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January 11, 2016

Proceedings of the Natural Institute of Science | Volume 3 | SCI-NEWS 1

Grad student in mathematics ruins birthday party by using a fair division algorithm to cut cake

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA – A birthday party for 3-year-old Mason Dubins ended abruptly last weekend as an attempt to cut a large chocolate-strawberry-vanilla cake into ‘fair’ pieces for all the guests turned into chaos.

The trouble started when Elsie Peterson, a first-year graduate student in mathematics at Florida State University, overheard party guests discussing their varied preferences for the three different flavors of cake. “My first thought was ‘Yay! A heterogeneous divisible resource with a set of agents each with their own valuation function! I know of an algorithm for this!’” said Peterson in a statement to the police.

However, attempts to parameterize her algorithm proved to be disastrous. “Elsie kept asking us to rate chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla on a scale of 1 to 10,” said Trevor Dubins, Elsie’s cousin. “My poor grandmother said she rated all of them as 10’s, but Elsie put them down as 0.333 for some reason. Grandma got upset and told her to change it to 10’s, but Elsie wouldn’t and said something about normalization. That’s when Grandma said she didn’t want cake anymore.”

Tensions rose as Peterson attempted to choose an appropriate algorithm to divide the cake. “Then she starts askin’ about whether we cared more if we got what we wanted or if what we got was just a little bit better than what everyone else got,” said Roy Schmaltz, Elsie’s uncle. “I don’t know what she was screaming about, I just wanted some damn cake.”

The breaking-point occurred one hour later when Peterson was halfway through computing her algorithm. “My brother got fed up and took a handful of cake, while screaming, ‘I’ve got your algorithm right here! This is called the Dubins’ Grab-It-and-Eat Protocol!’” said Trevor. “Next thing I know, there’s cake flying everywhere.”

Peterson has since apologized for the disturbance and has vowed never to use algorithms or mathematics again for any real-world problem.


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