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Reference Question of the Week ¦ 3/9/14

   March 14th, 2014

coffee containerUsually I post Reference Questions of the Week on the weekend, but I wanted to be sure to post this one on Friday, 3/14. (Remember this if you're playing along at home, because it could help out.) This isn't one of my typical reference questions, but I enjoyed it and I thought others would too (unless you've heard it already).

Last week, I emailed a colleague to ask for some tech help on an issue we were having. In his reply (which was above-and-beyond helpful - thanks Chris), he also posed the following question:

In the meantime, here's a trivia question for you:

What does this mnemonic help one remember?:
May I have a large container of coffee

No cheating. I'll give you clues if you get stuck.

This of course was much more fun than doing work, so I sat and thought about it for awhile. I tried using the first letter of each word to see if it was a mnemonic for a common sequence - planets, presidents, things like that - but it could be something like countries in a certain region or the underwater peaks of the Challenger Deep. So, I emailed back and ask for a hint to help narrow it down - at least, down to a subject.

In reply, Chris sent me this hint:

OK, the subject for the mnemonic is math. Some more hints: it's not a normal mnemonic. Think about this: why is the word "container" used rather than just "cup"?

Okay, math. And "container." To me, a math container is something like parenthesis in a formula, so it might be something like

May I have a large (of coffee).

Or both Container and Coffee could represent the parenthesis, so it'd be just (of); "I" could be 1, or an imaginary number, but thinking of this as a math formula also made me think that "have" could translate as =. So it could be

M i = A L (O)

Obviously, I was going nowhere. Which made me feel bad, because lately I've been watching a lot of old Sherlock Holmes episodes on YouTube (with Basil Rathbone as Holmes), and I feel like I'm letting him down by not figuring this out.

So, Chris sent me another hint (keep in mind that these hints were sent in the same messages in which we were talking about my tech problem, so we really were working too):

OK, to clarify my hint: in what ways are container and cup different? The words, not the objects.

I thought about that for a minute, and then it hit me and I figure it out. Fun!

If you're ready, you can find the answer here.

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