Finally! Math Shows How to Cut Evenly Sized Pizza Slices

By Andrew Moseman | December 11, 2009 1:59 pm

pizza220Gotta love mathematicians: Even when they attack a practical problem familiar to just about everybody, the results can be wonderfully impractical.

New Scientist today documents the exhaustive, decades-spanning search of two mathematicians trying to solve the pizza problem: How to cut a pizza so that everyone gets a fair slice. Seems pretty simple with the standard method, cutting through the center four times to create eight equitable slices. But if you miss the center, or want to create a different number of slices, it opens up a world of possibilities for mathematicians to try to work out.

Rick Mabry and Paul Deiermann finally proved their pizza theorem, which they crafted through years of mathematical rigor, by bringing it down to a simpler, more elegant bit of algebra. Will you find it useful the next time you and four friends sit down with a large pepperoni. Not at all, Mabry says, but he doesn’t care:

“It’s a funny thing about some mathematicians,” he says. “We often don’t care if the results have applications because the results are themselves so pretty.”

From one impractical bit of practical math to another: British automaker Vauxhaull Motors teamed up with Professor Simon Blackburn to craft an equation for perfect parallel parking. After all, Vauxhall spokespeople say, the British may drive on the opposite side of the road as Americans, but they find parallel parking just as frustrating. From The Telegraph:

The formula was released after a Vauxhall survey showed 57 per cent lacked confidence in their parking ability and 32 per cent would rather drive further from their destination or to a more expensive car park, purely to avoid manoeuvring into a small space.

The least confident parkers were those from Norwich, while the most confident were the Welsh.

Whether Britons will be able to apply math become better parkers isn’t clear. Perhaps, though, Blackburn’s math could improve those computer systems in fancy cars that do it for you, which still freaks me out.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Three Euros, Three Minutes, and Presto: Fresh, Machine-Made Pizza
Discoblog: Is There Such a Thing as Dyslexia for Math?
DISCOVER: The Pizza Lab

Image: flickr / The Punch Pizza

MORE ABOUT: food, math, pizza
  • Elissa J

    Somehow, you knew the Welsh would be the most confident.

  • Math Help

    It is not always about finding the best solution, but also about finding a robust solution. The old “center” method seems to be very appropriate, but when the center is missed


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