April 10, 2018

Five cheesecake tips

Five quick tips for perfect cheesecakes:

Room temperature ingredients

Cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream, eggs, and so on—all of these should be allowed to come up to room temperature, before mixing them to make the cheesecake batter. Read more...

April 09, 2018

Traps in tabletop RPGs

Why traps?

Traps often seem like they exist to do the following:

  1. Force the players to say "we check for traps" (or convince/threaten their DM into accepting "we are constantly and always checking for traps!" as a valid "standard operating procedure").
  2. Slow down the party's progress, due to constantly and always checking for traps. (This allows the DM to make more wandering monster checks, thus affording more opportunities to cackle with sadistic glee when the party is jumped by a … <rolls d20> … "no encounter".)
  3. Punish players who don't do #1, by inflicting gruesome injury on their characters, and forcing the party cleric to spend valuable spell slots to heal them.
  4. Force someone in the party (inevitably, the hapless rogue) to spend ranks on Disable Device (the other use of the skill—opening locks—is fully subsumed by the knock spell, rendering rogues useless, although of course they were already useless, right?).
  5. Reduce the party's successful negotiation of the fearsome dungeon hazards known as traps—those intricate brainchildren of the dungeon creator's fiendish intellect—to simple, unadorned die rolls (Disable Device again). How good are you at rolling high numbers on a d20? Pretty good? Great, you can advance through the dungeon. Not so good? Sorry, you have to keep rolling until you roll a high number. But if you roll low enough, something terrible may happen to your character!

Some of the above is true, some of the time. Sometimes it's not. But it usually feels true. Why? Read more...

March 22, 2018

Key lime pie and the methods of rationality

This post is about two things: public epistemology, and pie.

(Yes, there is a recipe for Key lime pie, down near the end of the post. You can skip to the recipe if that’s all you’re here for!) Read more...

March 12, 2018

Black & white cookies of Dyker Heights

This is the third in my series of posts about black & white cookies. Today, I headed to Dyker Heights to visit six bakeries: Grandma’s, Gold Star, Mona Lisa, and the Tasty Pastry Shoppe on 13th Avenue (a.k.a. Dyker Heights Boulevard), St. Anthony’s Bakery on Fort Hamilton Parkway, and the other Mona Lisa Bakery location, on 86th Street (where I’d been a number of times before; I was curious to see whether the two locations differed in quality). Read more...

January 24, 2018

Black & white cookies of Borough Park

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Black & white cookies of Midwood. Today—continuing my search for the perfect black & white cookie—I headed to Borough Park, to visit four bakeries: Shlomy’s Bake Shoppe, Korn Bakery, and Gross Bake Shop on 16th Avenue, and Weiss Bakery on 13th Avenue. Read more...

January 17, 2018

Black & white cookies of Midwood

The black and white cookie: so familiar to New Yorkers, so unknown elsewhere. But who makes the best one? I drove down to Midwood to visit five bakeries (Meir’s, Isaac’s, and Ostrovitsky’s on Avenue J; “Kosher Bakery” and Weiss Bakery on Avenue M) and find out. Read more...

September 22, 2017

“The Gradebook of Class 10-B”

This was written by my mother. I’ve translated it from Russian to English, and reposted it here, with her permission. I’ve also added a couple of footnotes, for the benefit of my Western readers.

Every word of it is true.


Leningrad. An ordinary secondary school in the new residential district near the Piskaryov Cemetary. I’m 20 years old, and I’m the new “class teacher”1 for class 5-B2. Soon enough, we’ve been together for six years. They’re tenth-graders3 now; the last, graduating, grade level. Strong, smart boys; beautiful, smart girls. One problem: they’ve grown out of school; it bores them. Every blessed day, Tamara Naumovna4, the school principal, calls me on the carpet: “Your 10-B…” I already know the usual litany of mischief—“disrupted a lesson, smoked behind the school building, taunted the young math teacher, ditched Literature en masse and ran off to play soccer instead… etc., etc., etc.” I nod my head, while thinking that I’d ditch that Literature class too.

My 10-B knew, deep in their hearts, that I was on their side.

But once, even my patience reached its end. After yet another summons to the principal’s office I went back to my 10th-graders and, in anger, said: “How long are you going to keep up these childish pranks? If you’re set on making trouble, at least go for the bigtime!” I didn’t mean anything by it. It was the outburst of a tired schoolteacher. But we remember the story of Pandora’s box… Read more...

September 20, 2017

“How M. Gorbachev Bought Me A Ticket to America”

This was written by my mother. I’ve translated it from Russian to English, and reposted it here, with her permission. I’ve also added a couple of footnotes, for the benefit of my Western readers.

Every word of it is true.


“Never”. That was the operative word, when our relatives, in the 70s, would leave for Israel or America. We’ll never see each other again. We’ll never get a letter. We’ll never talk. Never, never, never.

My father was in the military, and a Border Guard, to boot—and those were KGB troops. Our relatives had decided to emigrate. The word “never” began and ended all conversations about it. They were carried on in whispers. Fear on a genetic level. My aunt and her family left. We were orphaned, and tried not to speak of them, because it was sad and painful.

Who, in those years, could’ve thought that Gorbachev would come, and that our life, in a moment, would change so much?

I remember well how, one evening, I was sitting in front of the television, and suddenly realized that I was NOT SCARED. That was it. Not afraid. Not afraid to speak aloud. Not afraid to discuss family in America. Not afraid… yes, not afraid at all to write them a letter. Read more...

September 14, 2017

Soviet kids’ atlas

This is a Soviet children’s atlas that my mother got for me when I was 5 years old.[1]

World and Man: A Geographic Atlas
World and Man: A Geographic Atlas [2]

(click illustrations to see full-size version)

I remember being enthralled by it. You can see, in the well-worn pages, the time I spent leafing through this thing. Read more...

September 12, 2017

Old Blog, New Home

My blog, Cognitive Pie, is now hosted here at the OborWiki Network. I’ll be migrating my old posts from elsewhere on the internet to here in the next little while. Stay tuned!