Now, researchers at MIT have taken the issue on board and have devised a way in which to break dry spaghetti into two pieces rather than three or more. They found that if a stick is twisted at a certain critical degree, then slowly bent in half, it will break perfectly in two.
Researchers say the results could enhance understanding of crack formations and how to control fractures in other rod-like materials.
The 2006 winners of the Ig Nobel award, Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, in Paris, were able to explain why it breaks into more than two pieces. They discovered that when the stick gets bent from both ends evenly, it will crack near the center, where the curvature is the highest. This break triggers a "snap-back" effect and a bending wave or vibration that leads to more fractures in the stick.
But since scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have gotten involved, it seems that the mystery of how to break spaghetti into two pieces has been solved. In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers report that if you also twist the spaghetti, this dampens the shock wave and reduces the chance of breaking into several pieces. They designed a device that can controllably bend and twist spaghetti ends, focusing on two types of spaghetti: Barilla No. 5 and Barilla No. 7, which have slightly different diameters.
The history of spaghetti can be traced back to first century B.C. It was a favourite among traders as it could last for a long time. If not, head over to the kitchen if you're at home, find yourself a box of spaghetti and pull out a single spaghetti stick.
They recorded the entire fragmentation process with a camera at up to a million frames per second and showed the spaghetti will snap exactly in two if it is twisted at nearly 360 degrees before slowly bringing the two clamps together to bend it. Ronald Heisser, who is now a graduate student at Cornell and Edgar Gridello discovered that they needed to twist the spaghetti while bringing their ends together so that it would neatly break in two.
The fix? Add a twist to the pasta as you bend it. "And [Heisser] wanted to investigate more deeply".
In parallel, Patil began to develop a mathematical model to explain how twisting can snap a stick in two. As the strand twists back and unwinds to its original straightness, it will release pent-up energy in the strand so there aren't any additional breaks. You don't want try it with a more ribbon-like linguini, for instance-although what kind of culinary monster would try to break linguini in half before cooking?
'Once it breaks, you still have a snap-back because the rod wants to be straight, ' said co-author Jörn Dunkel, associate professor of physical applied mathematics at MIT.
"In any case, this has been a fun interdisciplinary project started and carried out by two brilliant and persistent students - who probably don't want to see, break, or eat spaghetti for a while", Dr Dunkel said. Why is it that, when you try to snap a single piece of uncooked spaghetti in half, you nearly always end up with three or more pieces of pasta clattering across your counter?
The bending wave travels down the remaining strand of spaghetti before it relaxes and un-twists.