Dear Straight Dope:
I was making pancakes and a thought occurred to me ... why do liquids always form a round puddle? Why not square?
The answer is fairly simple, but it requires a good understanding of a couple basic principles: Nature is efficient and acts uniformly. To use your example, when you poured the pancake batter, the force of the weight of the batter caused it to go in all directions at the same time at the same speed. The result, as a moment’s thought will make obvious, is a circle, the most efficient shape. To create some other shape, such as a square, would require an additional expenditure of energy to fill in the corners. Nature, however, never exerts itself unnecessarily. This same principle, by the way, is the reason that both the Earth and soap bubbles are spherical.
So, to answer your question, it’s not that you can’t make square pancakes, it’s just that Nature likes them round. If you have to have square pancakes, eat a waffle.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.
STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.