Reader Ken Foote should be toasted for his "pointed" analysis proving why the following no-problem problem (DN 4/19/99) cannot be solved: What is the smallest toaster that can be made that still makes good-tasting toast?
The first step in solving any problem is gaining a clear understanding of the root problem. This issue here doesn't deal with the toaster at all, but rather with the question: "What is the size of the smallest piece of toast that will still taste goodto the consumer?" The term consumer applies figuratively and literally to this problem.
To solve the question regarding toast size, we need to review Figure 1, which shows a representative piece of toast along with a typical human bite. The size of the bite is the most critical variable in answering both questionsminimum toast and minimum toaster size.
Understanding how people eat their toast must also be understood to appreciate the difficulties in determining the minimum size that still retains good taste quality. There are several critical steps that must be taken to correctly calculate the minimum toast size. First, the undesirable crust section must be removedthus reducing the size of the remaining toast, and taste, as shown in Figure 2. Second, most consumers prefer their toast slathered with butter and jam or jelly. Third, consumers with proper etiquette cut their toast into sections, commonly known as "points" (Figure 3).
Now that the toast has been cut into proper eating size, the last variable to determine is the minimum bite size. Unfortunately, the size of these bites is dependent upon the size of the consumer's mouth, which can vary widely. (Typically the larger the consumer's mouth, the more vocal they are about its size.) Figure 4 shows a size comparison of cut toast to a typical adult and typical child bite size.
Review of toast-size variables: Size of bread; crust thickness (cut-off part); size of crust-less toast; minimum toast size to apply toppings; size of human bite.
The second step to solving the toaster question deals with the specific technology that will be used to design and manufacture the toaster. Global commercialism suggests that this task will be dealt with differently in different countries. U.S. engineers will apply highly developed technologies to their design, while Soviet scientists will apply less expensive and less-developed technologies. Far-East designers will economize on the solution.
The domestic approach would result in the minimum-size product, but high cost and development time would result in a "late-to-market" and expensive toaster, but it would fit easily into your pocket. The Soviet solution would be inexpensive, yet extremely heavy. And supply would be restricted, since it would be manufactured only in state-owned factories. Relying on existing commercial technologies, the Far-East contingent would deliver the lowest-cost product. Their design would likely include a video display, allowing users to determine individually tailored toasting levels. A game chip would allow the consumer to play for points during the toasting process. Family members and pets could also compete, perhaps scoring extra points for getting to the toast first.
Review of variables in toaster size: Toast size; power and current demand; toaster material (cast iron vs. aluminum vs. titanium); heating element technology.
Clearly, it is not possible to accurately determine the value for these variables in our global economy and to provide a single correct figure for the minimum size of toast or size of toaster.