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BYU students say their equation offers objective ranking of best pizzas in Provo

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Posted at 10:06 PM, Jan 25, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-26 00:06:03-05

PROVO, Utah – From insects to seasonal depression, college students have researched virtually everything under the sun. But a group of students at Brigham Young University recently used a mathematical formula to try and determine which pizza in Provo comes in at the perfect price.

The students are taking a course called "careers in math," and they decided they wanted to challenge themselves with an extracurricular project. Catherine Kellar is a freshman who did computer coding for the project, and she said the novelty of the project surprised her.

"I was actually completely like, I have no idea what math has to do with this, like, this just sounds like fun, and it was completely out of my range of thought for math,” she said. “Math is proofs and writing stuff, equations, and here we're doing pizza."

The students wanted to develop a formula that would factor in existing reviews of pizza restaurants and compare them to the cost for those pizzas. Students said they spent a semester narrowing it down until they were left with a single, simple formula.

"People don't really like a high-priced pizza, but people really like a tasty pizza,” BYU student Derek Miller said. “So the way that you weight those two, the way that we came up with anyway, ends up being expressed in this formula. So this is a heuristic, or a rule of thumb, this is a rule-of-thumb way for you to be able to decide objectively which pizza.... comes out on top."

The students pulled in about 600 reviews of pizza restaurants from Yelp.com, and they developed an algorithm to analyze the frequency of certain key words in the reviews, like “excellent” or “good” or “poor.”

Student then assigned a number value to each term, and that number was weighted according to the number of stars the review gave the restaurant. The data was then plugged into an equation and the results were generated.

Doctor Michael Dorff, professor of mathematics at BYU, mentored the project, and he said the best research is grounded in practical application.

"It's not the typical math research that people do,” he said. "I think this is a great opportunity for the students, because they get to see actually how math is used in the real world today. It's great practical experience for them."

Carol Herrera, a junior who helped with the project, said the project was a great choice.

"Well, if you think about it, that's what research is: you have a question that you want to solve, and for me, my optimal pizza is free.”

Dorff said he has an encouraging message for those struggling to keep up in their math studies.

"Some of the best jobs in the world right now are in mathematics,” he said. “Last year, one company rated mathematician as the number one job in the United States. So, if you’re good at math, keep up with it, and you can eat your pizza!”

The researchers ranked the top five pizzas in Provo as follows:

Fifth place: Pizza Pie Café

Fourth place: Malawi’s Pizza

Third place: Slab Pizza

Second place: Nicolitalia Pizzeria

First place: Pizzeria 712

Researchers said their personal taste preferences did not influence the results.