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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.

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Don't Pour Alcohol on Your Bed Bugs—Try These Tips Instead
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Getting bed bugs is a nightmare experience, one that’s sure to cost you oodles of time, money, and emotional distress. The bugs are painfully hard to purge from your household, and it’s getting even harder as they become more resistant to common insecticides. Unfortunately, home remedies are often no match for these parasitic insects. Dousing them with rubbing alcohol (a tip you'll often hear) won’t kill them; in fact, it might just burn your house down, as a woman trying to rid her Cincinnati apartment of bed bugs found out recently. As The Washington Post reported, the alcohol in that case was too close to the flame of a candle or some type of incense, and ignited. It wasn't an isolated incident.

In the last 10 years or so, people trying to kill bed bugs with alcohol have started several house fires across the U.S., including a different incident in Cincinnati just two weeks ago. So short of burning down your entire house and starting over, how do you get rid of them?

The short answer is: Give up on the idea of saving money and call an exterminator. According to 2014 research, plenty of DIY bed bug-killing remedies are woefully ineffective. Rubbing alcohol, in fact, only killed half of the insects sprayed by the Rutgers University researchers in that study. Researchers have found that other recommended home remedies, like moth balls, foggers, or ultrasonic bug repellers, are even less effective. And don’t even think about using “natural” type products that use essential oils as the main ingredient. They might smell nice, but they won’t help your bug problem.

But before you call in the big guns, there are a few effective, concrete steps you can take to reduce your infestation. As Rutgers bedbug specialists Changlu Wang and Richard Cooper wrote in their bed bug fact sheet, putting your belongings in plastic storage bins or garbage bags is a good place to start. Since the bugs don’t like to climb on smooth plastic, this can help contain the infestation. Just make sure to treat whatever you’re putting inside the bags or bins first by putting them through the hot laundry, steaming, heating, or freezing them.

You’ll need a mattress encasement, too. This will keep the bugs that have already infested your mattress from escaping, meaning they won’t be able to feast on you anymore and will die of starvation. Nor will any new bugs be able to get inside to nest. You’ll want to make sure it’s a scientifically tested brand, though, since not all mattress encasements are bite-proof or escape-proof for bed bugs. (Most experts recommend the Protect-a-Bed BugLock encasement, which costs about $81 for the queen-sized version.)

Next, pick up some bed bug traps. Set them up under the legs of your furniture and around the perimeter of rooms to help detect new infestations and reduce existing ones. According to Wang and Cooper, a one-bedroom apartment might need eight to 12 of these traps, while bigger apartments will require more.

You’ll want to expose all your belongings to extreme temperatures before you even think about touching them again. Putting them through the washer/dryer on its hottest setting will do the trick to kill both bugs and their eggs, but if you need to eradicate bugs lurking in items you can’t wash, you can freeze them in plastic bags (as long as your freezer gets down to 0°F). You can also kill them with a steam cleaner, especially if you need to purge them from your couch or other upholstered furniture.

If you’ve still got a large number of bugs lurking in your house, you can tackle them with a vacuum cleaner, sucking them out of seams, zippers, trim, and other furniture crevices. But you’ll want to use a stocking or some other method of protecting your vacuum from being infested itself. (See Figure 6 here.)

Some research has also found that desiccant dusts that dehydrate bugs to death, like diatomaceous earth and silica gel, can be effective at controlling bed bug infestations (silica gel in particular) when spread around the perimeters of rooms, on bed frames and couches, and on furniture legs.

As we mentioned before, you’ll probably want to consult a professional even if you do all of the above, because if you miss even one bug or egg, you'll be back to where you started. The cost of an exterminator pales in comparison to the cost of throwing out everything you own, moving homes, and then realizing you’ve brought the bed bugs with you anyway.

The bad news for anyone who’s already infested is that prevention really is key when it comes to bed bugs. So brush up on what the pests look like, make sure to check your hotel room for them when you travel, and if you spot them in your apartment, make sure to warn your neighbors.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Want Priority Boarding On Your Alaska Airlines Flight This Holiday Season? Wear an Ugly Christmas Sweater
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Between steep fares and crowded terminals, flying during the holidays isn’t fun. But on Friday, December 15, a special Alaska Airlines promotion will ease boarding stress and transform packed planes into mile-high ugly sweater parties, in honor of National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the airline will offer free early boarding to travelers willing to don their holiday worst at the airport.

The promotion is good for all Alaska Airlines flights in the airline’s 115-city network, and for flights offered by Virgin America and Horizon Air (both of which are operated by Alaska Airlines). In addition to escaping the waiting crowds, passengers who share the most festive knitted looks will be featured on Alaska Air's social media pages if they tag their photos and videos using the hashtags #UglySweaterDay and #MostWestCoast. And since no plane aisle-turned-catwalk is complete without a soundtrack, “festive holiday-themed boarding music will play all month long to help get guests into the holiday spirit,” according to a press release.

Worried you’ll be the only person on the plane wearing a sequined Rudolph cardigan? Even if other passengers don’t get the memo, airline crew will also be wearing ugly sweaters—so feel free to unleash your inner Chevy Chase from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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