Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How NOT to cut a pizza into 10 equally-sized pieces

How do you cut a pizza into 10 pieces that are the same size?  Skip to the bottom to find out.  However, if you want to know how NOT to cut a pizza into 10 equally-sized pieces – and maybe learn a little math in the process – keep reading.

In addition to teaching math, I also sponsor a high school class.  Recently, the class I sponsor held a fundraiser at which pizza was sold.

Normally, when pizzas are delivered for our fundraisers, each pizza is cut into 8 pieces that are roughly the same size.

However, the pizzas for this fundraiser had all been cut into 10 pieces.  I was somewhat annoyed – and somewhat amused – to see that the person who had cut the pizzas had done a very poor job of making equally-sized pieces.  Some pieces appeared to be oversized, while others were quite obviously undersized.

Naturally, everybody wanted to buy the oversized pieces, while nobody wanted to buy the undersized pieces.

I began to think about the skills that a person needs to have in order to be a good pizza cutter:

            1.  Good hand-eye coordination
            2.  Good motor skills
            3.  Good math skills

…Huh?  Good math skills?!

That’s right.  The difference between mediocrity and greatness in the field of pizza cutting boils down to math.

In order to be a mediocre pizza cutter, one only needs to be able to cut a pizza (or pieces of pizza) in half.  Most people can do this well enough.  Unfortunately, if this is the extent of one’s pizza cutting skills, then it will only be possible to cut pizzas into a number of equally-sized pieces that is a power of 2.

Powers of 2 are:  21 = 2,  22 = 4,  23 = 8,  24 = 16,  etc…

If you are considering how much of the pizza each piece makes up, it’s better to consider powers of  one-half.

Since 8 is a power of two, even a mediocre pizza cutter can cut a pizza into 8 pieces that are roughly the same size.

On the other hand, in order to cut a pizza into 10 equally-sized pieces one must know that

{If you hate fractions, consider the fact that the prime factorization of 10 is 2·5.}

Therefore, after the initial cut dividing the pizza into halves, the pizza cutter must divide each half into five equally-sized pieces.  If the person cutting the pizza makes the mistake of cutting each half into two equally-sized pieces, then there is no chance of ending up with 10 equally-sized pieces because five is not divisible by two.  (This is how NOT to cut a pizza into 10 equally-sized pieces.)

This appears to be where our pizza cutter made his/her fatal mistake.  (Mathematically fatal, that is.)

A good, mathematically sound pizza cutter would have made the first cut dividing the pizza into halves.  Then, he/she would have begun cutting the halves into fifths.

If you really want to delve into the mathematical implications of this series of cuts, consider how each successive cut takes off a bigger fraction of the big piece of pizza remaining:

One last thing to consider:  I believe that people who cut pizzas for the big pizza chains (Domino’s, Pizza Hut, etc.) use a cutting instrument that reaches all of the way across a pizza – a diameter, assuming that the cut passes through the center.  If this is the case, then it is impossible to cut a pizza into an odd number of pieces by making cuts through the center.

If you’re feeling devious, try ordering a pizza and requesting that it be cut into nine pieces.

On the other hand, maybe you shouldn’t… the person cutting the pizza might actually try to do it.

***Disclaimer:  I love pizza.  I think that pizza should be one of the main food groups.  Therefore, by extension, I love the people who prepare pizza for me – even if they don’t cut the pizza into equally-sized pieces.  If you are a professional pizza cutter, I hope that you are not offended by my mathematical musings.  On the contrary, I salute you and thank you for all that you do for pizza lovers like me.***

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