7 Food and Drink Hacks Based on Math and Science

The kitchen is a great place to apply the principles you learned in school in real life. Ever wonder how you can keep a day-old cake from drying out? Or how to slice your bagel for optimal cream cheese coverage? Some of the hungriest minds in the fields of math and science have got your back.

1. SLICE A CAKE FOR MAXIMUM MOISTURE

Leftover birthday cake should be one of life’s greatest pleasures, but instead it becomes vulnerable to moisture-zapping air the moment you slice into it. Fortunately, this problem can be avoided with some simple geometry. In the video above, mathematician Alex Bellos outlines an alternative cake-cutting method he found in a 1906 issue of Nature magazine written by Sir Francis Galton. Rather than eating away at a round cake one wedge at a time, he suggests cutting one big sliver spanning the cake’s diameter. The center cut means that instead of having a giant exposed area that will dry out two future slices of cake at once, one rubber band can be used to hold the pieces together, exposing none of the soft interior to the air. This keeps the interior nice and moist until the cake is ready to be sliced into again (although it should be noted—rubberbanding a frosted cake rather than the fondant-covered ones shown in the video could get really messy really fast).

2. COAX KETCHUP FROM THE BOTTLE

As long as ketchup has been packaged in glass bottles, diners have struggled to set it free. If you’ve ever been the victim of a flash ketchup flood after minutes of fruitless shaking, you can blame physics. Ketchup is a non-Newtonian fluid, which in this case means it behaves like a solid sometimes (like when it refuses to leave its bottle) and like a liquid other times (when it all comes pouring out at once).

According to Heinz’s team of scientists, ketchup is meant to flow at 147.84 feet per hour, so hitting the bottle with full force isn’t your best bet. Anthony Stickland of the University of Melbourne's School of Engineering instead recommends doing the majority of the work while the cap’s still secure. On the University’s website he instructs readers to “briefly invoke your inner paint shaker” and evenly distribute the solid particles throughout the bottle. Next, with the cap still on, flip the container upside down and thrust the contents towards the neck. After that you’re ready to get the ketchup on your plate: Remove the cap and use one hand to aim the bottle at the plate at a 45 degree angle while gently tapping the bottom with the other, tapping harder and harder until you find the correct strength for that particular ketchup. If you still can’t get the hang of it after all that, perhaps a plastic squeeze bottle is more your style.

3. CREATE A MÖBIUS BAGEL

In math, a möbius strip is a twisting, continuous plane that has one surface and one edge. The shape has a handful of practical uses in the real world, like achieving optimal bagel-to-schmear ratio. Research professor and mathematical sculptor George Hart came up with this ingenious application several years ago. To produce the perfect cut, he makes four separate incisions into a bagel after first marking the key points with a food-safe marker for guidance. The final result pulls apart into two separate halves linked together like a chain. In addition to the impressive presentation, the möbius bagel offers more surface area for spreading. Now you can get more cream cheese on your bagel without slathering it on in gobs.

4. DUNK BISCUITS WITHOUT GETTING CRUMBS IN YOUR TEA

Dunking biscuits in tea is a popular British pastime, but it comes at a price: a mug full of sad, soggy crumbs. Scientists at the University of Bristol in England offered a solution to this problem in the late 1990s in the form of a mathematical formula. Instead of turning the cookie sideways, the researchers recommend dipping it into the tea broad-size first. Once the bottom surface is sufficiently moist, dunkers should flip the biscuit 180 degrees to allow the dry side to support the wet one. Apparently the snack is worth the effort: According to the study, biscuits are up to 10 times more flavorful dunked than dry.

5. CUT EQUAL SLICES OF PIZZA TO FEED A CROWD


Joel Haddley via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Slicing a pizza into wedges works well enough at first, but there will inevitably be at least one person who wants only cheesy goodness and tosses the crust, while another person just can’t get enough crust. In 2016, researchers at the University of Liverpool proposed a brilliant alternative: dividing the pie into manageable, equal-sized pieces according to the monohedral disc tiling formula.

The basic design produces 12 slices. To start, the server slices the pie end-to-end along a curving path. They do this three times to create six, claw-shaped slices, then they cut each slice in half at an angle to make the full 12. Instead of floppy, skinny slivers, diners have their pick of funky-shaped pieces from any part of the pizza. In their study [PDF], researchers demonstrate how this concept can be taken even further. As long as the shapes have an odd number of sides, the monohedral disc tiling method can theoretically go on forever (though the authors specify that nine-sided slices are where things start to get impractical. You may want to spring for a second pie at that point).

6. FOLLOW THE FORMULA FOR A PERFECT GRILLED CHEESE ON TOAST

Many people have their own ideas of what constitutes an excellent grilled cheese, but the Royal Society of Chemistry's recipe is based on science. In 2013, they teamed up with the British Cheese Board to devise a formula for the optimal cheese on toast. Society science executive Ruth Neale said in a press release:

"As the result of tests we carried out in our Chemistry Centre kitchen, we found that the perfect slice can be made by melting 50 grams of sliced hard cheese, such as cheddar, on a slice of white bread, 10 millimeters thick, under the grill. The cheese on toast should sit at a distance of 18 centimeters from the heat source [...] and needs to cook for four minutes to achieve the perfect consistency and taste.”

The full equation, which includes variables for bread thickness and cheese mass, is available on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s website.

7. POUR CHAMPAGNE WITHOUT LOSING THE BUBBLES

Whipping up a meal based on complex algorithms can be exhausting. If you plan to reward yourself with a glass of post-dinner bubbly, just make sure to serve it the correct way. According to scientists from the University of Reims in France, that means pouring champagne into a tilted glass the same way you’d pour a pint of beer. Those effervescent CO2 bubbles that make champagne so pleasant to drink are also clamoring to escape into the atmosphere the moment you pop the cork. Their study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests pouring your beverage at an angle to retain as many bubbles as possible. This method is less turbulent than pouring liquid into an upright glass, thus giving the carbon dioxide less opportunity to break free. To maximize the amount of bubbles per glass, the researchers also recommend chilling the champagne before serving.

10 Ways To Look Professional, and Hide Your Pajamas, In a Video Conference Call

You don't need to wear full business attire to maintain a professional appearance.
You don't need to wear full business attire to maintain a professional appearance.
fizkes/iStock via Getty Images

The COVID-19 crisis has forced offices to shutter around the country, and as a result, more people are working from home than ever. That means we're seeing more of coworkers' bedrooms, pets, and pajamas than we ever imagined.

If you're navigating the dos and don'ts of working remotely for the first time, you don't necessarily need to choose between professionalism and comfortable pants. Just keep a few tips in mind to make your transition from being alone on the couch to hopping onto a last-minute Zoom video call as smooth as possible.

Just like in real life, wearing the right outfit can go a long way when it comes to looking professional for your colleagues. Standards aren't as high when you're telecommuting, so even switching out your T-shirt for a business-casual top when you expect to be on video can be enough to show you put effort into your appearance. And unless you plan on moving around on the video call, don't bother putting on pants that don't have an elastic waistband.

If you want to look good on video, there are a few things to keep in mind that don't apply to in-person meetings. Position your computer so you're eye-level with the camera, placing it on a stack of books if necessary, and find a room with good lighting so your coworkers can actually see you. And to avoid getting any unpleasant surprises when you see yourself in a group meeting, check how you look on camera privately before calling in.

You can find tips for looking professional on a video conference call below. And for more ways to optimize your telecommuting experience, check out these habits to practice.

  1. Sit facing a window for natural lighting.
  1. Wear a business-casual top.
  1. Choose clothes with neutral tones.
  1. Position your webcam so it's level with your eyes.
  1. Sit farther from the camera rather than closer.
  1. If you're having a bad hair day, pull it back with a hair tie.
  1. Keep on comfortable pants if you can avoid standing up.
  1. Find a private room to minimize background distractions.
  1. See how you look on your computer camera before joining a video call.
  1. If you have limited time to put on makeup, focus on brows and cheeks to give your face dimension.

11 Boredom-Busting Classes and Activities You Can Do at Home

A good workout is just one way to pass the time while socially isolating.
A good workout is just one way to pass the time while socially isolating.
jacoblund/iStock via Getty Images

Staying home as much as possible is the best way to stop the spread of novel coronavirus, according to health experts. If you’ve already taken this step to protect yourself and your community, you may be faced with a different problem: the crushing boredom that comes with spending all your time indoors. Fortunately, there have never been more ways to keep busy on the internet. In an effort to lift spirits and stimulate minds in isolation, businesses, artists, and institutions have found new ways to keep people connected from afar. From virtual field trips to free workout classes, here are the best boredom-busting activities to check out.

1. Take a free workout class with the YMCA.

Your local gym may be closed, but that doesn’t mean you have to postpone your workout routine for the foreseeable future. The YMCA has launched a new series of free, online fitness classes for people stuck at home. The on-demand videos include barre, bootcamp, yoga, tai chi, and weightlifting. After breaking a sweat for 30 minutes, you may even forget you’re not at the gym.

2. Meditate with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s jellyfish.

Taking care of your mental health is as important as maintaining your physical health while social distancing. If you want to start your day in a good head space, tune into the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s morning “MeditOceans” on YouTube. After closing to the public, the California aquarium started uploading 10- to 15-minute guided meditations set to soothing footage of marine life or scenes from nature. We recommend starting with their video of undulating jellyfish.

3. Take a virtual field trip to a National Park.

Combat claustrophobia by taking a virtual tour of some of the country’s most majestic national parks. The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks project from Google Arts & Culture offers virtual, 360-degree tours of five National Park System sites, all guided by real park rangers. The diverse destinations include the Kenai Fjords in Alaska; Hawai’i Volcanoes in Hawai’i; Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico; Bryce Canyon in Utah; and Dry Tortugas in Florida. You can view all the properties from your phone or computer, and if you have a virtual reality headset, you can transport yourself out of your home with an immersive experience.

4. Take an Improv Class from Second City.

Improv comedy is difficult to do alone. With Second City, you can take a class with other students and master instructors from the comfort of your home. Second City has helped launch the careers of such comedy heavyweights as Steve Carell, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey. Even though its physical theaters in Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles are closed during the coronavirus crisis, comedy classes will continue online. In addition to improv, students can take virtual lessons in comedic songwriting, pitching TV shows, stand-up, sketch comedy, and more from Second City’s pro teachers. If you’re not willing to pay $195 to $295 for a four- to eight-week online course, you can take a one-time drop-in improv or stand-up class for $25.

5. Learn about Women’s History with The New-York Historical Society.

Whether you’re teaching someone home from school or looking to educate yourself in your spare time, there are plenty of remote resources online. The New-York Historical Society is sharing its expertise in the form of a free digital curriculum on women’s history in America. The online course materials cover the period from 1920 to 1948, starting with the flappers of the Jazz Age and ending with women in the postwar era. You can view the entire unit, which includes archival photos and documents, on the NYHS’s website.

6. Join the D.C. Library’s quarantine book club.

If you already plan on reading a ton of books in isolation, you can turn the solitary activity into a social one by joining a quarantine book club. The D.C. Public Library recently announced its book club D.C. Reads is going digital, and now anyone can participate from home. This month’s pick is With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. If you have a Washington, D.C. library card, you can use it to download the e-book for free. Book club discussions will take place on March 28 and April 4 at 2 p.m. through the library’s Twitter account.

7. Draw with Wendy Macnaughton.


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by wendy macnaughton (@wendymac) on

Whether you consider yourself a novice or a Picasso, you can benefit from making art with others. Every weekday at 10 a.m. PST, Wendy Macnaughton (illustrator of the cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) hosts drawing classes in her Instagram Stories. All participants need is paper and a pencil. Artists of all ages can draw along, though Macnaughton states classes are just long enough to keep kids occupied for parents “to get a little work done or take a shower and take a couple deep breathes.”

8. Tour the American Museum of Natural History.

As long as you have an internet connection, the impressive halls of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City are just a few clicks away. Every day at 2 p.m. EST, the institution is sharing tours of its exhibits and collections as Facebook Lives. Some special sneak peeks published to the AMNH Facebook page so far include a tour of the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians and a look at its trilobite collection led by curator and trilobite paleontologist Melanie Hopkins.

9. Take a cooking class with Milk Street.

Not sure what to do with your quarantine food supply? Taking a cooking class is a great place to start. Through the end of April, Milk Street (from America’s Test Kitchen co-founder Christopher Kimball) is making its online culinary lessons free to everyone. Topics include baking, cooking without a recipe, and using certain kitchen tools. After a few weeks of classes, you’ll know your way around everything from a chef’s knife to an Instant Pot.

10. Get Creative with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

While it’s closed, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is using its social media to keep followers engaged with their creative sides. Every Tuesday on Instagram, the institution will post a new challenge to its Stories. This week’s challenge is finding something to read and posting about it to Instagram to help the museum compile the ultimate reading list. Past challenges have included setting aside 30 minutes to make art and sharing photos of pets wearing wigs.

11. Learn guitar with Fender.

At the risk of driving your quarantine-mates crazy, you can use isolation as an opportunity to get in touch with your inner rockstar. Fender is giving the first 100,000 users who create a new account on Fender Play three months of free online lessons. The instructional videos led by talented musicians are high-quality, and you can access them from your phone, tablet, or computer. And if you don't have a guitar at home, the program also includes lessons for bass guitars and ukuleles.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER