All of my life I have heard people say that something is better than sliced bread. Now, I understand that sliced bread is a nifty thing. I mean, you take it out of the package and it’s ready for a sandwich! How great is that? Nevertheless, what was the best thing before sliced bread?

I remember this one time when… <Enter flashback sequence>

I was visiting my parents last year, when my mom and I were standing in the kitchen talking. She was telling me about how much she cooks with her microwave. "It's the best thing since sliced bread," she adds.

Puzzled, I look at my mom and ask, "What was the best thing before sliced bread?"

"Sex," she replied. We both giggle for a second and then I became silent.

"Mom, you're saying that sliced bread is better than sex?" She silently glares at Dad and we both started laughing hysterically. Poor Dad.

<End flashback sequence>

I'm busy cutting some slices of bread when Ed pops his head into the kitchen. "Do you know what an Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen bridge is?"

"Uh-oh," I observe, putting them in the toaster.

"Harsh," says Ed, the light from whose greatest mistakes will not reach Earth for another two million years. What a day that was.

"All right. Yes I do. Where is it, where does it lead, and how can we safely dispose of it without endangering the universe?"

"Come and have a look."

"I'll come down when I've made my omelette," I reply, whisking the eggy mixture one last time and pouring them into the frying pan. Ed leaves.

Ten minutes later I descend into the basement, fork in one hand, food in the other. Ed is standing next to what appears to be a medium-sized red plastic hula-hoop. It is mounted in a large set of metal circles allowing it to rotate in all planes. It is also surrounded with black and yellow tape at a distance of roughly four feet - arm's length.

"That's it?"

"This is it," says Ed. I'm tempted to ask where the machinery is, but knowing him it's probably in Palo Alto, or squeezed into a small side-universe parallel to this one.

"Where does it go?"

"Well, unfortunately, it can't go anywhere yet. There needs to be a receiver device, which I haven't built yet. It's like the first telephone - useless until you invent the second one. However, what I can do is make it lead to itself, sometime in the future. Ten seconds into the future, to be precise."

"Hmm. Cool. Why is it cordoned off?"

Ed switches the thing on and the surface turns pitch black. "It basically functions like a trapdoor ten seconds forwards in time. Nothing can come back the other way - that would result in an effect preceding a cause, which would cause the universe as we know it to cease to exist, with potentially devastating consequences. So from this side of the wormhole, it will always appear pitch black, because no photons can come through from the other side, dig? The reason it's cordoned off is in case you stick your finger through. Nothing comes back. Not even the electromagnetic forces which hold molecules together in solids. You stick your finger through, you pull it back, you've lost your finger. Ten seconds later, if you're quick, you can catch your severed finger in a bucket of ice as it reappears at the far end."

"What if you jumped through really quick?" I ask, taking a bite of toast.

"Blood flow in half of the veins and arteries in your body would be momentarily forced to stop, you might end up misshapen or missing a limb or with transcription errors a la Timeline, so even if you did survive, it'd probably be like a hammerblow through your entire body. But worse than that, nerve impulses and synapse firings in your brain would all be momentarily stopped as your head passes the wormhole terminus. I'm not a brain specialist-"

No kidding, I think, mouth full.

"-but I think it would probably kill you."

"Comforting to know. Well, more comforting than not knowing it could kill you," I remark pointedly.

"Oh, come on. I told you, that wasn't my fault. Those Haitians sold me impure palladium. Anyway. We've had this argument. Watch the tennis ball," says Ed, throwing a ball through the portal. It flies into the blackness and vanishes.

We go around to the other side. "At the other side of the hoop, we can see everything that was happening on the far side of the hoop ten seconds ago. Sound, being a longitudinal pressure wave, doesn't come through very well, but light seems to work okay," says Ed, as the Ed on the other side says something to the Sam on the other side, picks up a tennis ball, and throws it through. I catch it. It's the strangest experience. Like catching a ball that flew out of your television.

"Funky," say I. "And the applications?"

"Well, there's one I thought of. Nothing passes through in the opposite direction, right? Including gravitons. Gravity can't penetrate the wormhole. It's not very obvious when the ring is vertical, but..." Ed manipulates a remote control and turns the hoop horizontally, so the wormhole leads downwards. "This way, it's easier to see. The way to think about it is as if the whole Earth was glowing white, and the ring is your only shadow. So you can see there's a small cone-shaped area above the wormhole which is in gravity shadow. Zero gravity." He demonstrates, picking up the ball with a long set of tongs and gently placing the tennis ball in mid-air over the middle of the hoop. It stays there, rotating gently in mid-air. "So you see, we could make huge rooms that are completely weightless just by constructing a big ring wormhole underneath. The gravity even becomes smoothly stronger towards the edge. Funky indeed."

"But also astoundingly dangerous."

"That's what you say about everything," counters Ed. "There was one other cool application I thought of. In fact, this was why I started building it in the first place. Imagine you had like twenty of these rings, and you stacked them up into a cylinder, and then you turned it horizontally. What have you got?"

"Uh... a portal two hundred seconds into the future?"

Ed glares at me. "No... I can change the time displacement to anything I want, actually. Keep guessing."

"Oh come on, man, I can't see into your mind. Stop-motion photography? A way of temporarily storing really long things in a really short space? Ooh! You set the timer for a few months and you've got a way to keep your kids from opening their Christmas presents ahead of time!"

"No! Think about it! You put something inside the cylinder of wormholes, turn them on for a fraction of a second, turn them off again... what have you got?"

"...The world's most ludicrously advanced bread-slicer?"

Ed grins the enthusiastic grin of the irretrievably insane.


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More seriously, the phrase "the best thing since sliced bread" is poorly defined indeed. What we have is a collection of "things", all of which are "since sliced bread", and we are saying that THIS is the best of them. So basically we are just saying that THIS is the best thing to have happened since sliced bread was invented in whatever year it was - but we say nothing about whether it is better or worse than sliced bread itself! Nothing can be said about the quality of "THIS" with respect to the quality of sliced bread.

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