Opinions, Column

The Final Answer: How to Stick Butter to a Ceiling

Last year, it seemed that the universe was against me. Or, at least it was against my investigative ventures, all of which ended in failure. I could sense the cosmic tides were changing, though, when the first family dinner of the holiday season coincided with Festivus (arguably the greatest meme holiday of all). To my chagrin, we did not partake in the traditional Festivus pole, Airing of Grievances, or Feats of Strength–however, I was blessed with a Festivus miracle: my eyes were finally opened to the secret behind the butter packet mystery. 

Or so I thought.

If you’re a faithful reader of this disastrous column, you’ll recall the article I wrote many moons and life crises ago concerning the butter packets on the ceiling of Mac. In said article, I posed a number of questions about the origins of those butter packets, the physics of their stickage, and their relationship to obsolescence. I ultimately resigned myself to a life of dissatisfaction in which I never knew the who/what/where/when/why of the butter packets. In short: I got out of the butter packet game. 

But as it turns out, entering the world of absurdly niche investigative journalism is tantamount to joining the mafia—just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. 

The first in the “they” of the Butter Packet Mafia (BPM) was Jackie, one of the loves of my life whom I met in an 8 a.m. public speaking class that was sort of The Office meets C-SPAN. Obviously, the experience bonded us for life. Jackie therefore immediately texted me upon spotting a tiny rectangle of silver foil on the ceiling of one of the Walsh stairwells at the start of last semester. Suddenly, The Butter Packet Problem (TBPP) became immediately relevant to my existence again. This, however, wasn’t enough to convince me of the merits of reopening the entire investigation. 

This leads me to the second member of the BPM: Mod-man (loyal readers will recall him as a key player in the second installment of the skunk investigation). He told me that he, too, had noticed and pondered the butter packets in Mac. While this may or may not have been another lie in hopes of being quoted in this column, it was enough to convince me that the many hours I spent thinking about the butter were not an entirely foreign venture. My readers could relate to my existential, butter-related crisis. 

Collectively, these experiences emboldened me to discuss TBPP incessantly—sputtering on about it in supermarkets and on sidewalks, to strangers and friends, on Tuesdays, and critically, on Dec. 23.

On that fateful night, my uncle called across the table to ask how sophomore year was going. I took this as an invitation to summarize the entirety of that first fat-centered elegy for a captive audience. Instead of taking in my spastic butter babble with a kind of stunned silence, as most do, he smiled back at me and uttered six magic words: 

“I know how they did it.” 

I glanced around the room, expecting the rest of my family to have also gone into shock as my uncle exposed his Butter Packet Mafia ties. Instead, my aunts kept yelling over each other, my grandmother looked on with a kind of overwhelmed disapproval, and my cousins were busy making plans to escape to the basement. Apparently, they did not grasp the gravity of the situation. 

So it was just I who listened as my uncle explained how, spurred by the rebelliousness of youth, he and his friends used to place butter in the center of their napkins and yank the sides to launch it straight up at the ceiling.  

The method he proposed was elegant in its simplicity, and almost (but not quite) obscure enough to justify the amount of energy I had invested in the whole dilemma. Yet, I could not rest. His butter had not been wrapped—the butter on Mac’s ceiling still had the wrapper attached—so it remained to be proven if his method applied to my very specific concerns. 

For the rest of the break, I itched to try out his method for myself, but I was foiled by “house rules” and conventions of “socially acceptable behavior”—neither of which, thankfully, exist at college. In order to cope as I counted down the days of my return to Boston, I pulled some of my investigative team (Jack-Jack and Molly) into a dinner discussion of the aerodynamics of TBPP, during which we played out different scenarios using crumpled pieces of paper in lieu of butter. After a while, our friend Will (fondly known as Free Will) jumped in and stepped on my Festivus miracle. 

“Oh, are you guys talking about the butter on the ceiling of Mac?” he asked. “Yeah, my friend did that once—he just threw it up there.” *motions swiftly upward with a flat palm* 

I, having spent a year and a half of my life dedicated to this investigation, let out a small whimper as my soul left my body. Jack put his head in his hands. And Molly? Molly, with equal parts pity and exasperation, groaned: 

“We just spent 30 minutes debating how to catapult butter onto a ceiling, and it turns out the answer was you just throw it.” 

Unwilling to let this go without empirically confirming my own idiocy, my roommates and I bought 20 packets of butter and proceeded to an undisclosed location.* They only agreed to come on the condition I wore my new camouflage-patterned headlamp, which is super stealth and therefore a stipulation to which I happily obliged. After comprehensive comparative testing, we confirmed that throwing butter packets achieves the loftiest results. This, combined with Will’s personal testimony, leads me to conclude: the Butter Packet Problem was perpetrated by the teen boys in Mac with their bare hands. I declare this mystery solved. 

Now that my ego has been inflated by my newfound investigative success, I’d like to participate in the tradition of obnoxious winners and offer a number of unsolicited takeaways. First and foremost: Festivus Miracles are a scam. (You better (butter?) believe my false-hope Festivus experience is going in my Airing of Grievances next year.) Also, if it seems as though there is a remote possibility that something got there by being thrown, it probably did. And, finally: If you chase the meme persistently enough, the universe might let you win once in a while. After countless hours of butter-centric contemplation, a year and a half of painful patience, and prolonged periods of public embarrassment, I emerged with a single victory. And so I say to you: 

This column may be one giant meme, but it is no joke.

January 27, 2020