Earlier today I was eating a piece of leftover Kentucky Fried Chicken over the kitchen sink when a thought struck me. The Colonel's secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices is highly guarded and the KFC company has a history of being very litigious when it comes to protecting that secret. So, if I could figure out the secret recipe, I could probably stir up a fair amount of shit. Sweet.

How could I figure it out? Well, I don't really have to. I think I could probably make KFC tell me - in a roundabout sort of way. Let me explain:

Let's start by considering what we know about the recipe. The KFC company itself has given us 2 terrific clues:

First, we know the recipe contains only 11 herbs and spices. That fact alone gives us a tremendous advantage when it comes to guessing the recipe. Think about it - if we didn't know how many spices we were looking for then we'd have to consider recipes ranging from 2 ingredients to a zillion ingredients. Thanks KFC!

Second, we know that it contains herbs and spices. That is, not just herbs and not just spices. That fact allows us to reject all recipes that contain only spices or only herbs. The recipe must be some combination of the two. That said, this point also forces us to realise that opinions may vary on what constitutes an herb and what makes a spice, so perhaps this point isn't truly as valuable as it might first appear.

Now we need to consider a bit of history. Colonel Sanders was about 49 years old when he perfected his chicken recipe (I looked it up). Being born in 1890, that puts us around 1939, which is about the end of the Great Depression. We also know that the Colonel created this recipe while he was living in Corbin, Kentucky. From these facts we can, fairly safely, make some assumptions about what herbs and spices would be most commonly available in that area of the country at that time in history. Given that the Depression was just coming to an end and World War II was about it begin, I think it's safe to say that a poor gas station attendant, which Harland was, wasn't importing expensive spices from around the world. Think cheap, local ingredients.

However, we must also take into account the Colonel's military career. He spent a year as "Private Harland Sanders" when he joined the US Army in 1907. How does this apply, you ask? Well, he was stationed in Cuba and may have had access to a variety of herbs and spices that were, until that point, unknown to him. So we can't necessarily restrict our ingredient guesses to typically american southern spices - there's Cuba, and by extension, Spain, to consider as well.

Ok, so enough about selecting the herbs and spices. Let's mark that down as an exercise and set it aside: Determine a list of most-likely recipe ingredients. Now let's look at how to determine the recipe by mixing some technology with the litigious nature of the KFC company.

Step one is the technology. I could easily write a computer application that would take all the ingredients we know of and determine every combination of 11 herbs and spices based on that initial set of ingredients. And therefore, as long as our initial selection of ingredients contains all of the correct 11 herbs and spices, one of the computer generated combinations will be correct. In fact, the only reason for limiting ourselves to the "most likely" ingredients is so our list of possible combinations doesn't get too long. If we wanted, we could just as easily include every known herb and spice.

Alright, so now we have a list of recipes. A LOT of recipes, but the odds are that one of them is correct. Now we just have to make KFC tell us which one it is.

For this next step it would be handy if we were a giant newspaper mogul like Conrad Black (i.e. having access to many newspapers and (allegedly) lacking in moral fibre). We need to take each recipe and publish it in a newspaper, website, or get it on a TV commercial. Each recipe, separately. You see, the KFC company won't care about all the newspaper stories and web pages that talk about recipes that are wrong. But you can be sure they'll point all their lawyers at the newspaper or website or TV commercial that got the right one.

And then we've got it.

Which ever recipe the KFC company is most agitated by must be the correct one, right?

And that's it. That's my plan to learn the secret recipe of the Colonel. I know it sounds a little "out there", but it's completely doable. And if I ever find myself with plenty of time on my hands and the ability to manipulate the content of thousands of newspapers, TV channels and websites, I just might do it.