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January 11, 2023 · 5 min read

Exploring the Ballmer Peak

Named after one of the founding fathers of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, this peak references the point at which you are just inebriated enough to be exponentially better at software development than you are when sober. And with an old trope of “write drunk, edit sober” ringing in my ears, I decided we needed to do an experiment.

The notoriety of the Ballmer Peak came about after an XKCD comic was drawn referencing it. The general gist is that there is a small window of blood-alcohol content between 0.129% and 0.138% where the propensity to overthink the problem at hand diminishes, opening up the opportunity for your brain to get down to business. And while I knew this to be true from personal experience (both as a writer and a software developer), I never learned the term until after making my first trip to the aptly named Ballmer Peak Distillery in Denver, Colorado, which was opened by a couple software developers.

In the interest of “science”, I decided we needed to test this theory. Given we have some developers, some sort of developers, and some people who haven’t written a single line of code, the proving grounds instead became a series of sudoku puzzles for myself and my compatriots. Each person did three rounds, starting at sober and ending at the Ballmer Peak. So how did we do?

Player 1

Is it clockwork, or is it science? These times improved with inebriation, just like the Ballmer Peak would suggest. Word on the street is this tester has an actual breathalyzer, so this may be the most scientifically accurate representation of the test.

Player 2

A strange anomaly, for sure, in that the second time was much greater than the first, but the end result is still no less impressive. This tester did note that drinking and doing sudoku is a favorite pastime on flights, so the low time right out of the gate is understandably impressive.

Player 3

With a starting time over ten minutes, it’s hard to tell if there was anywhere to go but up, regardless of alcohol consumption. Fortunately, this one has a strong finish, with almost four minutes shaved off the top and added to the whiskey glass.

Player 4

“Turns out I cannot learn sudoku while drunk so I clicked random numbers.”

Honesty is always the best policy, and since I did ask people to get drunk for science, I will not hold this against Player 4.

So what did we learn? Sometimes a drink is just what the boss should order for you. If they want that top-level performance, anyway. Just don’t go too far down the rabbit hole or, as XKCD notes, Windows Me might rear its ugly head.