The Toilet Paper Question

You’re using a reasonably well-maintained public restroom and there are two rolls of toilet paper available for use, with differing amounts of paper left on each roll. Which one should you use: the roll with more paper, or the roll with less paper?

Of course, if you’re a selfish bastard then it doesn’t matter as long as there’s enough for you. But, is there any good reason that a decent person with concern for his fellow restroom user should choose one roll over the other? The answer is yes, and it’s pretty obvious if you think about it. Unfortunately, it seems that very few people have thought about it.

You should choose the roll with less paper on it.

Why? Because that way, if most people followed this rule, one of the rolls will empty faster and be available for replacement with a full roll when the maintenance person next checks. That will make it less likely that some unfortunate soul will be stranded with two empty rolls.

The world would be more pleasant if everyone followed this simple rule, but it’s clear that they don’t because I often see two rolls with roughly the same low amount of paper left. This is one of many cases where a misguided egalitarian tendency (“I think I’ll use the roll with more paper because then they’ll be more equal…”) leads to unintended bad consequences.

UPDATE: An anonymous reader entered this comment:

A valid point, from an altruistic perspective. However, call me a “selfish bastard,” but I always choose the roll with more paper. Why? More paper means fewer people have used it before, which in turn means that there is a lower probability that someone has contaminated the roll. So from a strictly personal standpoint, it may make more sense to use the full roll for hygienic reasons.

This is my response:

This is invalid. Only a brand new roll will be more hygienic (if the maintenance person who installed it is cleaner than the average user). But, after that they’re equal. The inward-facing side of the paper is still as clean as the machine that rolled it. And only one circumference (plus a little) of a non-new roll may have been touched by others regardless of how much paper is left. I guess the edge may have been handled a bit more, but I suspect this difference is negligible. In fact, the smaller surface area of the roll with less paper probably more than compensates for any extra handling. So, be nice. OK? I don’t think there’s a real cost in this case.

UPDATE 2: Here is a nice design that implements my solution.

14 thoughts on “The Toilet Paper Question

  1. Hey Gil,

    Linked over from Truth Laid Bear, good luck with your blog. You seem to write well.

    If you ever want a poop laugh go to http://www.poopreport.com, check out their stories and comics. Their “Teed of Turd (TOT) is great.

    I bet if you sent Dave, editor of Poop Report, your paper thoughts, he’d put them up and you’d get some links over from his site.

    I enjoyed reading your work.

    C. Lion aka H.R. Poopin Stuff

    Like

  2. C. Lion,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I suspect my focus is on a different aspect of the problem than folks from that site might expect.

    Like

  3. You are correct. It is, of course, the logical and polite thing to do. Interesting topic I’ve never seen before.

    Usually with TP it’s something like “over the top, or under the bottom?” Heh.

    Like

  4. A valid point, from an altruistic perspective. However, call me a “selfish bastard,” but I always choose the roll with more paper. Why? More paper means fewer people have used it before, which in turn means that there is a lower probability that someone has contaminated the roll. So from a strictly personal standpoint, it may make more sense to use the full roll for hygienic reasons.

    Like

  5. This is invalid.

    Only a brand new roll will be more hygienic (if the maintenance person who installed it is cleaner than the average user).

    But, after that they’re equal. The inward-facing side of the paper is still as clean as the machine that rolled it. And only one circumference (plus a little) of a non-new roll may have been touched by others regardless of how much paper is left. I guess the edge may have been handled a bit more, but I suspect this difference is negligible. In fact, the smaller surface area of the roll with less paper probably more than compensates for any extra handling.

    So, be nice. ok? I don’t think there’s a cost in this case.

    Like

  6. Over the top seems better to me. Both for hygienic reasons (paper need not touch the wall or dispenser) and ease of use.

    I’ve heard some people are offended by the paper coming over the top. My response is: “Huh?”.

    Like

  7. Concur, though I admit I’ve sometimes been tempted by a nice big fat soft roll. Nice to know though, that at least in this case the inconsiderate “selfish bastard” possesses an IQ somewhere well south of we altruists.

    Like

  8. England calling(a bit late perhaps I’m new to these sites).

    Waddia mean TWO rolls!!?That’s just typical of you pampered capitalist yanks.We, in the glorious socialist paradise of Great Blairdom are lucky to find any rolls at all when we go into a public bog.His Holiness the Blair probably has a focus group looking into the matter, but personally I think it’s secret govt policy to make us more improvisational and self reliant as a nation.Besides you can always ask the gays in the next cubicle for a lend of their wet wipes.Charming lads, noisy, but charming.

    RAB

    Like

  9. Hello Reasonable Man!

    I just wanted to say that I truly appreciate your outstanding reasonable attitude regarding the toilet paper. Reasonable, intelligent, and damn funny! I will think of you as the ‘Preemptive Redemptive Toilet Paper Police’!

    Well done!

    Like

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