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Friday, January 20, 2012

Bagel Mood Swings

When I chance upon a seductively kickable rock on a walk, it’s usually good for two or three kicks before it squibs away. Often, I blame my own ineptness rather than the rock’s idiosyncrasies. Which is why discovering (and launching) a bagel on the sidewalk during an evening stroll in December proved so therapeutic. With zero practice, I instantly achieved mastery over the bagel’s speed and trajectory. For the first time since marriage and parenthood, I had achieved total control—until I punted the bagel with so much spin that it flipped onto its side and scurried off  like a tire on the lam.

The bagel—a symmetric torus—distributes weight and force evenly, not unlike a hockey puck.  Also like a  puck, my bagel was largely frictionless. Temperatures that night were in the low thirties; that hardened the bagel and created a uniform glaze over much of its surface area. In other words, it slid like a puck.

It was the Jews who introduced the bagel to much of North America. As a reluctant Hebrew School student, I discovered my status as one of the Chosen People—the first monotheists; the special recipients of the Ten Commandments. Underwhelmed by it all, a friend in college assigned such self-importance to the excesses of Jewbris (no relation to the Jewish circumcision ritual). Fortunately, Jewbris was scarce in my own family, but there were exceptions.

My father, a dentist who handled sharp objects with glee, never tired of stories about non-Jews who had landed in hospital emergency rooms due to self-inflicted bagel-induced knife wounds. I had always thought these to be Jewish urban myths, until I read this data-rich post in The New York Times via the Freakonomics blog. Now I know better. According to bagel economist Paul Feldman, 1,979 bagel fanciers wound up in emergency rooms in 2008 (presumably no moels under age 90 among them). Unlike many social science screeds, the Freakonomics blog does more than document the problem; it offers prevention via an instructive Wall Street Journal video. View that one via the Freakonomics site or get a different take on the alternative video below.