The mathematics of gag gifts

Picture this: your close friend is sitting with a present in her lap, your Christmas gift as part of your group of friends’ secret Santa.

Little does she know you’ve bought her the perfect gag gift: a tube of lubricant and a pair of furry handcuffs.

You try to stifle your anticipation as she unwraps the present, and then the whole room bursts into laughter as she shows everyone with embarrassment and amusement the hilarious gift you’ve given.

It’s an enthralling image; one that motivates many students every year to stray from traditional gift ideas and peruse the sex shops, joke stores and the Internet for the perfect gag gift.

Of course, so much can go wrong in this scenario.

Perhaps your friend is too prudish, and the tube of lubricant presents implications that make her flustered and a bit teary.

Or maybe she gets the wrong impression from the cuffs, spurring a romantic interest that you never dreamed of intending.

Worst of all, maybe nobody thinks it’s funny.

If you’re planning on gag-gifting somebody this holiday season, it is clear that a great deal of calculation must go into the act.

Luckily, an understanding of basic mathematics can make this task much more palatable.

The first step is to determine the target of your practical joke, and then define your variables.

For example, you’ll need to set your target’s prude quotient (p), their sense of humour differential (h) and their sensitivity multiplier (s).

So far, we’re looking at an equation along the lines of (s)(h)/(p). But the more you know about this person, the more variables you can account for and the more accurate your gag gift maximization function will become.

This, of course, will depend on further variables, such as the length of time you’ve known that person, whether or not they have a diary you can steal and your proficiency at hacking into people’s personal computers.

But let’s assume that you’ve chosen your variables, you’ve substituted values for each based on a one-to-10 scale and you’ve made the calculations.

You have a gag gift utility range of seven to eight – the present should be pretty outrageous, but not so over the top as to be downright offensive. Plus, independent variable (a) – a peanut allergy – tells you not to buy anything with traces of nuts. Duly noted.

Next, you’ll need to collect your raw data.

This is the grunt work, finding as many potential gag gifts as possible listed by price, shock value, degree of irony or any other measure of hilarity for which you want to control.

Once you’ve collected your data, you can use the individual qualities of these gifts to create a Cartesian function. Gag gift value = (irony)(shock value)squared + price.

Figure 1 shows such a function with humour on the y-axis and price on the x-axis.

Clearly, this parabolic function has a peak – a maximization between price and comedic value. So we’re done, right?

Not quite yet. Take a closer look – that maximized point tells you to buy your friend a home pregnancy kit.

Very funny, very cheap, but you know from step one of the process that she’ll interpret this as alleged sluttiness. It’s a gag gift utility factor of nine, too high for your intended target.

The final step of this calculation is to perform some basic grade 12 calculus, finding the derivative of this curve to isolate for the slope.

There, where the slope of the function is 7.5: that’s what you should be buying.

Let’s see – it’s a butt plug made out of soap: funny, oddly useful and still within your price range. Perfect.

So while it may take a lot of thought and a little knowledge of bogus mathematics, the perfect gag gift may be just around the corner for you and your friends this holiday season.

Here’s wishing you happy hunting.