• How to eat corn on the cob

    Steve asked me to address

    [t]he correct way to eat corn on the cob. Vertical or horizontal rows?

    There must be a vigorous debate about this somewhere on the internet, if not around your own diner table. Uncharacteristically, I will answer without doing any research whatsoever. This is a pure, armchair philosophized WAG:

    Let us presume a world in which there are two types of people: those with fine motor skills that exceed gross motor skills and vice versa. This is not so implausible, is it? Though, I admit, it ignores those for whom fine and gross motor skills are equivalently matched. This edge case must be a tiny subset, so it’s a negligible modeling error. Let us also imagine the case for which the eater wants to consume her corn at a constant rate. This, of course, must hold at least for short durations of dining. Generalization to time varying corn consumption rates is not so hard.

    Horizontal corn eating (down the rows first, end-to-end) relies more strongly on gross motor skills. The fine, twiddling of fingers to turn the ear only occurs at row ends. The grosser movement of the arms must maintain a constant velocity between row changes. However, vertical corn eating (across the rows first, circularly) relies more strongly on fine motor skills, twisting fingers just so to keep up a constant angular velocity. Meanwhile, shifts down the row, between full circles of corn consumption, are in short spurts. Hence, the correct way to eat corn on the cob depends on motor skill dominance type.

    There are, of course, many other ways to eat corn on the cob (e.g., haphazardly or diagonally). The posited model is too crude to accommodate these possibilities. Since, by the form of his question, Steve clearly did not intend for me to entertain these possibilities, I think my job is done here.

    Related: How to eat a muffin while walking.


    • The argument, alas, is not suited for its conclusion. “Correct” here is a normative notion, the norm being within the realm of etiquette. In such matters, there is no reason to presume that what is required by the norm will be well-matched to one’s skills. Whether one has a well-developed ability to extend one’s pinkie while holding a fine bone china teacup and whether doing so is the *correct* way to sip the beverage are quite different questions.

      That said, correctness in etiquette is arguably a matter of what custom demands. (This is in contrast to ethical correctness, where arguing that a custom or received view is ethically unacceptable is a perfectly coherent enterprise.) And so empirical research is relevant. There is, however, a prior issue to be settled: should the research concentrate on actual behavior? Or should it attempt to establish which view is most widely *held* to be correct? I would argue that the second question is the right one, but that is a matter for another occasion.

    • Reviewer’s comment:

      This is a very well-written post on an important issue at the cutting edge of its field.

      Having said that, there was a clear oversight in the introduction. The author did not cite the work of Jimmy Crack-Corn (2004), who clearly anticipated many of the points raised.

      In the Methods section, the author might have given the reader a clearer sense of how horizontal/vertical and rows/columns are defined. Is the ear standing on its base, or is it lying longitudinally when these coordinates are defined, and has he normalized to standard units? Of course, experts know the answer, but naive readers could use additional clarification.

      Given the author’s prior work, I was surprised that we did not see a power calculation.

      The data are absolutely compelling. But somehow the Tables were missing in the post I was asked to review.

      I am satisfied with the Discussion, but would I feel that the author should include more discussion of the limitations of his findings. He has, for example, no evidence about possible gender differences in corn consumption, despite his use of the female pronoun.

      Overall: Accept with small revisions.

    • My grandfather of Mansfield, Ohio, grew acres of sweetcorn down the road from Louis Bromfield of Malabar Farm. He worked plenty hard, and the lunch break was important to him, so he was in no hurry to eat his corn. He would always butter and salt it, one bite at a time!

    • I think you ignore the critical issue of wastage*. If you wish to avoid having to go back and capture those individual kernels that you may have missed when starting a new row, you need to overlap your rows. This will likely require one extra pass in the horizontal method. With a longer ear of corn, this will require two extra passes with the vertical method (though this will depend upon individual incisor width). However, the the vertical row will be shorter for the large majority of ears.

      So, I would suggest the (simplified) result for dictating efficiency would result in the ratio of 2πD:L (D=diameter and L=length) being determinate. This, unfortunately, ignores the heterogeneity introduced by incisor width. Perhaps a large scale IV study looking at the pediatric population could account for this factor.

      *This totally ignores butter drippage which may, in fact, be determinate for a significant part of the population.

      Steve (Thought you would take the bait)

    • Ah, this reminds me of the tea theorems, due to a disreputable crew of Lisp programmers back in the early 1970s.

      David’s tea theorem: The second pot of tea (at a Chinese restaurant) is hotter than the first.

      Guy’s tea theorem: David’s tea theorem is correct, and furthermore, someone will kindly refill my cup from the new pot while I’m in a heated discussion with the bloke on the other side, and I’ll get scalded. Every time, all the time.

      Alan’s tea theorem: David’s and Guy’s theorems are correct, but no matter how careful I am, I still get scalded.

      JonL’s tea theorem: JonL likes tea.

      Which brings up a question for this forum: does PPACA cover scalds from careless tea drinking?