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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

The Great Debate: Latke vs. Hamentashen by Melis A. '08

The post-coverage.

While presidential elections are normally associated with debates, Jewish food is not. However, tonight, one of the largest lecture halls at MIT was packed to capacity with students eager to hear six MIT professors argue for their favorite Jewish delicacy – either Latke or Hamentashen. One is a sweet and versatile triangular dessert, the other is a fried potato pancake (can you detect my bias?) What makes this debate unique is that the professors use their own field of expertise to support their position.

The three professors in favor of the hamentashen were:
– Hazel Sive- Professor of Biology (sitting on the left)
– Ari Epstein- Terrascope lecturer (sitting in the middle)
– Erik Demaine- Professor Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (sitting on the right)

The three professors in favor of the latke were:
– Peter Dourmaskin- Professor of Physics (far left in picture below)
– Patrick Winston – Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science (middle left)
– Stephen Van Evera- Professor of Political Science (middle right)


The debate was moderated by Jeremy Wolfe, who used to teach a wildly popular Intro to Psychology class and is now a teacher in Concourse. (He’s on the far left of the Team Hamentashen picture, standing up.)

After a humorous introduction by Wolfe and a Ramen noodle toss (“heads” won), it was decided that the Latke team would be the first to present. Prof. Dourmaskin stepped up to the plate and applied his physics knowledge to explain why latke is a “major food” and that Galileo discovered that a latke and potato fall to the ground at the same time.

Next was Dr. Ari Epstein, representing the Hamentashen team. In order to understand his slides, I’ll explain Terrascope. Terrascope is a project-based class where freshmen solve big problems like protecting the ecology of the Galapagos Islands. In this vein, Dr. Epstein had a hands-on demonstration. His assistants handed out paper plates to everyone, and the half of the lecture hall sitting on the “Hamentashen” side also received colorful stickers. The people with stickers were instructed to decorate their plates with stickers (representing filling that they wanted. Hamentashen can be filled with many things, like apricots, poppy seeds, Nutella, and cheese.) Everyone was then told to fold their paper to resemble a hamentashen. Clearly it was better to have a delicacy-filled hamentashen than something that resembled a dry, folded latke.

Next, Professor Winston showed off his technological prowess using a spiffy computer interface that he made. As shown below, he demonstrated the intelligence of a Turing machine that he programmed by asking it latke and hamentashen-related questions.

The onus was then back to the hamentashen team. Professor Sive defended the hamentashen using a systems biology approach. She showed single-celled diatoms that have a striking resemblance to hamentashen, showed the life cycle of the “organism” h.tashen, and then explored the genetic networks that build it. Biologists commonly study mutants to understand the function of genes, and thus she showed three hamentashen mutants. Of course, one mutant was the “arrested development” hamentashen, otherwise known as a latke. This mutant was extremely simple and boring, compared to the superior and highly evolved hamentashen.

Second to last was Professor Van Evera. As a Political Science professor in an election year, his defense of latkes resorted to significant mudslinging. At one point, he had the crowd chanting “USA, USA, Latke, Latke, USA!” The propaganda was palpable.

Finally, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Erik Demaine used his linguistics and geometry prowess to explore the natural superiority of hamentashen. First, he argued to change the name of the debate from “Latke vs. Hamentashen” to “Hamentashen vs. Latke” (alphabetical order, it’s only fair!) Next, he discovered that an anagram of the word Hamentaschen is the phrase “enHances math.” Then, as someone who studies discrete and computational geometry, he argued that perfect circles don’t exist, and latkes are circular, thus there are no perfect latkes. His last argument was that circles don’t tile, so as you’re trying to cook them, you lose heat between the latkes and this contributes to global warming.

After a five minute brainstorming session, the teams provided their rebuttals. Team Latke had pre-prepared a rebuttal in the form of a video. They showed a researcher in the Artificial Intelligence lab giving a latke and hamentashen to a furry, cuddly robot. The robot embraced the latke and rejected the hamentashen.

In the end, a blind vote was taken and (not surprisingly) it was a tie. This ensures that there will be yet another debate next year, so hopefully some of you guys will get to see it. I assure you that the real thing was much better than my description…

33 responses to “The Great Debate: Latke vs. Hamentashen”

  1. Hello!, Guys can someone tell me how to contact the admissions guy mr Ben Jones??????

    Please!!!!!!!!!!

    Send me an e-mail at [email protected] Thanks!

  2. Jalpan Dave says:

    Some of the stuff is really hilarious.Especially the part of the sauce having a dielectric constant:)

    But I can’t stop thinking as to how it is ensured that the debate always ends up in a tie??

  3. Anonymous says:

    I like the post-coverage smile

  4. Melis says:

    The debate always ends with a tie because the moderator makes sure that it does… In our case, it was a “blind vote”, so nobody except for the moderator could see who won. When we opened our eyes, it was declared a tie. It’s contrived, but we don’t mind since it means we’ll get to watch a new debate next year.

  5. You know, I was just thinking to myself, “I could really go for some Freedomtaschen…”

  6. Steph says:

    Lol @ Anti-Latkes = Anti-America.

  7. Rachel'12 says:

    hahahah this is pretty amazing.

  8. Snively says:

    Awesome slide shots, it’s really fun to read through them again, especially the pro-America ones (definitely an evening highlight).

  9. Anonymous says:

    This is awesome! :]

  10. milena '11 says:

    While the hamentaschen side had pretty good presentations, I am still all for the latkes. They’re just too yummy! But yea, this was pretty fun, it’s a nice thing to take a break from studying for.

  11. Kalvin Kao says:

    zomg latkes are good but hamentashens are the bomb! Why eat those stupid potato pancakes when you can have a delish sugary desert! Oh boy, Thank goodness I was born to a jewish mother!

  12. ROFLMAO!!1. I think the real question is If u were on a desert island would u rather be stuck eating dessert (aka hamentashens) all the time or at least sumthing with nutritional value (aka Latkes)?!?!?!?!

  13. who am i kidding i luv the tasty hamentashens!!! LOL!!

  14. who do you think will win it this year? I predict Latkes! yay for potatoes!

  15. John Preis says:

    There is nothing more orgasmic (I mean delicious) than eating a bucket full of latkes… unless it is two bucketfuls!!! ROFLCOPTER!!!1!11!

  16. Ying Wei says:

    Latkes contributes to global warming XD

    Oh my goodness!!!

  17. Isshak says:

    That is HILARIOUS ! I never thought debates like that existed lol. The biological professor was the funniest I think, how he used cell division was great.

  18. Anonymous says:

    How can you vote for latkes? Hamentashen come in chocolate.

  19. Efe says:

    I loved Professor Erik Demaine’s argument about the superiority of hamentashen: “perfect circles don’t exist, and latkes are circular, thus there are no perfect latkes”.

    Hamentashen Rock (esp. the chocolate ones)! I think I will go make some right now…

  20. Melis says:

    Le-yo, thanks but cut Snively some slack! His was a live blog, which is crazy difficult. I’m surprised that he could take any pictures at all!

  21. Anonymous says:

    I was literally rofling for 5 minutes after seeing how Gauss’s Law was actually derived from latkes, not electric flux.

  22. Jalpan Dave says:

    @Melis: Thanks a ton for the quick reply! That was an interesting insight.

    So is this like a tradition in MIT. I don’t think this is listed in the “Hacks and Traditions” section. Or did I miss it? By the way, what is the purpose behind this debate? As with everything else at MIT, I’m sure this too has some super-duper mission or something behind it:):)

  23. Anonymous says:

    Hey, that Turing machine was brainwashed. That’s like asking your kid for an opinion, it doesn’t count! raspberry

  24. Melis says:

    Jalpan: Good question! I think the main purpose of the debate is to have fun and give professors a chance to show their lighter side to students. I would assume that a secondary purpose is to promote Jewish culture, since the event is sponsored through the MIT Hillel.

  25. Hey y’all, I’m Melvin Gersheimer from San Antonio, TX (2012 hopeful…). Just wanted to say I thought that debate was off the wall! Also I wanted to make a shoutout to my figure skating partner Mike Smith-Bronstein ’09. Hopefully I’ll get in and we can show MIT what we got!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Haha, that’s hilarious and brilliant! Brilliantly hilarious! Wow, only at MIT. I would love to sit and watch one of those debates!

  27. Rutu says:

    Hehe, loved the slides ^__^……….though I do disagree on one thing, from the slide on things that do not exist…….elves and unicorns exist! They’re real, I tell you!!!!

  28. you really covered it better than snively.

  29. Jalpan Dave says:

    Melis: “give professors a chance to show their lighter side” – that is sooooooo awesome!!!

    I just hope that it doesn’t mean the profs are otherwise very hard with students!!! Haha.smile Just kidding.

  30. pratik says:

    Hi guys!
    I havent tasted latkes or hamentaschen.But I will make it a point to eat them and find their schwarzschild radius.By the way guys have you ever tried to calculate your schwarzschild radius?Its great fun believe me.Fyi schwarzschild radius would be your radius if a person of your mass became a blackhole.

  31. I think I may have to go make some hamentaschen today….

  32. Lauren S. says:

    Haha. This is amazing. Great job covering this! It looks like great fun.