Don’t feed the hypotenuse!

Dagwood_Sandwich_20070417

Dagwood builds sandwich in “Blondie” strip. (en.wickipedia.org)

A Dagwood, the skyscaper of sandwiches, cannot be cut in half, however you slice it. But this intriguing piece, “Rectangles vs. Triangles: The Great Sandwich Debate,” from “All Things Considered” on NPR (with no author listed), slices and dices the assumption on which its headline seems to rest: that there is any debate at all.

The story quotes Kevin Harris, a Baton Rouge architect, who says the diagonal cut exposes more of the interior of the sandwich, “and by exposing the interior, it engages more of your senses before you take the first bite. … It’s more revealing, almost like a burlesque dancer,” he says. “Covered enough to be clothed, but uncovered enough to be very, very appealing.”

It’s hard to argue with that, and the author of the NPR piece does not really try. Indeed, recourse to mathematics pretty much seals the deal. There’s no arguing with the hypotenuse!

If your bread is square, and if each side is 4 inches long, you have 16 inches of crust. Cut that bread down the middle, and you get 8 inches of crust-free surface. Cut that same bread diagonally, [Vermont Technical College emeritus professor of mathematics Paul] Calter calculates, and you end up with almost 11 inches of crustless surface. That’s a substantial increase.

This sounds almost like the sort of calculation an architect makes when he’s figuring out how to reduce the distance a homeowner must travel between the couch and the kitchen.

The author notes that a diagonal cut offers more room for the sandwicher to immediately chomp right down into the middle of the sandwich – something I cannot imagine doing, since I have a beard. NPR intones: “The long, crustless hypotenuse gives you a very ample entrance into the softer, meatier part of the sandwich.” Mmm. It sure does sound delicious. Excuse me. The kitchen awaits.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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