Extremely Annoying Habit
posted June 15, 1996

Q: Dr. Toast, my toaster has this extremely annoying habit of over-cooking one side of the toast and leaving the other side almost raw. I have tried just about everything to solve this problem, but nothing will work.

Can you help?

– Kate (pseamer@xxxxx.au)

A: Kate, what you are experiencing is the unfortunate result of a combination of the Coriolis Effect and Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.

The Exploratorium gives the following definition of the generalized Coriolis Effect: “In a rotating environment, an object moves faster if it is farther from the axis of rotation (it moves in a bigger circle).” In other words, objects that are closer to the Earth’s poles will move slower than objects that are closer to the equator.

Now, under Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, time, or space-time, cannot be measured absolutely: it is always relative to some other point of reference. In fact, an object traveling at a high velocity experiences time more slowly than an object traveling at a low velocity.

When the effects of Coriolis and Special Relativity are combined, toast is the ultimate victim. Most of us, for reasons too complicated to state here, are instinctively driven to orient our toasters parallel to the Earth’s lines of latitude. Therefore, one side of the toast is closer to the equator, and one side is closer to the North or South Pole. Due to the Coriolis Effect, the Equator-Side of the toast is traveling at a higher velocity than the Pole-Side. And, due to the Special Theory of Relativity, the high-velocity Equator-Side is experiencing time more slowly than is the low-velocity Pole-Side.

You guessed it: the end result is that the Pole-Side actually spends more time in the toaster and becomes overdone, while the Equator-Side is undercooked.

Kate, I am currently researching ways to halt the spinning of the Earth in order to alleviate this problem for the citizens of the world. In the meantime, there are two simple ways for you to save your toast from the ravages of physics. You could rotate your toaster 180 degrees in the middle of the toasting process, or you could relocate yourself and your toaster to one of the Earth’s poles.

– Dr. Toast