Answer Man: How valuable is a 5-gallon container full of pennies?

News-DemocratMarch 1, 2014 

Could you tell me tell me how much money I might have if I have 5 gallons of pennies? -- Brian Little, of Sparta

A penny for my thoughts, eh? Or, quite literally, thousands of them.

When I told a colleague of your query, she immediately suggested I dust off my treasured Tillo's Milk House glass jug and see how many of the coins I could drop into it as the snow falls Sunday.

But that just didn't make cents ... er ... sense when I remembered the lesson Merle Guthrie, one of my all-time favorite teachers, drilled into me: "What the brain can't do, the brawn must." So after making my gray matter sweat a bit, I will give you both theoretical and practical answers.

Actually, the theoretical answer is the easiest and most precise. It simply involves figuring out the volume of a gallon container and dividing it by the volume of a penny to determine how many coins would fill the space.

So, with that in mind, let's go to work. A typical U.S. fluid gallon has a volume of about 231 cubic inches, so five gallons would contain 1,155. The volume of a penny (.375-inch diameter by .06-inch thickness) is about .027 cubic inches. Voila -- theoretically speaking, you should be able to cram about 43,000 pennies into a five-gallon container -- or $430.

But theory and real life are usually two different things. You and I both know that because of their round shape, the pennies won't take up every nanometer of volume because there'll be small empty spaces among the coins. And it may depend on whether you're talking about a 5-gallon bucket or five 1-gallon jugs because the edges of each jug could further limit the number.

So, practically speaking, you could wind up like the kid who told his math teacher, "I added these numbers 10 times -- and here are the 10 answers." In searching the Internet, I have found testimonials from a few people who say they have actually collected pennies in gallon jugs. They say they have wound up with totals in the $53-$60 range, so you're probably looking at $275 to $300 -- or possibly more if you're talking one 5-gallon container.

Personally, I'd just find the nearest CoinStar, dump them in and watch it lose its mechanical mind.

After examining the schematic on how to access the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, I'm wondering why it takes such a circuitous route, with a hard right onto I-70. Then, the bridge runs back diagonally rather than straight across like all the others. Did this favor some land owners over others or what? -- R.J., of O'Fallon

You know, I was wondering much the same thing as I trepidatiously used it for the first time recently en route to the Touhill Arts Center for a Diavolo performance.

While not difficult, it certainly did seem to take a meandering, out-of-the-way path before that unexpected right put me back on the main drag in St. Louis.

But that's what engineers figured was the best route to accomplish the new bridge's main goal: to divert traffic away from the Poplar Street Bridge and alleviate the daily logjam of commuters making their way to the big city.

"So they said, 'What would be the most logical place to take I-70 off I-55," said Jeff Abel, the traffic operations engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation in Collinsville.

As you know, 55 and 70 run concurrently after meeting up near Troy. They figured the best way would be to take 70 off just as the combined interstates shoot south of the Gateway International Raceway.

While it seems a bit more complicated for I-64 drivers, it diverts those who want to take I-70 from clogging up the works on the Poplar Street only to then take that nasty I-70 exit back north. So, basically, drivers now make that short jog north in Illinois rather than in Missouri while avoiding the Poplar tie-ups.

Of course, you can't just necessarily put a bridge anywhere you want to. Other factors had to be considered to leave the smallest footprint while limiting costs on a $700 million project.

"You could have built it north or south, but you had factories, businesses and properties along there that, for whatever reason, through taking land or taking whatever just didn't work out," Abel said.

"So, like I said, there's so many factors that went into that. But if you boil it down, I think the main answer was to move that congestion with I-70 to the north to get it away from downtown and make that commute a little bit easier for folks."

Today's trivia

What does HAL, the name of the computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey," stand for?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: After 85 years of rolling out the red carpet, only three Westerns have moseyed off into the sunset with the best-picture prize. The first was way back in 1931 when Richard Dix and Irene Dunne boosted "Cimarron" to the top honor in a film based on Edna Ferber's novel. More recently, Kevin Costner's "Dances with Wolves" earned the nod in 1990 before just two years later "Unforgiven" claimed the award, along with Clint Eastwood as the film's director and Gene Hackman as best supporting actor.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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