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The Politics of Pie Cutting at West Point’s Mess Hall

At the United States Military Academy, most often referred to as West Point, you can get a free college education. It's not easy to get in, though, and the price is service as a military officer. The first year at West Point is particularly difficult for freshmen, or plebes. Hazing at the academy was outlawed in 1874, but it took more than a century to actually die down. One of the most dreaded hazing opportunities came with dessert. When pie was served, a plebe was often asked to cut the pie into an odd number of slices, and they had to be perfectly equal in size in order to avoid punishment. Plebes dreaded pie.     

It didn’t always go that well. A West Point urban legend involves a Gunner who announced, “Sir, the dessert for this meal is cherry pie,” and then took a knife to the pastry. After struggling for several minutes to cut the prescribed seven slices, he grabbed his spoon, stirred the pie vigorously, and amended his announcement. “Sir, the dessert for this meal is cherry cobbler!”

Creativity apparently kept that plebe out of trouble, but for most others, failure to achieve geometric perfection resulted in being yelled at or ordered to run laps around the poop deck. Sometimes, especially if it was bad weather, the offending plebe would be ordered to stand outside, freezing until the conclusion of the meal. The pie scars remain: West Point grads from that era, now 20 or more years from graduation, have been known to feign terror at being asked to cut a dessert.

Smart plebes developed workarounds for the task, which you can read about at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Ahodges7)

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