AskStu: Issue 7

Student Life

Why does toast always land butter side down? English, Third Year, Christ Church

Many have assumed ‘Sod’s Law’ to be the explanation for why toast seemingly inexplicably always falls butter side down. However, the answer actually lies in physics. A falling piece of bread, obviously, is influenced by several factors. The major one is gravity. The second is height of the standard kitchen counter. The third factor is the size of the bread. The fourth and final factor is the angle at which the bread initially leaves its starting position. Air resistance is negligible. Following this, most falling bread falls either to the left or the right. Rarely does a person hold both sides of the bread level with the ground and simultaneously drop it from both hands at the same instant. Instead, you usually (unless you have very bizarre dietary or preparatory requirements) balance the bread slice in one hand and a bread knife in the other. The angle imparted by the ungainly divestiture of the bread causes it to rotate as it falls, fuelled somewhat by the uneven mass distribution of the butter on the bread or toast slice. This rotation has a period and unfortunately the floor intersects this cycle exactly at the half way point, resulting in the grounding of the bread slice sadly butter side down.

Is it possible to go back to the future? Physics, First Year, Keble

Well, this really is a scientific maze. I’m inclined, on a linguistic level, to say no, but will someone who asks such a question in the first instance be satisfied with this response? Attempting to console Besso’s family, Einstein wrote that it was of little consequence in real terms, as ‘physicists believe the separation between past, present and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one’. So, whilst diverging from the norm of opting for some flowers and a card expressing a suitable ‘sorry for your loss’ message, Einstein does seem to have answered your question – maybe. He does write elsewhere, in his book Relativity when discussing Minkowski’s Space World interpretation of his theory of relativity (how we all know and love that little gem): ‘Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent “now” objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence’. I think I need a lie down.

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