Mathematics of the Tootsie Pop

Mathematics of the Tootsie Pop

Everyone had a right way. Consume the chocolate off the top and bottom of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups first, saving peanut butter for last. Chomp the ends off strawberry Twizzlers, crafting a straw perfect for drinking 1985-vintage Cherry Coke. But none was more contested in our neighborhood than how many licks it took to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.1

Candy is not mathematics. That is sort of the whole point really. It was a pause from school uniforms and black marble notebooks. But the geometry and constraints of the Tootsie Pop were unequivocally appealing to a young mind. Namely: the best stuff is contained on the interior of a structure that one is capable of getting to, but should not get to, in the intuitive sense. One must take the slow route—by licking. Furthermore, there is a golden circle of humans who have reached the center only by licking, never crunching. And only they are privy to the magic number it takes to get there.2

Flavors aside, this magic number—the “math of consumption”—became everything. The Tootsie Pop, therefore, had some pretty key lessons to teach us about endurance and patience early on:

It separated, in one sense, the future distance runners from the sprinters. Who can hold out? It predicted who might be better at waiting and not giving in. Who needs instant gratification? On the other hand, the truth was, there was no real reason to wait. Kids who figured that out and crunched away to the center, most likely went on to be quite in control of their own happiness.

I want to report that we staged licking contests or conducted unscientific-scientific research to understand the exact number of licks it took to reach the center. Luckily, that’s been taken care of. As interested as I’ve always been in tracking patterns and mathematics, I lost interest every time about halfway through, sought after the center, and crunched.


  1. The original “how many licks” video aired in 1970. After the commercial aired, Mr. Owl became the mascot.
  2. Students from Purdue University reported that a licking machine took an average of 364 licks to get to the center.

Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Liz Danzico

Liz Danzico is part designer, part educator, part editor, and full-time dog owner who writes part of her time at Bobulate.


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