The Time Australian Researchers Studied Why There Are Never Any Spoons in Your Office Kitchen

iStock.com/RobynRoper
iStock.com/RobynRoper

As with any communal space, office kitchens are replete with their own particular problems. There are always dirty coffee mugs in the sink, directly under the “please wash your dishes” sign. Lunches get stolen from the fridge, no matter how carefully—or passive-aggressively—they’re labeled. And inevitably, at some point, all the spoons will disappear.

That last part is pure scientific fact. The phenomenon of the missing office spoons once proved so consternating to a group of Australian public health researchers, in fact, that they conducted a whole study on it.

Included in 2005 in the British Medical Journal's annual Christmas issue—which publishes research on quirky topics like neck injuries in heavy metal musicians and the hypothesized walking speed of the Grim Reaper—the months-long study tracked the rapid loss of spoons in communal office kitchens at the Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health in Melbourne.

It began in early 2004, when the researchers discovered that their office tearoom (what Americans would call a break room) was completely devoid of the spoons necessary to measure out instant coffee and sugar. So they bought new spoons. Within a few months, those, too, had disappeared, never to be seen or stirred again.

To get to the bottom of the mystery of the vanishing utensils, they methodically put out 70 “discreetly numbered teaspoons” (i.e. labeled with red nail polish) in the eight communal break rooms around the institute, returning weekly to count how many spoons were left. Some of spoons were stainless steel while others were of a "higher quality," allowing the researchers to determine whether people would be more likely to walk off with a nicer spoon rather than run-of-the-mill silverware.

Office spoons, the researchers found, have a half-life of just 81 days. By that point in the experiment, half of the new spoons had permanently vanished. After five months, a full 80 percent of the spoons had disappeared. It didn’t matter whether the spoons were high-quality or average, though spoons placed in rooms that were used by more people at the institute disappeared faster than spoons in break rooms linked to specific programs.

When the researchers revealed their study to the rest of the colleagues, a select few spoon-hoarders came forward to return their utensils. But in total, only five of the 56 missing teaspoons were recovered. “Four of these were returned from areas far removed from their place of last observation; one had been missing for 20 weeks,” the researchers write. “No one admitted to the permanent removal of a teaspoon from the institute, and no plausible explanations were advanced for the high rate of teaspoon loss.” At this rate, they calculated, the institute would need to buy at least 252 teaspoons every year to maintain a workable ratio of one spoon to every two employees.

Their final conclusion? Employers need to buy more spoons, or their whole organization might fall apart. “The loss of workplace teaspoons was rapid,” they write, “showing that their availability, and hence office culture in general, is constantly threatened.” Without sufficient numbers of spoons, employees will quickly become dissatisfied with their workplace. They’ll have to waste precious company time tracking down something to measure out coffee and sugar—forks, knives, even staplers.

We don’t say this about most studies, but the paper is well worth reading in its entirety.

No Venom, No Problem: This Spider Uses a Slingshot to Catch Prey

Courtesy of Sarah Han
Courtesy of Sarah Han

There are thousands of ways nature can kill, and spider species often come up with the most creative methods of execution. Hyptiotes cavatus, otherwise known as the triangle weaver spider, is one such example. Lacking venom, the spider manages to weaponize its silk, using it to hurl itself forward like a terrifying slingshot to trap its prey.

This unusual method was studied up close for a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers at the University of Akron in Ohio. They say it's the only known instance of an animal using an external device—its web—for power amplification.

Hyptiotes cavatus's technique is simple. After constructing a web, the spider takes one of the main strands and breaks it in half, pulling it taut by moving backwards. Then, it anchors itself to a spot with more webbing in the rear. When the spider releases that webbing, it surges forward, propelled by the sudden release of stored energy. In the slingshot analogy, the webbing is the strap and the spider is the projectile.

This jerking motion causes the web to oscillate, tangling the spider's prey further in silk. The spider can repeat this until the web has completely immobilized its prey, a low-risk entrapment that doesn’t require the spider to get too close and risk injury from larger victims.

The triangle weaver spider doesn’t have venom, and it needs to be proactive in attacking and stifling prey. Once a potential meal lands in its web, it’s able to clear distances much more quickly using this slingshot technique than if it crawled over. In the lab, scientists clocked the spider’s acceleration at 2535 feet per second squared.

Spiders are notoriously nimble and devious. Cebrennus rechenbergi, or the flic-flac spider, can do cartwheels to spin out of danger; Myrmarachne resemble ants and even wiggle their front legs like ant antennae. It helps them avoid predators, but if they see a meal, they’ll drop the act and pounce. With H. cavatus, it now appears they’re learning to use tools, too.

[h/t Live Science]

Bad News: The Best Time of the Day to Drink Coffee Isn’t as Soon as You Wake Up

iStock.com/ThomasVogel
iStock.com/ThomasVogel

If you depend on coffee to help get you through the day, you can rest assured that you’re not the world's only caffeine fiend. Far from it. According to a 2018 survey, 64 percent of Americans said they had consumed coffee the previous day—the highest percentage seen since 2012.

While we’re collectively grinding more beans, brewing more pots, and patronizing our local coffee shops with increased frequency, we might not be maximizing the health and energy-boosting benefits of our daily cup of joe. According to Inc., an analysis of 127 scientific studies highlighted the many benefits of drinking coffee, from a longer average life span to a reduced risk for cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

Sounds great, right? The only problem is that the benefits of coffee might be diminished depending on the time of day that you drink it. Essentially, science tells us that it’s best to drink coffee when your body’s cortisol levels are low. That’s because both caffeine and cortisol cause a stress response in your body, and too much stress is bad for your health for obvious reasons. In addition, it might end up making you more tired in the long run.

Cortisol, a stress hormone, is released in accordance with your circadian rhythms. This varies from person to person, but in general, someone who wakes up at 6:30 a.m. would see their cortisol levels peak in different windows, including 8 to 9 a.m., noon to 1 p.m., and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Someone who rises at 10 a.m. would experience cortisol spikes roughly three hours later, and ultra-early risers can expect to push this schedule three hours forward.

However, these cortisol levels start to rise as soon as you start moving in the morning, so it isn’t an ideal time to drink coffee. Neither is the afternoon, because doing so could make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. This means that people who wake up at 6:30 a.m. should drink coffee after that first cortisol window closes—roughly between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.—if they want to benefit for a little caffeine jolt.

To put it simply: "I would say that mid-morning or early afternoon is probably the best time," certified dietitian-nutritionist Lisa Lisiewski told CNBC. "That's when your cortisol levels are at their lowest and you actually benefit from the stimulant itself."

[h/t Inc.]

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