My wife constantly tells me that nobody but an engineer thinks the way I do. I say she’s exaggerating but in an attempt to keep peace in the family I’ve agreed to a test. I’ll write about an ordinary decision process and leave it up to my readers.

The Decision

Black Forest Cake, with a few pieces missing

In Fort Worth, there’s a really nice bakery called the Swiss Pastry Shop. They serve specialty hamburgers, pies, cakes and cookies. I’ve never been disappointed. Their claim to fame though is their Black Forest Macaroon cake.

Before Thanksgiving and Christmas, they literally go into full time production of these cakes. Despite the focus on production, if you want one for the holiday, you’ll need to order it. Oh, they’ll still take orders for pies and ordinary cakes but the Black Forest cake is their highlight. One bite of this cake and I realized that all previous cakes were simply leading up to this one.

As I said earlier, if you want one of these for your Christmas dinner, you have to place your order in advance. On my first visit to the bakery they had a sign saying they were out of black forest cakes. I wasn’t looking for one anyway and ended up with a lemon chess pie. Absolutely fantastic.

This year my wife cruelly pointed out my expanding waistband and said I could have one but only one. That`s the situation, now let’s discuss how I made my decision.

The Process

Lemon Chess Pie

I`ll start by acknowledging the black forest cake tastes better than the lemon chess pie but this would be a very short blog if taste were my only criteria.  This surprised me because traditional chocolate cake is very low on my list of favorites. Then again, the Black Forest Macaroon cake is hardly traditional.

I start by creating the decision matrix. While I don’t use a spreadsheet for every decision, it always exists somewhere, if only in my head.

Criteria Black Forest Cake Lemon Chess Pie
Relative Flavor 9 7
Number of servings 8 8
Cost per serving $3 $1.5
Enjoyment Factor 11 13.5

I realize this is a special occasion and cost should not be a factor but it always needs to be considered. In this case the cost per serving is in the acceptable range for both items and only suitable as a tiebreaker.

Enjoyment factor takes a little explanation but is based on an easy concept. How long does the memory of eating the item stay with me? The black forest cake is intense burst of complex flavors and textures. From the chocolate shavings covering the outside to the whipped cream and chocolate sponge inside, your taste buds are overwhelmed by the flavor. By the end of two hours I remember how good it was but can’t recall the flavors. Using the relative flavor as 9 when I eat the cake and assuming a linear decline of my pleasant memories down to 2, a very light touch of calculus gives me an 11.

With only two elements, the lemon chess pie is far less complex. I’m sure bakers all over the world envy the flaky crust but in the end, it’s only a carrier for the lemon chess filling. The lemons provide just the right amount of tartness as your mouth fills with sweetness. Because of the lower complexity of flavors, my enjoyment starts at 7 and takes about three hours to decline to a 2. Using the same formula as before, I come up with 13.5.

Right about now you’re expecting me to tell you that I assign a weighting factor to each element, add them all together and come up with my decision. You know that decision process as well as I do, it’s not an engineering thing, it’s simply common sense. I really love that method because the results are always definitive. Too bad it has nothing to do with my decision.

Having mentioned calculus earlier in the enjoyment factor calculations, I know my wife has already stopped reading. It’s true that calculus is used in the equation but it’s so trivial that I could have done it using a graph. Now that she’s no longer reading, I can tell you why the lemon chess pie is the overwhelming winner.

My wife and I always split the desserts. When I get a slice, I prepare one for my wife and vice versa. Somewhere close to the last piece, this changes. Knowing how much more my wife enjoys the Black Forest cake, I will often cede my last piece to her. Based on recent history, my wife tends to do the same for me on the lemon chess pie. I don’t know her reasoning but I assume it’s because she loves me.

Now the number of servings per item has shifted dramatically, I get three servings with black forest cake and five with lemon chess pie. I don’t need calculus for that equation. Were I a better man, I would still select the black forest cake. I mean true love and all that. Still, it’s an exceptional lemon chess pie and Carol has mentioned she wants to lose weight too. I’m doing her a favor by getting the lemon chess pie.


That’s the decision process I used in selecting lemon chess pie for Christmas. When you get right down to it, I’m guessing my decision making is not that different from your own process. Feel free to let me know.

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