A Weighty Issue…

No, as far as I know, Josh Hamilton is not getting fat.  Nor am I.  This post is more inspired by Dinged Corners musings about new packaging to deter pack searchers.  Specifically, by the part about searchers weighing packs to find the memorabilia.  Its not the first time I’ve heard this, but its the first time I haven’t had 50 other things going on.  Which meant I had time to sit down and think it over.

I have a few concerns.  One is that with quality control as shoddy as it has been at times from most manufacturers, is there actually a noticeable difference between an average pack with a memorabilia card, and an average pack without one?  Secondly – are these pocket scales sensitive enough, and accurate enough to tell the difference.  And finally, how hard is it to make most packs weigh close to the same amount?

To get this out of the way first – I am an analytical chemist, I basically measure things to very high accuracy for a living.  With that out of the way, I am going to tackle (for me) the easiest question of the three.  Are these pocket digital balances accurate enough to tell the difference?  Pretty much all the commonly available ones are good to 0.1g.  When I weighed out the cards today (more on that later), I used a balance that weighs out to the nearest 0.001g.  My standard deviations for all the cards were at least to the hundredths (0.01g).  In short – a pocket digital scale will probably still be able to tell you what pack is the heaviest, but it could very well just be due to a few miscut base cards.  Basically, for every extra decimal place of accuracy you want, you are going to be paying exponentially more for the balance.  Is it feasible to spend $500 on a digital balance to pull a $2 jersey from retail packs?  I’d say ‘no’.  Of course, I’d say it isn’t worth spending $10 on a crappy digital balance to pull a $2 jersey from retail packs, but every time I go to Wal-Mart, some skeeve is there proving that not everyone thinks the same way as I do.

I did my actual weighing with some stacks of Allen & Ginter cards I had hanging around my desk.  For base and mini cards there is about a 1% difference in mass for each of them (standard deviations of 0.07g for base and 0.02g for minis).  Each pack should give you 4 base cards and a mini.  Let’s assume those are going to be minimal sources of variation between the packs.  What we are really interested in is the difference between the memorabilia cards and the State cards (which theoretically serve as decoys).  Not surprisingly, memorabilia cards are about 30% heavier.  A difference which would register on even the crappiest of digital scales.

This is where my first concern, and third concern mesh.  Is there a difference (yes), and can manufacturers do anything about this?  The answer to the second question is surprisingly – yes.  If you opened A&G, you probably ended up with a mitt full of those ‘Crack the Code’ cards.  I think I had nine in my box.  The average mass of a State card + one of the ‘Crack the Code’ cards is basically exactly the same as the average mass of a memorabilia card.  If I had weighed my packs out – I would have 13 ‘heavy’ packs, with only four memorabilia cards.  Not great odds.

I needed to do this experiment just to set my own mind at rest.  This doesn’t say that people who use digital scales aren’t going to be able to find the ‘heavy’ packs.  Between two packs, one is always going to weigh more than the other – its more to show that the heavy pack isn’t necessarily going to have what they think it is going to have.  It also shows that manufacturers can combat this if they choose to.  Slapping a ‘Crack the Code’ card in every pack would make every pack in the box weigh the same.  Instead of being able to eliminate half the packs in the box, they’d be left with just guessing on which pack feels ‘lucky’ like the rest of us.

I kept this purposely vague, but hopefully not so vague as to be confusing.  I didn’t really want to help someone out who was looking to weigh packs.  Hopefully, manufacturers start trying to even out their packs a little bit more.  And next time you see some dude with a digital scale, you can always hope he’s going home with a decoy and some slightly oversized base cards.


One Response to A Weighty Issue…

  1. Patricia says:

    This is a great analysis, thanks for posting it. Pack searchers must use a combination of weigh and feel. They really feel up packs, that’s for sure. It’s creepy. Also, if we ever dopily pick up a pack from an open retail box at Target, it always has either only base cards or one of those white cardboard thingies. Our conclusion: pack searchers know which day the distributor arrives. They get there in the morning. They either feel, or weigh and feel. And they’re good at it. The extra packaging eliminates the feelie part, so we think the packaging may deter somewhat.

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