Tuesday 20 May 2014


My mum and dad are/were both quite mathsy, and took every opportunity to educate their children. If a pie/cake/tart/quiche/flan or some other circular foodstuff was being served you were expected to express how much you wanted in mathematical terms. When I was little it was in fractions, later on in degrees. As an adolescent I was expected to describe how much pie I wanted in terms of radians (1 radian is approximately 57.3 degrees). When I learned a little bit more maths I was able to use a π term to make the radians much easier (a modest slice of cake is π/6 radians).

When I talked about this with one of my colleagues he wasn’t at all surprised, he just said "we used to use minutes in our house". I took him to mean minutes-of-arc, which is clearly a ridiculous measurement, there's no quiche in the world that could be cut into 21,600 equal slices. He actually meant the eminently sensible minutes-of-clockface, they're easy to estimate, you've probably got a suitable protractor around your wrist right now, and they have a practical level of accuracy.

Since Easter my mum and I are using a new and bewilderingly impractical unit of our own divising. One disciple is equal to 32.73 degrees. The unit derives from the traditional decoration of a simnel cake which includes eleven marzipan blobs, each representing a disciple. There were twelve disciples at the last supper, but Lando Calrissian Judas Iscariot fell out of favour and isn't immortalised in icing.

Richard "furlong-firkin-fortnight" B

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