Astronomy and Toast

Since I started talking about the io9 Space subsite on Twitter, promoted tweets in my feed switched to adverting ways to avoid burning bread. I hadn't previously considered that the high correlation between loving astronomy and night owls would result in an equally strong correlation with breakfast incompetence.

While puzzling over the failures of targeted advertising (although this is admittedly less of an epic fail than the three months I received only promoted tweets in languages I do not read), I also realized that my favourite advice on preparing perfect toast is ideal for cosmologists, astronomers, and others with a more flexible view towards the linearity of time. Allow me to introduce Piet Hein, a Danish scientist, mathematician, and author of grooks:

Illustration for article titled Astronomy and Toast

Grook on how to char for yourself

There's an art of knowing when.
Never try to guess.
Toast until it smokes and then
twenty seconds less.

Grooks were published in the daily newspaper, intended as a series of observations about the world, a way to play with words, and, during the occupation of Denmark, as a method of supporting the resistance. They were collected in a series of 20 volumes between 1940 and 1963, all now out of print. The author did what he could to spread their distribution, including painting them on butter dishes and translating them into Esperanto.

If time-travelling to get the perfect toast isn't quite your style, he also wrote grooks touching on topics in astronomy, geology, mathematics, and the fuzzy intersection between physics and philosophy. Keeping in the theme of instructional grooks, if you found the advice on toast too difficult to execute, consider this bit of homework for your body and brain:

Do-it-yourself grook

Go on a starlit night,
stand on your head,
leave your feet dangling
outwards into space,
and let the starry
firmament you tread
be, for the moment,
your elected base.

Feel Earth's colossal weight
of ice and granite,
of molten magma,
water, iron, and lead;
and briefly hold
this strangely solid planet
balanced upon
your strangely solid head.

Read more about Piet Hein, and check out his mathematically-based interior designs, on his website. As the Grooks are out-of-print and difficult to find, you can peek at a larger sample, although it's still small compared to the thousands he wrote. To see what I'm saying that keeps getting me mis-targeted by promoted tweets, find me at @mikamckinnon.


Thank you for reminding me of Piet Hein. In a small Maine library in my early teens I tried to memorize vol.1. We moved and I never found any of his books and nobody seemed to know of him. Excuse me, but now I have to go track down his books.