A wing and a prayer


Peter Sherwood presents The Puzzle of the Purloined Poultry Parts.

Last year I wrote a piece about 100,000 tons of half frozen rotting meat for sale in China. And, no, I did not make that up. I am reminded that back in the eighties the cops in Hong Kong discovered a warehouse with stolen, dried chicken wings stacked to the roof. The loot’s origin was unknown but millions of chickens were clearly minus their flappers, so it was reasonable to assume that the rest of their anatomy was in that great wok in the sky. The Agricultural and Fisheries’ Department of Pedantry got a forensic team involved and began a meticulous count, which took months.

Then, to demonstrate the advantage of a university education, inspectors divided the total count by two to get the precise number of former fowls, settling on an agreed tally of 33,762, 101. Enter the department’s Obsessive Compulsive Division (OCD) who insisted the figure could not be exact. Studies, they whined, showed that one in 127,000 chickens are born deformed with only one wing. Common sense was poised to enter the fray when forensics stumbled upon something unexpected and stunning. Random comparisons, wing by wing, over thousands of samples, showed conclusively that all the samples were of the left. Even though the team had checked less than 25% of the appendages, the odds in favour of such an outcome were astronomical.

The right-wing connection

The mathematics faculty of Hong Kong University was contacted to speculate. Game Theory, String Theory, Probability Theory, Chaos Theory and other more exotic numerical options were employed. More wings were counted and the result was the same – not a single right wing. Great minds were left scratching intellectual heads, leaving a conundrum which became known (to me, anyway) as The Puzzle of the Purloined Poultry Parts.

Professional mathematicians of every stripe agreed that the odds, if indeed random, were greater than the late Chairman Mao winning the men’s singles title at Wimbledon. There had to be an answer (these blokes are not PhDs for nothing). But no dice.

Then, for a giggle, a primary school teacher in Discovery Bay (one Ms Poulet) gave her class five minutes to find an answer. Could it be, the kids said, that the opposing 33, 762,101 digits of the Gallus gallus domesticus had been sent to a right-wing organisation in America’s conservative heartland, and the balance was destined for Communist China? Ms Poulet passed her student’s theory to the investigating committee and was laughed at, but for the wrong reasons.

Seeing profit in the poultry enigma, I formed a company and packaged some wings with a dehydrated soup mix to sell to supermarkets in China – and said a prayer for success. The rest is history, and a guide to why I’m writing this April Fool’s Day article instead of taking it easy on a beach in Thailand.

Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 17 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and he has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.


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