B.U.N.K. Volume 3, Number 1 (1986)

No two snowflakes

Mark W. Moffett
Museum of Comparative Zoology
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA
02138 U.S.A.

No two snowflakes are alike.

So easily said. Yet, as should be obvious, this assertion can only be proven through a concerted effort by expert's around the globe.

And so it is. Seldom publically recognized, crack teams of the Frozen Liquid Asimilarity Classification Experiments (FLAKE) spend long hours from birth cataloguing the fallen frozen stuff. Most members of these teams are of Nobel Prize caliber, but no prizes have been offered. Dr. Wilfred Sneed of the Center for Operations and Research, North pole (the so-called 'CORN' unit) explains:

"A memo was circulated within the Nobel Committee, stating emphatically that no awards are to be made to employees of FLAKE. The reason for this should be obvious to all," the great man leaned back in his plush chair and sighed. "Our responsibilities are considerable. We cannot afford to leave our duties long enough to accept material rewards." Dr. Sneed gazed thoughtfully at the Van Gogh beside his desk, lit his pipe, and continued. "For example, if I were to receive three or four Nobels in my lifetime, this would thoroughly disrupt my research, and could destroy my career. The Nobel Committee understood this.

Of course, merely working for FLAKE is as gratifying as any prize," added Dr. Sneed, as a truck backed into his office at CORN FLAKE headquarters and unloaded a great heap of snow onto his desk.

I watched Dr. Sneed sort the snowflakes, re-assembling broken flakes as he worked. Every flake was photographed, classified and catalogued. When he had finished with the massive white mound, the snow was piled back together and carried off. "The truck will return the snow to its original location," Dr. Sneed told me as another icy ton slammed onto his desk top. "Our field teams are so efficient that most people never realize any freshly fallen snow is quickly picked up and returned. "

During lunch I asked Dr. Sneed how he could be sure no two snowflakes are alike. "There is only one case in which two snowflakes have been thought identical," he said, munching his snow cone. "Caused quite a stir at the time. But the story is not for me to tell." Dr. Sneed gestured at his phone and suggested I talk with Dr. Murdferd Tizfid of the South pole National Operations Warehouse (or 'SNOW' unit).

The budget for B.U.N.K. investigative reporters is too generous for us to bother with telephones (1), so I thanked Dr. Sneed for his help during the morning, and promptly arranged for jet transport south.

After a month's stop in Jamaica to write up my interview with Dr. Sneed (I suffer, sadly, from writer's cramp), I arrived at the SNOW FLAKE center at the south pole. There I was met by Dr. Tizfid, a cold fellow with brown hair. He was in a rush. "Flurry of activity to-day. I'll need assistance. Are you a FLAKE?" He gave me an icy stare when I told him I was not. By then we were already in his Mercedes Benz, the chauffeur whisking us to the unit's main building.

Upon entering his office, Dr. Tizfid frantically began to sort the windfall from a recent storm at Banzare Coast. Nevertheless, he was now more talkative, having adjusted to the idea of a visitor (one gathered these were not common). "Well, my dear Dr. Tizfid," I eventually inquired. "What can you tell me of the case in which two snowflakes were thought identical?" Dr. Tizfid looked at me momentarily with an expression of infinite sadness, and then related his remarkable story.

Apparently a fellow researcher at the south pole had been gazing dreamily through rising coffee vapours at the SNOW FLAKE commissary, when something drifted past his field of vision and settled on his toasted bagel. The chap stared down at his plate in mute shock, and in the ensuing trama, flung himself to the floor in a series of terrible seizures.

Dr. Tizfid rushed to the aid of his writhing colleague, but then he saw the bagel. There, perched atop a thick layer of cream cheese and chives, was a flake bearing an undeniable resemblance to one catalogued several years back by FLAKE researchers at the north pole! Trembling with joy, he requested CORN FLAKE volume XPD-109364 from the library, just to be sure. He flipped rapidly to flake 7,349,582,352. It was a match!

It is during these times of extreme scientific ecstacy, when the mind reaches the limits of the explored and batters into the unknown, that the rules of science must be remembered and nurtured. Thus Dr. Tizfid consulted the invaluable slim volume published by the congress for General Research Edicts and Approved Techniques, International Code of Snowflake Nomenclature, as adopted by the G.R.E.A.T. Congress, Pittsburg, July l975. There, in Article 23, paragraph 1, in which it is declared that each snowflake is unique and a holotype unto itself, he read:

The only exception shall be if two flakes are judged to be exactly the same, and the GREAT FLAKE proclaims that identity may be proven only by direct comparison of the original flakes. The more recently described flake shall then be christened with the code designation of the other, and the two flakes shall be considered cotypes, forever more, Amen.

Fingers shaking with emotion, Dr. Tizfid telephoned Dr. Sneed at the north pole. Dr. Sneed was astonished by the news, and promptly arranged for flake 7,349,582,352 in volume XPD-109364 to be mailed to the south pole. The crystal in question was carefully packed in a manila folder and posted.

Unfortunately everyone had forgotten the intervening temperate zones, and the flake melted in transit.

Dr. Tizfid shrugged his shoulders. "Thus the case is unconfirmed, and, to this day, it must be considered a scientific fact that no two snowflakes are alike." At this point another truck arrived, and unceremoniously buried Dr. Tizfid in his work.

volume XPD-109364
flake 7,349,582,352
The bagel flake

1. The source for funding of B.U.N.K. is not clear. However, as B.U.N.K. is a journal of extreme merit, I suspect it is supported at least in part by the N.S.F., through grants to the recently formed Division for Conceptual Advances in Silliness. Whereas many divisions of the N.S.F. have recently suffered budget cuts, the Silliness Division has grown dramatically, perhaps because of the current administration's strong interest in this area.

Copyright © 1986, 1996, David R. Maddison, John H. Acorn, and Robert S. Anderson.