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Guess what? Chicken butts!

So the chickens put themselves to bed at dusk every night, and half an hour later I steal out to set up the wildlife camera and look in on them. Say goodnight, as it were.

When I look in the henhouse, I’m going to see one of the following things:


So I have two questions. First, for you programmer types, this is basically a four-digit binary number, right? There must be some neat-o mathemagical way to work out how many permutations there are, and to ensure I haven’t missed any. Um, right?


p.s. I know what you’re thinking. You think this is beak-butt-beak-butt. Well, you’re wrong. It’s always the two older girls at the left and the two babies at the right, but I lifted Mapp off her perch to check her feet and accidentally put her back in the wrong place (she’s going to be very cross when she wakes up in the wrong spot tomorrow).

So today’s secret message is BEAK-BEAK-BUTT-BUTT.


Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: October 27, 2011, 9:45 pm

‘They’ say you can use anything as a divinatory system so I’ve suggested to Her Stoatliness that it is either a (no doubt fiendishly accurate) weather forecasting system, or a means of predicting the value of the US Dollar against that fabled ‘basket of currencies’ they all go on about (why a basket, I wonder?).

Beats divining by entrails. I call it buttomancy.

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: October 27, 2011, 9:54 pm

Well I can’t read chicken butts but I do have some ( outdated) education about European currencies.

I was taught that if you succumb to your Yen to Pound Lira in the Peso you’ll get Duetschmarks on your Franc.

Comment from Giles
Time: October 27, 2011, 10:03 pm

Yup, it’s a 4-digit binary number, so there are 16 possibilities (2 to the power of 4 is 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16). Here are the perms (treating a butt as a zero and a beak as a one)

butt butt butt butt = 0
butt butt butt beak = 1
butt butt beak butt = 2
butt butt beak beak = 3
butt beak butt butt = 4
butt beak butt beak = 5
butt beak beak butt = 6
butt beak beak beak = 7
beak butt butt butt = 8
beak butt butt beak = 9
beak butt beak butt = 10
beak butt beak beak = 11
beak beak butt butt = 12
beak beak butt beak = 13
beak beak beak butt = 14
beak beak beak beak = 15

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 27, 2011, 10:20 pm

Thank you, Giles. It was on the tip of my brain.

Comment from Oceania
Time: October 27, 2011, 10:36 pm

It’s a rolling cipher boys and girls?

Didn’t any of you do on the fly FPGA programming for decoding signals?
Works for radar also … we had A4 Skyhawks flying around with better tracking, vectoring and identification software than your nasty – but recent – F15s.
We could identify over 300 types of aircraft – and even tell which they were from backscatter of their first stage turbines.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: October 27, 2011, 10:37 pm

Or, in good ol’ base 10, it’s a permutation of 4 items, each of which can have one of two values. Which is also calculated by multiplying 2 by itself 4 times. I only clearly remember 3 things from high school math. . .and permutations and factorials are the only two I’ve ever found a use for in real life (I mean, really–how often does one use quadratic equations? Seriously.)

Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: October 27, 2011, 11:02 pm

The range of a 4-bit bird binary number is 0 to 15. There are 16 combinations, i.e. 2 x 2 x 2 x 2.

The magic way to generate all the combinations is:

Flip the first bird at each step.
Flip the second bird each time the first bird flips back to butt.
Flip the third bird each time the second bird flips back to butt.
Flip the fourth bird each time the third bird flips back to butt.

Then you get this (using Giles’ butt=0, beak=1 notation):

0-0-0-0 = 0
0-0-0-1 = 1
0-0-1-0 = 2
0-0-1-1 = 3
0-1-0-0 = 4
0-1-0-1 = 5
0-1-1-0 = 6
0-1-1-1 = 7
1-0-0-0 = 8
1-0-0-1 = 9
1-0-1-0 = 10
1-0-1-1 = 11
1-1-0-0 = 12
1-1-0-1 = 13
1-1-1-0 = 14
1-1-1-1 = 15

The noodling-around list you generated is this:

0-0-0-0 = 0
0-0-0-1 = 1
0-0-1-0 = 2
0-1-0-0 = 4
1-0-0-0 = 8
0-1-0-1 = 5
1-0-0-1 = 9
0-1-1-0 = 6
1-1-0-0 = 12
0-0-1-1 = 3
1-0-1-1 = 11
0-1-1-1 = 7
1-1-1-1 = 15

You omitted 10, 13, and 14 (easy to do when one isn’t following a rule).

Yeah, I am (or was) a programmer. I should go back over to Project Euler and do a few more problems.

Comment from Sven In Colorado
Time: October 27, 2011, 11:04 pm

Its frikken cold!

You turn your cold side to your neighbor, hoping for heat…the neighbor gets cold and turns her cold side to her neighbor. And so on, and so on.

My bet is that the one who started the flip had her outside wing side facing the coldest spot in the roost…or not.


It could be micro-magnetic fields implanted in them while still in ovum….Its based on some ongoing manipulation by the Greys from Alpha-Centaurus, attempting to communicate with the chickens. I am told by that the Greys still do not believe that the answer is 42!!!

Yeah, that’s the most plausible.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 27, 2011, 11:29 pm

I was sure I had missed some, Rich. I knew it was a simple binary math thing, but — as usual — I was trying to approach it visually. By making patterns.

This is one of the (many) reasons I’m not a good musician. I don’t approach music musically; I memorize chord shapes. Change tunings on me and I lose it.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 27, 2011, 11:39 pm

I once tried to do a 3D model of what the numbers 1-1,000 look like in my head (result here). The model is pretty close, except I visually “stand” up next to the twenty and look back toward the one. And there are negative numbers behind that. And more strangeness after 1,000.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: October 27, 2011, 11:39 pm

If you exclude vowels, the greek alphabet pares down to 17, so you only have to drop something like Ξ or Ψ and your chickens can start trying to reproduce the works of Euripides.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: October 27, 2011, 11:40 pm

Aristophanes might be more entertaining, though.

Comment from Stephen Falken
Time: October 27, 2011, 11:52 pm

If I am using statistics correctly, I believe you have a 6.25% chance of predicting their arrangement when entering the hen house.

Because each bird is either beak or butt you have a 50% chance of predicting any one bird.

And .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 = .0625 or 6.25%

Or, like Rich said, there are 16 options and 1 divided by 16 also equals .0625

Comment from Oldcat
Time: October 27, 2011, 11:59 pm

Another way to enumerate all the combinations is to use subsets.

So for 1 bird, you have


to add a second bird, repeat the list for each combo of bird 2

butt butt
butt beak
beak butt
beak beak

then repeat for the 2 bird block for bird three and four.

this method works a little better if the units don’t have the same number of options in each ‘digit’

Comment from Mrs. Compton
Time: October 28, 2011, 12:15 am

They stay asleep when you pick them up?

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: October 28, 2011, 12:19 am

There are 16 combinations (2^4th) for sure, as mickle folk have mentioned.

Um…but are each of the chicken positions interchangeable? Is there additional information buried in the POSITIONs of the four distinct fowl? We’re talkin’ permutations, most fowl, here.

Does Mapp in – say – the leftmost position (and keeping the overall butt-code the same, of course) mean the same as Mapp in the rightmost position?

I can’t believe I actually found a legitimate use for the term butt-code. My life could very well be complete now. I’m going to go look in the mirror to see if I’m fading away….

I only bring all this up to further muddy the waters.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: October 28, 2011, 12:24 am

Ya know, I’m seeing the potential for a new game here. Every monday, we could all guess at the 5 16-bit digit combinations that the butts and beaks come up with, kinda like the powerball lottery…

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: October 28, 2011, 12:34 am

Mr. Magoo (lovely to see you facing forward again): a factorial!

There are 4 choices for leftmost chicken, leaving 3 choices for second-to-leftmost, 2 choices for third-to-leftmost, and only 1 for rightmost. 24 possibilities. Which need not be divided by anything, as all 4 are always used, judging from Stoaty’s explanation.

And wouldn’t each of those 24 possibilities then have to be multiplied by the 16 butt/beak combinations? Making, hm (squints, waves fingers about, goes for the calculator). . .384 possibilities. One should be able to do some interesting divining with that. Not, perhaps, quite at the level of the i-ching or the Tarot, but still.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: October 28, 2011, 1:04 am

Thx, CHMC. My backward cookie was deleted and I haven’t corrected(?) it.

Factorial is exactly what I was babbling on about, whilst avoiding the term itself.

384 unique messages. Or symbols.

Hell, whole books have been written (see Library of Congress) using only 26.

I wonder what profundities are being expressed by these no-doubt knowing chickens?

I hope they’re vulgar limericks. Or chicken haiku.

Stoaty may need to publish the daily butt-code and chicken-position so we can find out what they’re saying.

Comment from Gordon R. Durand
Time: October 28, 2011, 1:12 am

Math Prof: Pick a number between 01 and 10.
Binary man: There aren’t any numbers between 01 and 10.
Math Prof: Inclusive.
Binary man: OK, 10.
Math Prof: Wrong.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: October 28, 2011, 1:14 am

The general case for this sort of thing is simply to go down the line of items that can take different states and multiply together the number of distinct states each can take.

In this case, that is simply 2*2*2*2 (yielding 16).

But it also works if, for example, the 2nd hen might face left as well as beak- or butt-first but the others never do that. Then it would be 2*3*2*2 possible configurations, or 24.

Comment from Deborah
Time: October 28, 2011, 1:38 am

Chicken body language. Where’s the Chicken Whisperer when you need one? Someone is miffed, that’s for sure (predicated on my knowledge as one of five daughters).

Comment from Oceania
Time: October 28, 2011, 3:02 am

teak, beak, tutt, eeek, tatt, beeb, babb …

Each word could be broken down into phonetically correct combinations which could be given an alphanumerical weighting, and used as a simple 4 element starting point for a cipher based upon the initial 4 words.

Assuming you use the convention basic ASCII char system.

I remember during the good old days that lots of letters to Aunty Mary originated in Colditz for the translation of VFR publication based on early work at Peenemunde.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 28, 2011, 10:36 am

They’re not totally asleep, Mrs C, but after they’ve gone to roost, they’re very dopey and docile. You can handle them without drama (which is important; you have to check them over from time to time, looking for insects or injuries).

The roosting order is nearly always Lucia-Mapp-Vita-Violet. That’s almost, but not quite, the pecking order. Violet asserts her higher status by making Vita perch next to Mapp (Mapp gives the chicken to her left a good pecking before she settles in for the evening, so nobody wants to sleep next to her).

In the picture, I have accidentally inverted Mapp and Vita.

Comment from J Foster
Time: October 28, 2011, 12:52 pm

Does this make Lucia the MSB (Most Significant Bird)?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 28, 2011, 1:13 pm

Oh, yah. She’s a High Order chook, for sure.

Comment from mojo
Time: October 28, 2011, 3:14 pm


Comment from Mono The Elderish
Time: October 28, 2011, 5:54 pm

Yet another psycho Bastard attacking one of our embassys


Comment from James the lesser
Time: October 28, 2011, 10:20 pm

I haven’t been around chickens for quite a few years. When they roost, is one end wider than the other? If so, perhaps they’d preferentially pick configurations with two in each direction.

Comment from Oceania
Time: October 28, 2011, 11:13 pm

And you dickhead Americans bombed the Serbs?

Well done retards!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 28, 2011, 11:18 pm

Oh, thank god — Oceania’s here! We’ve gone hours without an abusive non sequitur.

Comment from Oh Hell
Time: October 29, 2011, 1:20 am

I thought Mapp slept in the kitchen…..

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 29, 2011, 1:22 am

Not all night. The chooks get up HOURS before we do. If we left her in the kitchen, there’d be poop and feathers all over everything…and the booze would be all drunk up…and flour everywhere, when she tried to make pancakes.

Oh, nonono.

Comment from Oceania
Time: October 29, 2011, 1:23 am

Hmmm I should post some pictures of chickens with wiring looms coming out of their heads …. bio-robot chickens …

It works for sheep-dogs


Comment from Nina
Time: October 29, 2011, 3:04 am

Mapp’ll make breakfast in bed? I say go for it!

Comment from James the lesser
Time: October 29, 2011, 3:09 am

mojo, 4!=24

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: October 29, 2011, 3:27 am

Oceania, if it works on sheepdogs then surely it’ll work on Liberals. Smaller brains would mean less wiring…yes?

Admittedly, Liberals wouldn’t be able to learn the extensive command structure necessary for herding sheep, but they could be taught – say – emptying binbags, sweeping floors, giving passionate speeches, squatting on public property (and soiling same), etc.

Comment from Russ
Time: October 29, 2011, 7:27 am

If you want to really use them to communicate, you’ll need four more chickens.

The idea for an RFC begins to form… CBBBP – Chicken Beak/Butt Binary Protocol….

Comment from Alice
Time: October 29, 2011, 10:43 pm

I can’t believe I’ve spent as much time as I have trying to work out a second-order series using 4 chickens in order to generate an octal code set… Truly, I am blessed with an excess of free time.

Comment from Oceania
Time: October 30, 2011, 12:19 am

We have recently had some serious breakthroughs using tubulin as a self polymerising and self sustaining quantum biocomputer. Turns out that once GTP hydrolysis occurs, there is ample room between 4-5 residues to enable near field quantum coherence in several orbital topologies.
I deal for storing q-bits, and reading out the phonon lattice.

13 fold symmetry you know …

Comment from jwpaine
Time: October 30, 2011, 2:57 pm

Aren’t you forgetting something? Any number of the chickens could be absent, thus introducing a fourth state.
To summarize: Beak-Butt-Position-Existence. 256 possible arrangements. I call it henary code, and I’d be checking them against the extended ASCII tables, if I were you. Which I’m not.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: October 30, 2011, 3:08 pm

Furthering that thought: If you check them on seven successive nights, you might discover that they are displaying IP addresses in henary (wikileaks’ hidden repository; Christina Hendricks’ secret sex tapes; I’m pulling for that one, or for free pr0n sites, myself). Of course, they may be encrypting, the canny little bitches.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: October 30, 2011, 4:57 pm


That is all.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: October 31, 2011, 12:06 am


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