A Star Trek-referencing short story about hot beverages and probability
November 5, 2019 1:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find a short story for a friend. It's about a hacked hot-beverages machine in a research facility, and one line references Picard's famous order, "Tea, Earl Grey, hot." More details inside.

My friend says:
Okay so this story I'm looking for is probably from the early nineties, because I distinctly remember it had a funny moment that was a reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's about an office at a research facility, where someone has hacked the hot drinks machine. The machine goes from having previously made terrible watery crap to being able to make very fine teas and coffees and espresso drinks. The machine does this by manipulating probability, somehow creating a local effect where the probability that it could create these drinks was 1, and requires a sink of _unintended_ outcomes elsewhere. I believe the people in the office see bad things happening outside, in the parking lot, as the probability sink is dumping bad luck and mishaps there. They get busted for having this machine without permission and causing those mishaps when one of the people in the office orders "Tea, Earl Grey, hot" from the machine as higher-ups are visiting to investigate the problem.

I need to find this again, it was DELIGHTFUL. Thanks for any help you can give!

An important note: I heard this read aloud and wonder if the reader embellished it at all, which could be a roadblock to finding it now.
posted by daisyk to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Is it an SCP story? I mean, it’s a little dark, but it’s got the drink machine replicator thing.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:54 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

There is a part in Hitchhiker's where Arthur Dent encounters a drinks machine on Heart of Gold that analyses everything about a person - current emotional state, heart rate, recent food or drink intake, intellect, etc - and is suppose to produce a drink that is perfectly matched to their needs. Arthur finds that despite being desperate for a good cuppa millions of miles from home, the machine regardless and consistently makes a beverage that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

On edit, found the extract:
After a fairly shaky start to the day, Arthur's mind was beginning to reassemble itself from the shell-shocked fragments the previous day had left him with. He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject's taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject's metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject's brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

posted by humuhumu at 7:12 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

The later scene where the Heart of Gold spaceship shuts down almost entirely because Arthur manages to sit down with it and convince it to do a proper job of actually making a cup of tea is closer to OP's request than the scene where the Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser is first introduced, but I'm pretty sure neither of those scenes is what they're looking for.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:33 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is causing some really weak synapses to fire in my brain... I'm not able to put it together into a google search that yields your answer, but here are the associations I have, in decreasing order of strength: Brownian motion, the Escape Pod podcast, and Connie Willis.

(Ah, it seems that the Brownian motion thing just comes from the HHG, alas.)
posted by BrashTech at 11:30 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the answers so far! My friend says it isn't the SCP story and also isn't the HHG scenes, unfortunately. (The SCP story was great, though!)
posted by daisyk at 4:54 AM on November 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

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