A Grand Noodle Riddle, Cracked: Here's How To Snap Spaghetti Into Just 2 Pieces Humankind has long been taunted by the puzzle. Well, we've got some breaking news, folks — or at any rate some big news about breaking: The answer involves one very big twist.
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A Grand Noodle Riddle, Cracked: Here's How To Snap Spaghetti Into Just 2 Pieces

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A Grand Noodle Riddle, Cracked: Here's How To Snap Spaghetti Into Just 2 Pieces

A Grand Noodle Riddle, Cracked: Here's How To Snap Spaghetti Into Just 2 Pieces

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/639149643/639149644" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now, breaking spaghetti news - I'm being serious here. This is news about how to break spaghetti exactly in two. Here's NPR's Rebecca Hersher.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: OK. So bear with me. I have a box of spaghetti here. All right.

Fans of home-cooked Italian food have probably noticed that strands of spaghetti - normal, dry spaghetti - are actually really hard to break into only two pieces.

OK. I'm holding it at either end, carefully bending it. I'm going to break it exactly in the middle.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRY PASTA BREAKING)

HERSHER: (Laughter) One, two, three - four pieces.

VISHAL PATIL: OK. So I'm Vishal Patil, and I'm a graduate student in mathematics at MIT.

HERSHER: Vishal is super smart and ambitious. Unfortunately, he's also spent the last couple of years playing with pasta at work, trying to figure out whether it's possible to break a piece of spaghetti into exactly two pieces.

PATIL: When you broke it just now, you probably noticed that the pieces go flying and it's all a bit random. So we were interested in what you could achieve by being a little more clever about how you break it, I guess.

HERSHER: Clever, like with a twist - but actually, a twist. Patil worked with a colleague, Ronald Heisser. They figured out that if you twist a piece of spaghetti when you bend it, it breaks into fewer pieces. They published their results this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

PATIL: When you twist it, you don't have to bend it as much before it breaks.

HERSHER: Think of spaghetti as a rod that just wants to be straight. The more you bend it, the more power it snaps back with after it breaks.

PATIL: Ordinarily, when the spaghetti breaks, the snapback is strong enough to create more fractures along the rod.

HERSHER: Twist the spaghetti, and it bends less. That means it fractures just once. Sounds like a major breakthrough for people who have been flinging spaghetti shards all over their kitchens for decades, right?

PATIL: Here's where it gets a bit (laughter) - a bit harder in that to twist it the amount you need to actually just break it into two pieces, you need to twist a 24-centimeter spaghetti by around 260 degrees.

HERSHER: More than halfway around.

PATIL: Yeah, almost all the way around.

HERSHER: It's basically impossible to do with your hands. His experiments use custom clamps and high-speed cameras that take a million pictures a second. That means this has nothing to do with cooking. But Patil says it's some beautiful math. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOSE YOURSELF")

EMINEM: (Rapping) His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There's vomit on his sweater already, Mom's spaghetti. He's nervous. But on the surface, he looks calm and ready to drop bombs. But he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down. The whole crowd goes so loud. He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out. He's choking. How? Everybody's joking now. The clock...

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