I just received an email from my chum Aubrey Kagan (a.k.a. Antedeluvian). The subject line was "Having your cake and eating it." I like cake, so I didn't dilly-dally or shilly-shally. I opened the little scamp immediately. Inside, I found a link to this video featuring Alex Bellos, a British writer and broadcaster and the author of books about Brazil and mathematics.
Have you ever thought about the way in which we cut a cake -- typically as a series of wedges? This may be OK if there's a crowd and the entire cake is fated to be devoured in a single sitting, but what about Mathematical Loners who do not wish to share their consumables? Cutting out one or more wedges leaves two large interior surfaces open to the elements. These faces exude moisture and dry out, thereby impacting one's cake-eating experience in the days to come.
I'm obviously not the first person to lose sleep over this (the sense of despair is only heightened in the case of my birthday chocolate cake -- so much cake to eat, so little time before it become inedible). Way back in the mists of time, circa 1906, the British mathematician Sir Francis Galton -- Charles Darwin's first cousin and "The Father of Statistics" -- wrote in a letter to the international journal Nature that "The ordinary method of cutting out a wedge is very faulty," and he offered an intriguing solution.
Alex demonstrates this solution in the above video. As he notes, this techniques maximizes the amount of gastronomic pleasure one can achieve with a cake, and such an achievement is certainly nothing to be sniffed at.
Toward the end of the video, we are informed that Alex has just published a new book, The Grapes of Math: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life. I've added this to my Wish List on Amazon.com, along with his Here's Looking at Euclid: From Counting Ants to Games of Chance.
Meanwhile, I think I will be surprising my wife (Gina the Gorgeous) with my newfound cake-cutting skills when she performs her magic and creates my chocolate birthday cake next year. How about you? Do you think the cake-cutting technique demonstrated in this video is one you might employ yourself?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting