Don’t feel bad, amateur bakers: Not even computers can cut Christmas cookies efficiently

If you’re Christmas cookie game is sad, don’t feel bad: Researchers at the University of Copenhagen say not even advanced computers can figure out the best way to cut them so you waste as little dough as possible.

The holiday-themed experiment has a solidly mathematical background. It centers on a conundrum called two-dimensional packing: that is, solving the best way to pack items without them overlapping. It’s central to efficiency in everything from shipping companies looking to maximize space, to cutting sheet metal for manufacturing, to, well, cutting dough for cookies. It’s all about minimizing wasted space, and wasted material.

As you might imagine, the shape of the objects has everything to do with it.  And because Christmas cookies come in a variety of problematic shapes — Christmas trees, for example — study authors said computers at best found algorithms to produce “optimal solutions” for up to just four cookies, explains Mikkel Abrahamsen, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, in a university press release.

“While algorithms let us solve seriously complex problems, this is one that remains too much of a mouthful for today’s computers,” says Abrahamsen, because of “all of the coordinates at which the cookies can be placed and all of the angles at which they can be rotated.”

So while one day our machine overlords might rule the world, for now they can’t compete with flesh and blood bakers.