Aug 16, 2018 | Updated: 01:42 PM EDT

Fluid Mechanics Finally Reveal ‘How Many Licks to Get to the Center of a Tootsie Pop’

Feb 11, 2015 03:07 PM EST

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Ever wonder, like so many other children, exactly how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Well, while many others couldn't resist the temptation of biting their way to center of the sugary treat, researchers at New York University have officially calculated exactly how much work is needed to get to the center of the beloved lollipop. And it turns out that it is hundreds more than the talking owl once told us.

The team of mathematicians led by graduate student Jinzi Mac Huang determined that it would take roughly 1,000 licks to make it through one centimeter of candy lollipop in a new study published this week in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics. But for Tootsie Pops in particular, the researchers reportedly told the New York Post that it would take near 2,500 licks.

"How many licks is a question fans of our candy have asked us for decades" Tootsie Roll Industries' President Ellen Gordon says. "We're thrilled that New York University has conducted a study to help find out how many licks it really takes to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop."

But while the sugary sweet angle may provide the study's eye-catching headline, the science behind the data is far more interesting to the mathematicians. Originally conceived as a study to investigate the effects of dissolving materials within a fluid flow, it wasn't until after the project began that the researchers used their model to solve the pop-culture question. In fact, the theory the researchers discuss in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics takes many situations into account to look at how flowing liquid dissolves and shrinks materials, including geological shifts in the environment and the dissolving of pills in pharmaceutical applications.

"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" Professor of Applied Mathematics at NYU, Leif Ristroph says. "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."

Utilizing the model, the researchers were able to confirm on their homemade candy balls that their estimates were in fact around 1,000 licks, though the mathematicians were unable to confirm the data through their own empirical experiences. Tough as it was, albeit fighting sheer will and decades of preconditioning to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop in three bites or less, the mathematicians in the end did not have the strength or stamina to do the licking themselves.

"We started to test it, and it's hard" Ristroph says. "Resisting the temptation to just bit into one is tough."

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