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What Can You Count On?

When you've lost control of the big stuff, it's the little things that matter.

A dozen or so years ago, I read a magazine article that claimed M&M's had exactly the same number of candies and the same distribution of colors in each bag.

How charming, I thought: candy you can count on.

M&M's got me thinking about all the things in the world we can’t count on anymore, like the weather (climate change), that COVID will one day be gone (gone is probably not possible, controlled…maybe, but we will still be wearing masks), the Supreme Court (don’t get me started about Texas again), and of course, the truth about anything. Whatever.

That’s when I got the idea to buy several bags of M&M's and find out if Mars still puts the same distribution of colors and the same number of candies in every bag. I wanted to believe they did.

A little research...

In the name of pseudoscience and all that is sacred on the internet, I bought four 1.69 oz. bags of regular M&M’s, three 1.74 oz. bags of peanut M&M’s, three 1.41 oz. bags of cookies and scream M&M’s (a special treat made for Halloween), and three 3.14 oz. share size bags of regular M&M’s. Thirteen bags total.

I made a chart for every bag and counted each color in addition to the total number of candies. I also did a few calculations regarding whether you can actually “share” a bag of M&M’s.

The rules of sharing

If you had a sibling, raised a couple of children, and/or have grandchildren, you are well attuned to the true meaning of sharing, particularly when it comes to candy, slices of cake, number of cookies, or just about anything else.

Sharing means that everyone gets the same.

The exact same.

Of the 13 bags, only 5 could be righteously shared by 2 people, and just 4 of the bags could be evenly shared by 3 people.

The other bags would have started a fistfight in the back of a moving car.

Even though my samples were small, it was surprising to discover there wasn’t a consistent number of M&Ms per bag in any category. For instance, in the four 1.69 oz bags of regular M&Ms, there were two bags with 55 candies, one with 54, and another with 56. In the larger “share” size, the numbers of candies per bag were: 103, 105, and 106.

The greatest difference in numbers of candies per bag was with the peanut M&Ms. Not surprising, since some peanuts are bigger than others, and only so many candies can fit in a bag. However, one of the peanut M&Ms bags had 18 candies while the other two had 21 and 23 respectively. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there’s a five-piece difference between 18 candies and 23 candies. That begs yet another question of equality. What if your brother got the bag with 23 peanut M&Ms and you got the one with 18?

When I discovered the discrepancy between numbers of candies per bag, I was also discovering, much to my sorrow, that, in fact, there was not an even distribution of colors per bag in any of the varieties.

So, I called Mars.

True or false?

Mars was quick to inform me they didn’t think there had ever been an equal distribution of colors per bag. As for the question of why one bag had more candies than another, they said that the bags were created to be equal in weight, not equal in numbers of candies.

Okay, so there’s that peanut thing. Some peanuts are bigger than others…blah, blah, blah.

But those colored buttons of chocolate, the ones that melt in your mouth, not in your hand, should be identical in size, and therefore in weight. Right? And if so, then why were there 103 candies in one of the share bags and 106 in another?

Life might not always be fair or predictable, but we should be able to count on one small thing to be true. Like being able to share, really share, a bag of M&M's with a friend.