How to Kill Mathematicians

Give them pizza, apparently. They’ll starve.

The perfect way to slice a pizza

They can’t think about sharing a pizza, for example, without falling headlong into the mathematics of how to slice it up. “We went to lunch together at least once a week,” says Mabry, recalling the early 1990s when they were both at Louisiana State University, Shreveport. “One of us would bring a notebook, and we’d draw pictures while our food was getting cold.”

The problem that bothered them was this. Suppose the harried waiter cuts the pizza off-centre, but with all the edge-to-edge cuts crossing at a single point, and with the same angle between adjacent cuts. The off-centre cuts mean the slices will not all be the same size, so if two people take turns to take neighbouring slices, will they get equal shares by the time they have gone right round the pizza – and if not, who will get more?

If you really want to mess them up, serve a pizza which isn’t round, and you need to value the crust differently than the rest! That’s like the sheet cake problem — trying to fairness-optimize the volume of cake and surface area of icing. (Gee, I wonder if round food was invented to keep the peace amongst the mathematicians, and allow them to solve other problems)

Or, you could give them a ham sandwich.

(To be fair, I can easily see many scientists falling into a similar analytic trap.)