I was just taking a nostalgic moment remembering the French Castle Scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The part where the snooty French guy says, “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!”

The reason for my berry-induced musings (and you don’t expect to hear yourself saying that very often) is that one evening when I was driving home from work listening to the National Public Radio (NPR) – I think it was the same evening that I heard about the Ghost of a Neanderthal – there was a segment about a question posed on the Stack Exchange website.

My understanding is that the original question in question was simplistically posed as, “What if the world turned into blueberries.” It wasn’t long before one of the Stack Exchange moderators took the question down on the basis that it was too frivolous. However, it wasn’t removed quickly enough, because one Anders Sandberg at the University of Oxford saw it and it set him to thinking.

Anyone for blueberries? (Click image to see a larger version)

The result was a paper that sets out to fully address the question, “What if the entire Earth was instantaneously replaced with an equal volume of closely packed, but uncompressed blueberries?” Of course, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that — for this sort of problem — some assumptions have to be made. In this case, Anders made the assumption that the berries in question were “big, thick-skinned highbush blueberries” and not “wild, thin-skinned blueberries” (I think that’s a good call – it’s certainly the way I would have gone).

This actually turns out to be a very interesting thought experiment. Why don’t you take a few moments to ponder what you would see and experience if this were to happen to you, and then read one of the myriad columns reporting on Anders’ paper to see how close you came (examples are to be found on Scientific American, The Atlantic, The Chronicle, and Atlas Obscura).

I look forward to hear your thoughts regarding this sticky problem.