Math Monday: Slice a Bagel into 13 Pieces with Three Cuts (Our 100th Column!)

Food & Beverage Science
Math Monday: Slice a Bagel into 13 Pieces with Three Cuts (Our 100th Column!)


By George Hart for the Museum of Mathematics

This post marks George Hart’s 100th Math Monday column. The column was launched on Dec. 6th, 2009, with a piece about some fun mathematical bagel hacking. And George has been entertaining, educating, and challenging us ever since with more puzzles and projects and introducing us to dozens of mathematically-minded makers. Thanks so much for a great run, George. Congrats. And here’s to a hundred more. -Gareth

Since this is my one hundredth Math Monday column, I decided to celebrate with a return to yet another mathematical way to slice bagels. (For others, see: 1, 2, 3.) How can you slice a bagel into thirteen pieces with just three simultaneous planar cuts? This is a classic problem of recreational mathematics, made famous by Martin Gardner.

Some of the pieces will have to be rather small, but the cuts are doable. Start with a slanted cut as steep as you can make it without keeping a hole in either the top or bottom piece.

Then make a similar cut slanting the other way. This will give you six pieces: two large C-shaped parts and four smaller wedges.

If you put it back together, but temporarily leave out the top two wedges, it looks like the image below. The final cut will be roughly vertical, going through the indicated red line. You must aim for the middle of one of the sides, marked with a red dot in the image below. The cut is rotated slightly to be off-center on the other side. Two thin pyramid-shaped pieces, whose tips meet at the red dot, will be shaved off the C-shape pieces. This cut also severs all four wedges and cuts a small piece off one of the C’s on the side away from the red dot.

In total, there are thirteen pieces. This works best with a slightly stale bagel, so now you know what to make with them!

6 thoughts on “Math Monday: Slice a Bagel into 13 Pieces with Three Cuts (Our 100th Column!)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Finally, I have a response the next time someone asks “Did you bring enough for everyone?”.

  2. AMalePoet says:

    This explains why the finger foods at some diner parties range in size.   

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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