Buttered toast phenomenon

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The buttered toast phenomenon is the tendency of buttered toast, when it falls, to land butter-side down in the majority of instances. This ruins the quality of the toast since butter absorbs impurities far more than plain toast does. Whilst this was once considered to represent mere pessimism, a form of Murphy's law, scientific evidence for the phenomenon has been found.


The phenomenon was first observed in the New-York Monthly Magazine, which published the following poem in 1835:

I never had a slice of bread,
Particularly large and wide,
That did not fall upon the floor,
And always on the buttered side!

In the past, this has often been considered just a pessimistic belief. A study by the BBC's television series Q.E.D. found that when toast is thrown in the air, it lands butter-side down just one-half of the time (as would be predicted by chance).[1] However, several scientific studies have found that when toast is dropped from a table (as opposed to being thrown in the air), it does fall butter-side down at least 62% of the time.[2] One such study won the Ig Nobel Prize in 1996.[3][4]


When toast falls out of one's hand, it does so at an angle.[specify] The toast then rotates. Given that tables are usually between two and six feet (0.7 to 2 meters), there is enough time for the toast to rotate about one-half of a turn, and thus lands upside down relative to its original position. Since the original position is usually butter-side up, the toast lands butter-side down.[5] However, if the table is over 10 feet (3 meters) tall, the toast will rotate a full 360 degrees, and thus land butter-side up.[6] Also, if the toast travels horizontally at over 3.6 miles per hour (1.6 m/s), the toast will not rotate enough to land butter-side down.[1] In fact, the phenomenon is caused by fundamental physical constants.[3][how?]

Other factors[edit]

The added weight of the butter has no effect on the falling process,[7] since the butter spreads throughout the slice.[1] In any case, the weight of the butter is likely to be less than 10% of the weight of the slice of toast. Since most would be absorbed into the toast it would not significantly alter the centre of gravity.[8]

However, buttering one side of a slice of toast alters the surface properties. This changes the level of drag and thus modifies the way the toast rotates as it falls.[9]

A different effect is generated if you press hard enough with your knife while buttering. This produces a curved piece of toast that is likely to land butter side up because of its shape.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Stewart, Ian (1995). "The Anthropomurphic Principle". Why Do Math?. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  2. ^ Matthews, Robert (27 May 2001). "Breakfast at Murphy's (or why the toast lands butter-side down)". The Telegraph. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Matthews, R A J (18 July 1995). "Tumbling toast, Murphy's Law and the fundamental constants". European Journal of Physics 16 (4): 172–176. Bibcode:1995EJPh...16..172M. doi:10.1088/0143-0807/16/4/005. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Inglis-Arkell, Esther (13 December 2011). "An Experiment That Solves The World’s Most Important Question: How to Keep Toast from Landing Buttered-Side Down". io9. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  5. ^ Devlin, Keith (July 1998). "Buttered Toast and Other Patterns". Mathematical Association of America. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Valsler, Ben (16 December 2007). "Butter Side Down". The Naked Scientists. BBC. http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/content/kitchenscience/exp/butter-side-down/. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  7. ^ Wollard, Kathy (2009-08-17). "Why does a falling piece of toast always seem to land on the buttered side?". How Come?. Archived from the original on 2009-08-30. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Kruszelnicki, Karl (12 February 1999). "Murphy's Law (part three)". Great Moments in Science. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/moments/gmis9908.htm. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  9. ^ McDermott, Nick (3 September 2013). "Why your toast falls butter side down: Scientists finally uncover the reason... and it's all to do with the height of the table". Daily Mail. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  10. ^ "Is it true that toast always lands butter side down?". Institute of Physics. Retrieved 16 October 2013.