Here’s a picture I made earlier.

My idea of Hell is sitting in a room full of people debating how to split the check. One of the major advantages of living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland overrun with zombies and wild dogs would be never having to split a check at a restaurant again. It would be sad to have a brain full of flesh-eating parasites, but at least the Guy Who Always Pulls Out His Phone And Starts Doing Mysterious Math On It That Turns Out To Have No Bearing Whatsoever On Your Actual Total also will have flesh-eating parasites in his brain.

But wait, you are probably saying. Surely there’s a right way of doing this!

Yes. Either don’t split it or split it right down the middle.

But I got a salad.
That is your misfortune.

But I didn’t get a drink.
That is also your misfortune.

But I WANT to split the check in a different way!

Nope. Sorry. You know what this leads to. Here is how it goes, always.

1. The Standard

You are at dinner with A, B, C and D. You are fortunate enough to live in a country and an age where credit cards exist, restaurants exist and the sun has not mushroomed and swallowed the Earth. This being said, you are now faced with a parade of horrors.

“Is it okay if we just split this evenly?” you ask, hope triumphing over every experience you have ever had, the way hope usually does.

No. It isn’t. Of course it isn’t.

“I got twice as much food as you,” A says, helpfully. “I know what we’ll do. We’ll write the totals on the back.”

You each do this.

“I think I put in too much,” B says. (B, it will turn out, has forgotten that tax is something that you have to account for when paying a bill.)

C, the most responsible member of the party, now scans what you have all written. “This is $40 short,” she informs you.

“I’ll put in more,” says D, who only got a salad and did not drink anything, but desperately wants this to be over. “Here. Put $20 more on me.”

“Now, wait a second,” C says. “That’s way too much.”

C very slowly recalculates the totals. It turns out that D forgot about tax.

“Are we doing tip now?” someone asks.

“No,” C says. “We will do tip afterward.”

“I put tip down already,” A says. “I put tip on mine, so I’m not going to tip when they bring it back.”

“Everyone still needs to put tip on,” C says.

D sighs. D starts to rummage through his pockets for cash to see if he can possibly leave the table and not have to be here for the rest of the ordeal. No such luck.

Finally C has worked this out to her satisfaction.

The waiter grimaces at the bill, on the back of which a series of completely illegible numbers have been scrawled, then crossed out, next to what might be names and what might be the last four digits of each card. It is hard to tell, with C’s handwriting.

“Do you mind splitting this?” C says.

“What option do I have?” the waiter thinks of saying but does not because she can see that A has not put tip on yet.

“Yeah,” D says. “Really sorry.”

“No worries,” the waiter says. She vanishes with the check.

“Remember, don’t put tip on,” A says, when she gets back.

2. Something Happened Earlier

“D, I’ll get your salad, because you paid for my taxi earlier,” A says, magnanimously.

The same as (1), but D still pays too much and this time everyone is confused.

3. Someone Has Cash

The same as (1), except D does actually find cash and puts it down. “I put down in cash what I owed,” D says. “Plus some for tip. They can just take it out of the total and split the rest on the cards.”

For some reason, people do not want to do this. Instead, they insist on writing down individual dollar amounts.

Then somehow it turns out that, when you combine D’s cash with the amounts everyone else has written down, the total is greater than the bill. Everyone has to redo all the math. This takes just as long as (1) and D still cannot escape early.

4. Someone Has Cash, But Not Enough Cash, And That Person Puts It Down Then Leaves For Good

The same as (3), but much worse.

5. Someone Has Cash, But Not Enough Cash, And That Person Gives It To Another Person To Put In And That Second Person Puts It In His Wallet And Forgets All About It

The same as (4), but much worse.

6. It is Someone’s Birthday

Everyone is going around the table just splitting like a champ, and then it occurs to B that the reason they were all out in the first place was to celebrate C’s birthday. This poses problems, not only because they hadn’t budgeted for that but also because C usually handles the check-splitting, and now they have to wrestle the bill away from her.

Poor D stares at it, completely lost and adrift. Nearly half an hour passes.

7. Poor D doesn’t eat anything at all and instead runs screaming from the restaurant.

There is no good way of doing this.

Splitting a check is like that story in the Bible where King Solomon has to split a baby. Except you can actually split a baby in a way that does not bother anyone but the baby.

Check-splitters should be so lucky.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.