Niche Problem Solving 🍰

Showcasing my deep respect for a food writer who decided to take a layer cake on a plane for some reason. Surprisingly, it went off without a hitch.

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As far as I know, this cake didn’t travel on a domestic flight. (Anya Bell/Unsplash)

Over the weekend I read an article with an immensely specific concept, so specific that I sort of wonder if it’s something that people actually do.

That concept? Taking a layer cake onto a plane for purposes of delivering it to a friend’s birthday party.

Writer Roxanne Roberts, a Washington Post style writer who often appears on Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, had the idea in part because of what she calls her credo as a home baker. “Desserts are my love language,” she writes.

So when she found out she was going to a friend’s birthday, she offered to bring cake. But that meant flying. And well, the flying part was a little complicated.

Roberts successfully delivered a four-layer cake to the party through a few unusual tactics:

  • Refrigerating the cake ahead of time, so that it would hold up during travel. (She opted for pound cake, and noted that some go to the lengths of freezing it.)
  • Ensuring that the parts of the cake were small enough to fit under a seat.
  • Skipping decorations and final layout until after the plane has landed—while shipping any additional frosting in 3.4-ounce piping bags, so they could get through security.
  • Talking to professional cake makers to understand how they travel with cakes.

In the end, though, if it hadn’t worked, Roberts notes that things would have been fine:

But let’s say that curve had reduced it to a toppled mess. There would have been a tear or two, then I would have given Mary a hug and my cake wreck. We had survived the past two years, we were celebrating with friends, and that was more important than any cake.

I find this challenge that Roberts gave herself fascinating, in that it seems utterly unnecessary. After all, traveling with an object famous for its wrecks seems fraught with issues. And she had no real reason to do it, other than a deep appreciation for her friend—and to possibly get an article out of the endeavor.

Cake Slice

Was it worth the hassle? (Will Echols/Unsplash)

Is this a good idea that most people should emulate? Probably not. But at the same time, I think all of us have niche things that we try to do for different reasons, especially if, like Roberts, you consider yourself a journalist.

I once, for example, went through a book from the early ’90s listing online resources in an attempt to find if any of them were still online. Other writers have been willing to do far crazier things in desire for a fascinating tale.

In a 2016 Newsweek piece, Zach Schonfeld pondered, “Are We Living in a Golden Age of Stunt Journalism?

His first example involved a BuzzFeed writer who ate nothing but burritos for a week, then degraded from there. Schonfeld explained the situation as such:

A decade ago, stunts like this might have been fodder for a reality show, like Fear Factor or maybe Jackass. Today, the Jackasses are just as likely to be professional journalists, dressing up as Marilyn Monroe or strapping on an adult diaper in the name of content. And as ad models shift toward video and live streams, journalists are now eating paper and freezing themselves in cryotherapy chambers on camera.

In some ways, the cake fits neatly into that, but I also think about the many many times I try to do very specific things with my computer, and come out on the other side with a whole pile of frustration.

I think taking a layer cake on a plane is sort of the meatspace version of yak shaving—doing something that is unnecessarily hard and getting constantly distracted with smaller complications along the way.

As a yak shaving enthusiast, I wholeheartedly approve.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 1 minute, 6 seconds

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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