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No. 99: May-Jun 1995

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Why does spaghetti break into three pieces instead of two?

R. Feynman carried out spaghetti experiments but did not deign to theorize on why he almost always ended up with three pieces each time he attempted to break a piece in two. Fortunately for science, O. and R. Nickalls have come up with an answer.

"We can only assume that Feynman was not really trying, since when we investigated this profound and fundamental problem in our own kitchen laboratory, not only did we quickly establish the underlying mechanism, but we even went on to formulate the following general rule for linear spaghetti structures:- If a spaghetti stick is uniformly bent until it fractures and ejects a third piece, then the third piece is always ejected outwards from the convex side.

"When the spaghetti fractures for the first time, the two remaining pieces then spring outwards, and providing there is a sufficiently weak potential fracture site on the opposite side a second fracture occurs, resulting in a third piece being ejected away from the initially convex side."

(Nickalls, Oliver and Richard; "Linear Spaghetti," New Scientist, p. 52, 1995)

Comment. We have omitted the mathematical analysis of this complex phenomenon because it involves tensor analysis!

From Science Frontiers #99, MAY-JUN 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987