When you think of the great court cases in the past century where science meets the law, you’re probably thinking about cases like Roe v. Wade or the Scopes Monkey Trial—not Commonwealth v. Fennie. And that’s deservedly so, because this latest science-in-the-courtroom case sounds more like science meets clown: A judge passed his verdict after he methodically proved that pizza’s state of matter is indeed a solid.
It all started last October, when 20-year-old William James Fennie III apparently chucked a pizza slice at a passing car in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He then went on to resist arrest, forcing two officers to Taser him to the ground.
Now, based on the fact that Pennsylvania law clearly states that it is illegal to throw “any solid object” toward a roadway, you might think President Judge James P. MacElree’s decision was an easy one: After all, it doesn’t take a degree in pizza mechanics to conclude that pizza counts as “any solid object.” But Fennie’s attorney argued that the legal definitions are vague and pizza shouldn’t legally count as a “missile.”
This prompted Judge MacElree to undertake a high-stakes experiment, with the starting question: Is pizza a solid object?
Gotta 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.