Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The inventor of eugenics had a surprisingly good idea about how to cut cakes

Alex Bellos cuts a cake the proper way. Screenshot of Numberphile

The late 19th century British scientist Francis Galton is probably best known today for helping invent modern statistics and coining the term "eugenics," of which he was a major advocate. But when not arguing for barring the "feeble-minded" from having offspring (a policy which the US and other countries actually adopted) Galton apparently took an interest in proper cake-cutting technique. His innovations in that domain are markedly less horrifying.

In 1906, he sent a letter to the editor of Nature on how best to cut a cake so as to prevent it from drying out. The key is to cut out a portion from the center first, and then push the remaining parts together, securing them with a rubber band (or, as Galton put it, "india-rubber band," because imperialism). That way, none of the cake's innards are exposed to the elements, and it doesn't dry out (or at least not as quickly).

Numberphile's Alex Bellos has a great video walking through how this works:

Hat-tip to Digg.

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