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Column: Peter Piper tongue-twister or brain-teaser? You decide


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Time for a new look at an old question.

“If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?”

Throughout the years, people have responded in different ways.

Some have said Peter Piper never existed. This answer is undoubtedly wrong. We have Pipers and Piepers in our own little area of the world, and they exist outside south-central Indiana, as well. Surely, at least one misguided Piper/Pieper named a child Peter.

Another answer has been it’s not really a question; it’s just a tongue-twister. I don’t think so. If something looks like a duck, smells like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. When a phrase starts with “how” and ends with a question mark, I’m thinking it’s a question.

Breaking down the question, it seems to simply be asking how many “things” are in a peck.

Being a city boy, I had to look this up. Turns out, a peck is a measure of dry volume, like a bushel of something. In fact, one peck is one-fourth of a bushel. How many items are in a bushel, or in a peck, depends on the size of the items. A half-peck bag holds about 16 medium-sized apples, so a peck of medium-sized apples would hold about 32.

We’re left to wonder how many peppers are in a peck. That depends on the size of the pepper. A Big Bertha bell pepper is about 7 inches long and 4 inches wide. The Chiltepin, also called a chile tepin, is slightly oval and about three-eighths of an inch in diameter.

Does that mean that our question can be answered only within a broad range of numbers? It would seem so.

But wait. There’s more. If you call within the next 10 minutes ... Oops. Sorry. I was watching TV.

But wait, there’s more. The question asks how many pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. Pickling is a process. Vegetables are pickled only after they are picked. Cucumbers are picked then pickled, and we enjoy them as pickles. Beets are pickled. Peppers are apparently pickled. But not before they’re picked.

Peter Piper could not have picked any pickled peppers. The premise to the question is false. And when the premise is false, the question and any attempted answer are nonsense. Maybe it is just a tongue-twister.

We could make the Peter Piper question into an answerable one. For example, “If Bobby Bloomberg bought a bushel basket of blueberries, how many blueberries did Bobby Bloomberg buy?”

There’s an answer to that question, within a relatively narrow range. I just don’t know what it is.

Another question remains: Was Peter Piper the same Peter who ate pumpkins and put his wife in a pumpkin shell? If so, he likely faces criminal charges for confinement. If convicted, he won’t be picking any peppers for a while.

Tim Vrana is a community columnist. He may be contacted at editorial@therepublic.com. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

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