Mr. Owl was wrong. Scientists have determined the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, and it’s not three.
According to ABC News, mathematicians at New York University used a formula modeling the effects of liquids dissolving materials, like hard candy, to determine the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.
Their answer, 1,000.
The study’s lead author Jinzi Mac Huang came to that conclusion using some two-inch pieces of candy, which they immersed in running water. She determined that it takes 1,000 licks to get through about one centimeter of hard candy, which is about half the diameter of a Tootsie Pop.
Their conclusion was actually the byproduct of a serious study of fluid mechanics. The researchers developed the formula to help understand the rate at which liquids dissolve certain materials, a subject important to many fields from Geology to Pharmaceuticals. As applied mathematics professor and the study’s senior author Leif Ristroph explained, the Tootsie Pop answer was a fun by-product.
“We used these results to figure out in general how fluids dissolve materials, and we realized that that is basically what you’re doing when you’re enjoying a lollipop.”
He added, “using that model, we can take an object of any size and kind of a typical flow speed that would be determined by how fast you lick candy, and then determine how long it would take for that to dissolve all the material away.”
They made a few other discoveries aside from solving the mystery of the Tootsie Pop.
According to Science Daily, they also found the candy would change into a peculiar shape, which would persist until it completely vanished. That same form would emerge, regardless of the initial shape of the candy or the speed of the running water.
Professor Ristroph said, “how flowing fluids generate unique shapes through erosion or dissolution is complex and fascinating.”
Tootsie Pop got involved in the study too. They sent over boxes of Tootsie Pops to help with the research.
A spokesman for the company explained, “how many licks is a question fans of our candy have asked us for decades.”
“We’re thrilled that New York University has conducted a study to help find out how many licks it really takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.”
The researchers were not able to test the 1,000 licks theory personally, resisting the temptation to bite the Tootsie Pop was just too difficult.
The full study is available in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics here.
[Image Credit: Gilabrand/Wikimedia Commons]