slice of bacon is worth $0.50, a piece of sausage is also worth $0.50, and an egg is worth $1.00. If we plug these values into the Bacon & Eggs meal, we can find the value of toast.

  • Let e = egg, b = bacon, t = toast
  • 2e + 2b + t = 5.99
  • 2 + 1 + t = 5.99
  • t = 2.99

Restaurant menus are clearly weak against algebra. But apart from being mathematically incoherent, there’s another issue which we have ignored up to this point, which is the fact that the Side Orders section has disagreed with every one of our solutions. This isn’t necessarily proof of an inconsistent pricing system, since all businesses intentionally manipulate their pricing in order to create an incentive for their customers to make larger purchases and also to compensate for the inefficiency in taking small orders. However, if we were to construct the Jump Start meal using the pricing from the Side Orders section, we would arrive at a price of $11.95 with hash browns and toast or $12.95 with pancakes. This is nearly twice the price listed on the meal, which is troubling.

So what’s the solution? If we merely sell the components at Side Order pricing, we would no longer be in business. Alternatively, if we attempt to re-work the meal pricing so that it makes sense mathematically, we may end up with some dangerously inexpensive side orders and unnecessary meal options. For if we were to price our meals based purely on components, then there’s no reason to offer multiple combinations of the same items.

The answer is to create a menu of individual items that provides consistent pricing while still rewarding customers for making larger purchases. This could be done by increasing the serving size of components and offering price reductions for purchasing multiple items. Here’s what this might look like. This revised menu includes all of the options of the original menu, yet takes up only half the space and allows even greater customization. And the best part? It makes sense.

Another option could be implementing a minimum order charge, which would ensure that each customer’s visit is at least marginally profitable. But what’s most important is that any customer spirited enough to analyze our menu is blessed with a consistent, sensible pricing system.


garnish. [gahr-nish] -verb.

1. to add an unnecessary component for decorative or superfluous reasons. The zucchini twists garnished the dish, making it exquisite in appearance.

2. to remove a necessary component for obligatory or legal reasons. The government is garnishing my wages until the debt is paid.

The Cleft

Orbs, held within the fold,
of flesh, cleft and braced.

Forbidden that none behold,
yet dressed, then placed,

To draw eyes and ire,
that hearts burn and seethe desire,

And wonder at the sense,
to stash a sacred thing where all can see.

Regardless of the wearer’s intent, female clothing is geometrically designed to direct attention to the chest – the precise area deemed inappropriate for inspection.


Whether motivated by a biological imperative or the need to vicariously atone for their own deficiencies, parents pursue the success of their children with fanaticism. And since we all know that education is the foundation for happiness and wealth, it is often the center of parental focus. Even after secondary graduation, the importance of education is stressed by parents as well as left-wing radicals bent on brainwashing young minds.

So how do we know whether or not a student is succeeding in school? The answer is by simply looking at the student’s grades. What isn’t so simple is the method by which those grades are calculated, interpreted and transcribed.

The basic concept of grading is that teachers award their students a score for each of their assignments and exams. Then, using the student’s combined scores, a grade is assigned. This grade determines the student’s level of achievement in the class and dictates whether they are passing or failing. Although nearly all institutions assign grades in this way, their interpretation of a student’s performance will vary significantly. In some countries, students are graded on a 1 to 20 scale, some simply use 1 to 5, while others assign letters.

In many parts of the world, most predominantly America and Western Europe, a student’s score is expressed as a percentage representing the ratio of correct answers to problems given. For example, a student who answered 24 questions correctly out of 31 is given a score of 77. Now everything up to this point has made sense, but we’re about to make a bumpy trek into the world of letter grades.

In an attempt to more clearly communicate the level of achievement, many nations have adopted some form of alphabetized ranking derived from the percentage score. In these systems, the letter A indicates the highest grade, while E or F represent the lowest. Here are some different interpretations of the letter grade system:

United States Ireland Singapore Pakistan Jordan
A 90-100 A 85-100 A1 75-100 A1 90-100 A 60-100
B 80-89 B 70-84 A2 70-74 A 70-90 B+ 55-59
C 70-79 C 55-69 B3 65-69 B 60-70 B 50-54
D 60-69 D 40-54 B4 60-64 C 50-60 C+ 43-49
F 0-59 E 25-39 C5 55-59 D 40-50 C 35-42
F 0-24 C6 50-54 E 33-40 F 0-34
NG 0 D7 45-49
E8 40-44
F9 0-40

As we can see, there is great variety even among nations that use letter grades. To complicate things further, many districts consider letter grades too vague, so plus and minus suffixes are used to add complexity to a system designed to be simple. Here’s how it works in most American schools:

United States
A 90-100 A+ 98-100
A 93-97
A- 90-92
B 80-89 B+ 87-89
B 83-86
B- 80-82
C 70-79 C+ 77-79
C 73-76
C- 70-72
D 60-69 D+ 67-69
D 60-66
F 0-59 F 0-59

Now we would expect that such a finely-tuned system would satisfy all concerned parties, but this isn’t the case. Because employers and post-secondary institutions often wish to know the overall average grade of a student during a semester or program, an entirely new system was devised: the grade point average (GPA).

Grade points are awarded based on either the student’s final letter grade or percentage score achieved in a class. Most institutions use a system in which students are awarded between 0 and 4 points per course. Institutions that use use percentages to calculate grade points do is in a number of ways, and the most common is to simply divide the percentage score by 100 and multiply the product by 4.

Institutions that determine grade points using letter grades will simply translate an A as 4 points, B as 3 points, C as 2 points, D as 1 point and an F as 0 points. However, letter grade suffixes allow a student to be awarded more than 4 grade points for a single course. In many schools, the plus or minus suffix simply adds or subtracts 0.3 or 0.33 to the grade point value.

Standard 4 Point System 4 Point System with Suffixes
A 90-100 3.5-4.0 A+ 98-100 4.3
A 93-97 4.0
A- 90-92 3.7
B 80-89 2.5-3.49 B+ 87-89 3.3
B 83-86 3.0
B- 80-82 2.7
C 70-79 1.5-2.49 C+ 77-79 2.3
C 73-76 2.0
C- 70-72 1.7
D 60-69 1.0-1.49 D+ 67-69 1.3
D 60-66 1.0
F 0-59 0.0-0.99 F 0-59 0.0

The grade point average is then calculated by adding together a student’s grade points and dividing by the number of courses taken during that time. Sometimes grade points also incorporate the credit value of courses by multiplying each course GPA by its credit value, then dividing by the total credit value of courses taken.

So to recapitulate, here’s how grades are calculated:

  1. Assignments and exams are graded with a score, usually a ratio of correctness (24/31).
  2. The ratio is expressed as a percentage (77%).
  3. The percentage is converted to a letter grade, sometimes with a suffix (C+).
  4. A combination of percentage, letter grade and course credit value is translated into grade points (2.3).
  5. The grade points are divided by the number and/or value of courses taken, resulting in the grade point average.

Now if you begin to feel an intense and crushing feeling of terror at the concept, don’t be alarmed. That indicates only that you are still sane. For in the same way that the measurement of fuel consumption and time have been corrupted by counterintuitive expressions and unnecessary calculation, grading also suffers from superfluous complexity.

We should not manipulate systems to suite our interpretation but interpret the expressions of the simplest and most efficient system. In this case, a percentage is the simplest and most efficient expression of a grade, since it is nothing but the numerical representation of the correctness of a score. Letter grades, suffixes, grade points and grade point averages are all derived, directly or indirectly, from the percentage, and they necessitate additional levels of interpretation to understand.

Whether expressed as a B, B+, 3.3 or 3.4, everyone understands that 88% is a pretty good score, so let’s just grade in percentages.


Imagination is a powerful thing, especially in the hands of children. As we have already seen, when children are deprived of entertainment, their minds will bend reality to suit their needs. A wonderful example of this is the use of sticks as medieval weaponry. Here’s a graph which identifies common interpretations of various stick lengths:

But stick aren’t just instruments of brutality. They can also transform into magical devices, with the length of the stick determining the level of magical power contained within.

Some would argue that scepters and canes may also possess magic, but the power of a scepter is merely in its representation of a high position, and canes are mostly used to assist those with a limp.

The Path to Empathy

What do the Lance Armstrong, Michael J. Fox and the Christopher Reeve Foundations have in common? Besides being established by and named after a celebrity, these three organizations were all devoted to eradicating the very condition with which their founder struggled.

These men are (or were) hailed for their contributions to these causes, but is it really heroic to try and cure a condition only after you’re diagnosed with it? Surely these men didn’t create a charity organization in an effort to cure themselves, rather for others in the world struggling with the same condition. But if their motivation was the good of others, then why did they only begin their crusades once they were personally affected? Perhaps human empathy is more of an automated response than a noble pursuit.

Before moving forward, let’s be clear about this subject: these are serious issues that cause real and terrible suffering. Our goal here is merely to explore the peculiar ways in which we react to them.

Supporters of foundations like the ones we mentioned believe that empathy can be spread by generating awareness. These concerned folk band together to form special interest groups, which seek to advance only a single, specific cause. Their objective is to use whatever means necessary to make known the extreme importance of their concern. In addition to snatching up nearly every date on the calendar, they have also exploited the light spectrum as an instrument of awareness. Because color is simple and pervasive it makes an ideal canvas on which to paint one’s message.

The use of color as a medium is most commonly advanced through the display of ribbon-shaped bumper stickers and plastic bracelets. Here’s a chart which identifies few colors and the movements they represent:

Melanoma Gang Prevention Death
Diabetes Asthma Brain Cancer
Peace Brain Injury Bone Cancer Terrorism Poverty Adoptees
Tobacco Colorectal Cancer
Arthritis Victim’s Rights Free Speech Water Quality Water Safety
Drunk Driving Child Abuse Colon Cancer Tobacco Dystonia Education
Prostate Cancer Scleroderma Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome
Epilepsy Cancer
Eating Disorders Stomach Cancer Pulmonary Hypertension
Pancreatic Cancer Testicular Cancer Thyroid Cancer Lupus Alzheimer’s ADD and ADHD
Brain Aneurysm Thrombosis Headaches Cesarean Section Adults with Disabilities
AIDS and HIV Drug Abuse Heart Disease Burn Victims Stroke Drunk Driving
Breast Cancer
Leukemia Hunger Cultural Diversity Animal Rights Self-injury
Support for Troops Suicide Prevention Adoptive Parents Bladder Cancer Spinda Bifida Endometriosis
Childhood Cancer Sport Therapy
Parkinson’s Depression Bipolar Disorder Anxiety Disorders Children with Disabilities
Emphysema Lung Cancer Multiple Sclerosis
Ovarian Cancer Cervical Cancer Uteris Cancer Sexual Assault Tsunami Victims
Pedestrian Safety Lyme Disease The Environment Celiac Disease

There are many more patterns than what are represented above, and many more causes associated with each one. The color purple, for example, can be tied to over thirty distinct movements. In their inability comprehend the scope of such behavior, special interest groups have devalued the meaning of color. They fail to realize that if everything is special then nothing is special. But this doesn’t discourage supporters from proudly donning their ribbons and bracelets.

Although the motives may be genuine, this method of expression does raise questions about the narrow focus of concern. For example, someone wearing a pink bracelet is not only declaring their support for breast cancer victims and research, but their support only for breast cancer victims and research. Are these individuals not also concerned about lung cancer, suicide, sexual assault and child abuse? If someone considered themselves a supportive and caring person, we should expect their arms to project a prismatic array of plastic.

The reason we rarely observe anyone displaying more than one bracelet or ribbon is that humans can only experience legitimate empathy through suffering, either their own or that of someone they love, and chances are that each person is acquainted with only a small number of conditions.

The passion of Armstong, Fox and Reeve is inspiring, but we should remember that their zeal was forged by tragedy and hardship, not a bumper sticker.