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Intellect

BYU mathematicians calculate the best local pizza “Pi”

Ever have a craving for pizza but can’t decide where to go? Well fret no more because five BYU undergrads have made the decision a piece of cake. Using a combination of math, statistics, restaurant reviews and computer programming they have narrowed down the top five pizza places in Provo and Orem:

5)      Pizza Pie Cafe

4)      Malawi's Pizza

3)      SLABpizza

2)      Nicolitalia Pizzeria

1)      Pizzeria 712

To confirm their results, the team of course sampled some of the top ranked pizzas and they were impressed with the taste of their results.

“I loved Pizzeria 712. That one takes the cake,” said team member Derek Miller.

The group of undergrad students mentored by Dr. Michael Dorff in the Department of Mathematics, were inspired to do this study after watching a YouTube video about the best cheeseburger in New York. They decided to focus their research on the Provo pizza scene to find the best pie in town.

The five undergrad students have backgrounds in math, computer coding and statistics. They combined these skills to come up with an equation for the best pizza in Provo and Orem. Their math has two crucial variables-- taste and price.

To put a rating on taste, the team decided to use online reviews from Yelp and Google Reviews as a measure of taste. Only restaurants with 30 or more ratings were used in the study to make sure there was sufficient data. There were several phases to determining the rating.

Phase one: Use an automated system to aggregate reviews into one digital location.

Phase two: Select words from reviews to create a word bank.

Phase three: Assign points to each word based on how many stars the consumer awarded. For example the word “good” coming from a one-star rating would receive -10 points while the same word on a five-star rating would receive +10 points.

Phase four: Sum up the total points to produce the taste rating for each location.

Price was far simpler to determine. To ensure the price was comparable they calculated the price of a 14” pepperoni pizza, including tax and tip, for each pizza location. 

Simply divide taste by price and voila! The equation is complete.

Although these phases are simple to follow, the behind-the-scenes work required a lot of sound quantitative reasoning. The coding alone requires a lot of dedicated expertise which freshman team member Catherine Kellar handled well.

“Once you know programming, you know programming,” Kellar said. “It’s just a matter of learning new languages. Once I got used to Python, the programming language we use here, it just got easier from there.”

This project was a nice diversion from the rigorous econometrics, data structures and discrete math classes these undergrads have been taking and would not have been possible without the help of math professor Michael Dorff.

Dorff is a recipient of the Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award which is considered to be the “Hall of Fame for math teachers” and only admits three college and university professors each year.

Dorff received this award partially due to his dedication to providing research opportunities to undergraduates like this pizza research group. Dorff has demonstrated that research outside of the classroom is of great value to student learning.

"Being a researcher and seeing how it works is very different than just learning in the classroom,” Kellar said. “We were inventing our own problems and answers. In class, you can look in the back of the book for the answer. Here, we had no idea what the answer would be.”  

Dorff has multiple grants from the National Science Foundation to train undergraduates how to do math research and develop models for preparing math students to work in a variety of industries.

Writer: Camille Penrod

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