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3 Oct 2014
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Cake Sharing

Post-graduate physicist Tom Povey and his pals cluster around an unsuspecting sponge cake with Ian Peacock, as they debate the crucial issue of sharing cake fairly. Mike Hogan joins them with a few more theories

From left - Tom Povey, Vasil Vasilev, Mike Hogan, Tet Amaya
From left - Tom Povey, Vasil Vasilev, Mike Hogan, Tet Amaya

Tom Povey and his friends, partial to cake, decided at a party some time ago that they had to devise a formula for making sure that any cake could be fairly divided between any number of people so that they would all feel satisfied with their piece. Tom and his friends, Tet from Japan and Vaz from Bulgaria, have since developed several algorithms for sharing cake fairly without inducing envy, guilt, angst or violence.

Tom, Vaz and Tet's end-solution algorithm was exceedingly good, their discussions on cake theory having gone on sometimes until the wee hours. It's far more complicated than just mathematics colliding with psychology, though a totally envy-free solution seems difficult to arrive at. "The burden of the fair cutting is on the cutter, and therefore it's always in the cutter's interest to ensure that they cut fairly".

Mrs Peacock's fruit cake
Mrs Peacock's fruit cake
Late on in the day the sponge looked like it had been subject to a frenzied stabbing, no-one had eaten a crumb, but Tom, Tet and Vaz had clearly enjoyed their weekly bonding session. Last week they'd had a break from cake and did string instead. Tom admits that they're more interested in puzzling out the solution than having the biggest slice of the cake, and that they regularly meet to find solutions to everyday problems.

With the cake looking pretty decimated, Mike arrives to relate the history of applied envy-free cake-sharing. Then Ian really throws the cat amongst the pigeons when he gets out his mother's fruit-cake and introduces the 'cherry element'.

Tom says "To be honest we also engage in other activities like going clubbing and down to the pub, and things like that, but in practice sharing cakes is much more enjoyable".

Cake sharing theories >>

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