Taking a break from the sun, the sand and the squeals of wave-jumping children to pad over to the saltwater-taffy “shoppe” and watch the complex apparatus do its pully-twisty thing is, truly, one of the great joys of summer.
It also turns out to be one of the great joys of mathematics. In fact, a professor of fluid dynamics at the University of Wisconsin, Jean-Luc Thiffeault, whose field of study mixes mathematics and physics like the air and sugar that are taffy’s chief ingredients, has written an entire research paper — “A mathematical history of taffy pullers” — about the mathematical efficiency of taffy-making machines and the innovations over the years.
In a report on Thiffeault’s research, the Washington Post highlights some interesting tidbits about taffy’s history to chew on. Among them: