Cut Your Cake And Keep It (Fresh), Too | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Cut Your Cake And Keep It (Fresh), Too

"The ordinary method of cutting out a wedge is very faulty," wrote Sir Francis Galton, a British mathematician, in a 1906 letter to the journal Nature concerning the scientific principles of cake-cutting.

More than a century later, cake lovers might finally be ready to face this truth.

A video of author Alex Bellos demonstrating Galton's alternative technique — which involves taking long, thin pieces from the cake's center — has been making the rounds on the Internet this week with largely positive reception.

Galton's primary objection to the wedge was that if you eat your cake over several days, you're exposing precious cake innards to the air, drying the surface out. Clearly, Galton had eaten too many slices of suboptimal, day-old cake and was thus inspired to solve the problem.

If you're extremely patient and in the habit of extending your cake-eating out over several days, then his advice might just be for you.

Bellos, for one, is sold. If you start in the middle and cut a wedge out, he notes, "you're not maximizing the amount of gastronomic pleasure."

Instead, you should cut down the middle, then push the cake back together, sealing in the crumby layers. Next, Bellos advises, you wrap a rubber band around the cake to ensure no air gets past the icing. On Day 2, you cut the cake into quarters, but you still extract your slices from the middle. By Day 3, you're still taking from the middle, pushing the remaining slices back together into a shrinking circle.

As Bellos notes, there are a lot of reasons to listen to Galton. He was "one of Britain's most brilliant mathematicians." He was Charles Darwin's first cousin. He discovered regression to the mean and is one of the fathers of modern statistics. (Vox points out Galton has a shameful legacy, too: He was a major advocate for eugenics.)

But, as we've gleaned from the comments on many of the stories already out there on this video, some cake lovers are skeptical.

Bellos performs Galton's technique on a cake with firm fondant frosting. But what if your cake is covered with far more slippery buttercream? How well is a rubber band going to work on that? And would it dig into, and bruise, the sides of the cake?

Another commenter points out that Galton's way may give frosting fans the shaft. "I contend that the traditional way is still better. When cut that way, each slice, no matter how largely cut, has the same ratio of frosting to cake, and the last piece is the same as the first," agmessier writes.

Will the revival of Galton's method win over the wedge-cutters of the world? Let us know what you think.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Is It All Greek To You? Thank Medieval Monks, And The Bard, For The Phrase

Ben Zimmer, language columnist at The Wall Street Journal, explains the origin of the phrase "it's all Greek to me" — and shares a few variants from other languages.
NPR

What To Do With Weird Farmers Market Vegetables

The farmer's market in July is a wondrous place: juicy tomatoes, jewel-toned eggplants, sweet yellow corn. But greens that look like weeds may be more intimidating. Here's how to tame them.
WAMU 88.5

Top Priorities For Congress Ahead Of The August Recess

What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.

NPR

Reddit CEO Says Miscommunication Led To Blackout Protest

A user revolt briefly shut down the social site last week after a key employee was dismissed. Interim CEO Ellen Pao says the company has "apologized for not communicating better" with site moderators.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.