Geometry is no joke this holiday season

By David Talley | Published Saturday, December 17, 2016

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Home Sweet Home

HOME SWEET HOME – Racey Burden and David Talley show off their final products, houses made of sugar cubes and graham crackers. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

I may never touch sugar again.

In our latest joint-column, Racey and I challenged each other to build gingerbread houses, with a few exceptions – no pre-made kits and all building materials had to be edible.

Messenger Editor Kristen Tribe supplied the goods, with several boxes of sugar cubes, graham crackers, icing and assorted candy decorations laid out on the newsroom table. The sickening, sweet aroma of it all may have turned me off of sugary treats forever.

BALANCING ACT – David Talley uses graham crackers to create his home’s walls. Talley said getting the roof right was the most difficult part of the process. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

First, Racey and I rummaged through the office kitchen to find bases on which to build our structures. She picked a large, plastic plate, and I found an ancient baking pan I thought would give my gingerbread home rustic appeal.

I started by spreading icing over the pan to make it look like fresh snow. Plus, icing is sticky, so I could use it to keep the walls of my house upright. This plan wasn’t foolproof, though because I kept accidentally catching a sleeve in the “fresh snow.”

With four graham cracker walls up, my gingerbread house needed a roof.

Roofs are hard. First off, there are no equivalences in gingerbread house building materials. A certain number of sugar cubes does not equal the length of a graham cracker. The width of two graham crackers doesn’t equal the length of one. It’s like trying to build a house with glue and a bunch of different-length boards.

Also, graham crackers are too brittle. While Racey had some luck with it, I never could cleanly split a graham cracker into anything but one-half without it cracking at jagged angles.

And to top it off, all the crackers are concave. Every one of them sinks in the middle. It makes them easy to lean like cards but nearly impossible to use as any sort of base. You let me down, graham crackers.

As a result of these setbacks, my roof ideas kept failing. The distance between the walls was too far for sideways cracker panels to form anything but a flat roof and too close to use graham crackers at their full length. Houses need pointy roofs.

I finally settled on a plan to use the width of the crackers to build a partly flat, partly-slanted roof, using sugar cubes to take up the empty, trapezoid-shaped space in the middle. With the flat part of the roof done, the structure looked a little bit like a German barn, which is all right, but I noticed Racey’s structure across the table getting taller as she added more sugar cubes to angle her roof.

With the third story, I went for the same strategy – two crackers set lengthwise with a trapezoid of sugar cubes supporting a flat roof. (If you haven’t needed to look up trapezoid at this point, good for you. Geometry is hard.)

In placing two stories of weighted sugar cubes on top of four graham crackers supported only by leaning on each other and some icing, I’ve essentially ignored the basic laws of gingerbread physics.

The house still looked like a barn, just taller. I added a front porch to make it look a little more like a house, but forgot to draw on a front door, leaving me open to ridicule by the rest of the newsroom.

After we finished, we inevitably started comparing the two structures. While I felt my three-story barn/house had certain merits, Racey was quick to point out my lack of a door and gross baking pan base. With that in mind, I decided to pitch the house like a real estate agent trying to sell an obviously-flawed home:

“Looking for your next home or maybe just a sugar-filled snack? This is the holiday-themed structure for you. With 1,600 percent of your daily calorie intake packed into three stories, this country-themed home is the one for your gingerbread family. The home is best described as a fixer-upper/barn. With no interior walls, utilities, piping or plumbing, this house is yours to design to dream.

“Plus, the lack of any doors or windows make the home an absolute fortress (excluding the slightest amount of moisture). Take advantage of this home’s double lot on top of a strong metal pan and wide front porch to host events with any neighbors who aren’t hungry ants.”

I also took a shot at pitching the house like Bill Hader’s Stefon character on “Saturday Night Live”:

“Wise County’s hottest gingerbread house is The Barn. Nestled next to an abandoned lot full of peppermint candies on top of a rusted out baking pan, this cinnamon-coated three-story structure just keeps getting taller.

“Party with the gingerbread guy or gal of your choosing in its hollowed-out main floor, or use one of the many gaps in the roof to check out the sugar cubes on the second and third stories. Be careful though, once you’re inside, The Barn doesn’t have any doors, so knock down a wall to find your way out.”

Like it? Head to Twitter to vote for it in the Messenger poll.

David Talley is a Messenger reporter with questionable construction skills.

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