The perfect spaghetti snap starts with a twist

Novel machine reveals secret to cleanly breaking the dry pasta in half

Researchers used a custom spaghetti-snapping machine (above) to discover the best way to break dry spaghetti in half.

RONALD HEISSER AND VISHAL PATIL

When boiling a pot of spaghetti for dinner, some people like to first snap the dried pasta in half. Shorter strands can be easier to eat, and long strands can splatter sauce. But simply bending a stick of spaghetti in half usually shatters it into three or more pieces. That can leave you sweeping up shards from the kitchen counter and floor. Now researchers say they’ve found the secret to neatly breaking spaghetti: Twist before bending.

When a piece of dry spaghetti breaks, vibrations rattle the two halves. This can make smaller pieces splinter off. You now end up with more than two pieces. Vishal Patil is a mathematician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. He and his colleagues used a custom-made spaghetti-snapper to explore a better way to break pasta.

Researchers watched the device break hundreds of pieces of pasta. Then they built a computer model to simulate what was happening. That computer program helped them compare different combinations of bending and twisting pasta.

When a dry piece of spaghetti is twisted first, it doesn’t bend as much before breaking. That twisting seems to weaken the vibrations that rattle the spaghetti halves after snapping. And this prevents extra breaks.

The exact amount of twist needed to get a clean break depends on the length of the shaft of pasta. For a typical piece of spaghetti 24 centimeters (9.4 inches) long to crack neatly in two, it must be twisted at least 250 degrees. That’s almost a three-quarters turn. (A full turn would be 360 degrees.)

Patil’s team reported its results online August 13 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This finding may not be much practical help in the kitchen. Your fingertips might quickly get sore from pinching spaghetti hard enough to twist it. And Patil’s group has no plans to sell its spaghetti snapper in stores. Even if they did, twisting and bending each piece of pasta, one-by-one, prior to cooking is a slow way to prep your dinner.

Still, the bend-and-twist trick has its value. It might one day help researchers understand how other rods snap, from pole vault sticks to nanotubes.

Simply bending a dry piece of spaghetti in half typically shatters it into several pieces. Twisting before you bend it can instead break the pasta cleanly in half. (In the graphic above, colors show how much stress each part of the spaghetti is under. Yellow indicates higher stress; purple denotes lower stress.) Science News

Maria Temming is the staff reporter for physical sciences, covering everything from chemistry to computer science and cosmology. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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