Have you ever tried the spaghetti challenge? It's a lesser-known party game, played mainly by physicists. For this purpose, a spaghetti stick is held at both ends, which is bent to break and tries to break it in two parts. It sounds simple enough, but so far no one has really managed to do it. Spaghetti, when bent to break, always snaps into three or more fragments.
It is such a mysterious phenomenon that the famous physicist Richard Feynman spent the time tirelessly breaking apart spaghetti straps to seek a theoretical explanation for it, without success. Only in 2005 could physicists from France finally develop a working theory. It was such a challenge that their solution actually won the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize ̵
So, problem solved. Spaghetti sticks can not break into two pieces. Or can they ?
Ronald Heisser and Vishal Patil, math students at MIT, were convinced that there had to be a way. And with the help of an apparatus built especially for the task, on a fateful evening in 2015, students were probably the first to ever crack the spaghetti challenge, Phys.org reports.
It turns out that the point is to twist the sticks when they are bent.
"They did some manual testing, tried different things, and came up with an idea that when he twisted the spaghetti very hard and brought the ends together, it seemed to work and broke in two," said co-author Jörn Dunkel who was the student professor at that time. "But you have to turn around a lot and Ronald wanted to do more research."
At that time, Heisser built the mechanical breaker with which the students could really test their methods. The device is capable of controllably twisting and bending spaghetti sticks with mathematical precision, while a high-speed camera records the break with incredible slow-motion details.
What the students found was that if you manage to bend the spaghetti at almost 360 degrees, then slowly put the two brackets together to bend them … (squealing of the singing angels) … it breaks into two parts.
The trick is how the rotation affects the forces and waves that propagate through a curved rod. When the spaghetti snaps, the twist unwinds, helping to release energy from the stick that would otherwise force it to break into extra segments.
"Once it breaks, you still have a snap-back because the rod is about to be straight," Dark explained. "But it does not want to be twisted either."
Finally we can cut spaghetti into two pieces. It's a small snapshot for humans, but a huge break for … well, it's actually not clear how these results could actually lead to real applications beyond the spaghetti challenge. But the experiment helps us gain a general understanding of how Twist affects fracture cascades in rod-like structures, and it is not clear what kind of technical breakthroughs could ultimately result.
At the moment, however, it is a very complicated way to impress friends at the next dinner party.