A Southampton bloke named Arnold1 decided to order a pizza one day. Little did he know this pizza would cost him three years of his life.
It was about six o’clock in the spring of 2016. Arnold called the local pizzeria.2 A waiter took his order, entering all the necessary information into the new computerised ordering system. According to Arnold, he ordered a “vegetarian pizza with extra pepperoni” and gave them his first name and address, according to proper pizza delivery protocol. “All was well, or so I thought,” says Arnold, and he “kicked back to watch the tube.”
As the minutes, then hours, passed, Arnold checked his watch several times. His television program ended. Another one came on. The late night movies started. The morning show. The afternoon soaps. The cartoons. He check his watch again. He checked the calendar. He checked the weather. No rain. No snow. No hurricanes. No tornadoes. No nuclear warfare. Why hadn’t his pizza arrived?
While he waited, he survived mostly on bread and butter, and the birds even brought him crumbs. By about mid-December, he gave up on the pizza and went on with his life. He went back to eating normally again, although it took some effort to recuperate his strength and his appetite, having waited so long for the pizza.
It wasn’t until last week when an astute waiter3 was scrolling through the back-orders4 that anyone noticed the order had gone un-served and un-delivered. This waiter also happened to be a computer science student, so his curiosity was piqued,5 and he immediately began debugging the program to figure out why in the world this order had been in the system for approximately three stinking years!
A week later, he had the answer. Apparently, the computerised pizza ordering system had a two-part bug in it. First, there was no logic to account for an order of “vegetarian pizza with extra pepperoni.” The waiter taking the order over the phone hadn’t noticed the problem, or assumed the computer could handle it and send a reasonable order to the cooks in the back. But the other part of the bug, which not even the most astute waiter could have foreseen, related to the man’s name, “Arnold.” In this case, either the programmer was being sloppy or he had a strong distaste for the name Arnold. It was found that anytime the name Arnold was entered into an order, the computer added sawdust to the toppings.
Together these two items knocked the order into an infinite loop, as the computer searched for “vegetarian pepperoni” and “sawdust” in a global database of available pizza toppings. Fortunately for everyone else, but unfortunately for Arnold, the computer was able to manage other orders while this particular one was routed to the secondary processor which handles the more intensive orders.
After he discovered these bugs, the waiter quickly phoned the software developer, who then sent a patch to fix the ordering system. The order was changed to vegetables plus pepperoni and the sawdust was removed, and the pizza was finally made and delivered to the customer, who happens to still live in the same flat in Southampton. Needless to say, he was flabbergasted, but graciously accepted the pizza, albeit without a tip.
Rumour has it the computer science waiter (geek) is making a PhD dissertation out of his suggestions for solving the “pizza bug” as he calls it.
Photo by Scott Bauer (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.