MIT investigates how the Oreo crumbles

Feedback is our weekly column of bizarre stories, implausible advertising claims, confusing instructions and more


27 April 2022

Josie Ford

That’s the way …

Few topics excite Feedback more than those that sit at the confluence of science and biscuits. So we salute researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who have synergistically integrated research and tea breaks by clamping creme-filled sandwich cookies to a device designed to investigate why, when you twist the two halves apart, the filling usually ends up attached almost entirely on one side rather than splitting evenly.

“Scientifically, sandwich cookies present a paradigmatic model of parallel plate rheometry in which a fluid sample, the cream, is held between two parallel plates, the wafers,” we read in their paper “On Oreology, the fracture and flow of ‘milk’s favorite cookie®‘”, a statement from which we do not presume to demur.

Their answer to the central question can best be summarised in the immortal words of hip hop mavens Run-DMC: “It’s like that, and that’s the way it is.” They do find, however, that the filling of biscuits stored in conditions of higher temperature and humidity is more likely to split evenly between the two sides. This may explain the way the cookie crumbles in our stationery cupboard lair, and why there are crumbs everywhere.

For those wishing to try this at home, and also investigate the effects of dunking in liquid on biscuit integrity, the paper comes with 3D printer design files and suggestions for your own “Oreometer” tests. That is our next few tea breaks sorted.

… the cookie crumbles

Correction: few topics excite Feedback more than those at the confluence of science, biscuits and tax law, as UK judges rule that flapjacks are, among other things, “too chewy” to count as cakes.

The UK judiciary has long been at the cutting edge of objective definitions of cake, owing to UK tax law treating biscuits as sweets, and therefore luxury items to be taxed at normal rates, but cake – quite rightly – as an essential foodstuff that is zero-rated for tax purposes. Previous rulings have concerned Jaffa Cakes, oblate sweetmeats with a gooey orangey filling (cakes), and snowballs, marshmallow domes coated in chocolate and/or coconut (also cakes).

The latest judgment from a two-person judicial tasting panel, confusingly referred to as a tribunal – presumably a reduced-calorie version – is a masterclass in integrating considerations as disparate as chemistry, rheology, morphology and behavioural and cultural science. Besides being too chewy, inadequately aerated, insufficiently square and too protein-rich to count as cake, the flapjack bars were deemed by the justices to “look wholly out of place as a dessert at the end of a meal, or as the food to be consumed at an afternoon tea”. In these parts, you don’t get more damning than that.

Peep show

How many Peeps would it take to fill the Grand Canyon? Another question for our pile of ones we had not thought to ask, partly but not exclusively through not knowing what Peeps are. Our cultural ignorance: they are famed US Easter treats “made from what looks (and tastes) like artificial foam rubber”, according to our informant Bob Willis, presumably not the late England fast bowler. The answer, according to the article he sends, is 127 quadrillion, which also merits an entry in our burgeoning pile of mystifying size comparisons. Peeps small, Grand Canyon large, we think is the general idea. Good luck to anyone intent on verifying that one.

Delicious dairy

Christina Kenny from London writes concerning a statement in New Scientist‘s article on breastfeeding practices in the 19th-century Netherlands (23 April, p 10), “The researchers wanted to find out more about the diets of the women and children in this village, which mainly consisted of dairy farmers at this time”. “Eye-opening feature on Dutch cannibalism,” she observes. Our own eyes briefly pop, and then narrow again. You know perfectly well what we meant.

Potter off

Also disappointed is Tillmann Benfey from Fredericton in New Brunswick, Canada, who castigates a failure in an article on divergent animal evolution in urban and rural settings (12 March, p 42) to cite a seminal account from over a century ago. Apologies. The full reference is Potter, B. The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse (1918).

An accelerator writes

Feedback is startled to be sent an email by the Large Hadron Collider. Either the particle smasher has received startling new powers in its recent upgrade, or a beech marten has chewed through a key cable making things go haywire again, as in 2016.

We are even more confused to find that the Large Hadron Collider is writing to ask “Did you write The Large Hadron Collider?”. No, on so many levels. It turns out to come from an academic social networking site of the type some of you have previously spotted claiming Charles Darwin is still alive and working at a university in South America, and that the equally long-late biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck has just mentioned you in a paper (5 December 2020). We briefly consider the possibility that all these messages are coming from another dimension, before deciding the answer is still “no”.

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Reference-www.newscientist.com

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