Chocolate Triumphs – Godiva® Wins

In the first matchup in the First Ever Cheesecake Playoffs, the Godiva® Chocolate Cheesecake pulled off an easy victory over the Tiramisu Cheesecake

As I mentioned in my last post, this Saturday was going to be pretty packed.  Monroe had her soccer game (unfortunately, they lost…), and then we headed out for the day. 

Next, we went to the post office to get Monroe her passport (we have an excuse to travel to New Zealand for our friend’s wedding next spring, and we would LOVE to go if we can swing the airfare…).  Well, two forms, two pictures, and an hour and 45 minutes later, we got to check that off our list, and we headed to California Pizza Kitchen for a little lunch.

We finally made it to Hollywood and the El Capitan theater to see the movie Secretariat.  We all loved it!  Next, we hit The Grove and put our name in for The Cheesecake Factory.   We spent a little time looking at the iPods and iPads in the Apple Store, and then eventually got seated upstairs…

Monroe had the Bowtie Pasta with Meat Sauce, while I went with the Cajun Jambalaya Pasta and Stephanie tried the Weight Management Grilled Chicken™.  Each were huge (and delicious!) and we couldn’t really finish them – obviously, we had to save room for the main event of the evening!  So, we ordered the participants – Godiva® and Tiramisu… 

As an aside, something has bugged me a little about the cheesecake competition we’re in – who’s really competing against whom here?  I mean, Stephanie, Monroe, and I are doing all the work!  The cheesecakes just SIT there, waiting for us to tear them apart.  They start out looking all delectable and everything, but after they are put on our table, they don’t really do anything!…  We are the ones that end up having to “train” for the upcoming battles anyway… (OK, that’s enough…)

So, after we downed the cheesecakes, it came time for the vote, and it wasn’t even close.  Each of the cheesecakes were unique – the Tiramisu Cheesecake is actually quite creamy and smooth, while the Godiva® Chocolate Cheesecake is incredibly rich and chocolately.  Even though, for us, the Tiramisu Cheesecake is quite good, we were apparently in a major chocolate mood, since the Godiva® Chocolate Cheesecake won each of our votes.  Godiva 3, Tiramisu 0. 

Now, the Godiva® Chocolate Cheesecake faces a fierce battle in the next round, facing off against the #1 seed, the 30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake Cheesecake.  Here’s the brackets as they stand now

By the way, a big thank you to Nicholas R., who served us at the restaruant.  He was great and was extremely knowledgeable – he provided us great service (and actually handled some folks next to us really well who didn’t quite understand what they were ordering when they ordered “nachos” – They say “the customer’s always right”, but sometimes, we all know better…).

Next week, #5 “The Original” vs. #12 Oreo® Cheesecake!

Breaking the Tie – Godiva® vs. Tiramisu

Tiramisu Cheesecake vs. Godiva® Chocolate Cheesecake

In the first big matchup in the Cheesecake Playoffs, we are forced to break the ultimate tie.

The first battle pits #8 and #9 seeds – Godiva® Chocolate Cheesecake vs. Tiramisu Cheesecake

Now, it turns out that this is the ultimate tie, not only because both the Godiva® Chocolate Cheesecake and the Tiramisu Cheesecake scored a healthy 21 points with the Farris family, but each of us rated each cheesecake exactly the same.  Monroe and I both ranked these two pieces of decadence with an 8, while Stephanie gave each a 5.  (you can check out our scores for ALL the cheesecakes here…)

Well, something’s gotta give, and we’re each going to have to pick a winner.  Tomorrow will be that day!

So, here’s the schedule for the Farris family as we head into the first round of the playoffs on Saturday, October 9.  Monroe has her Newbury Park soccer game in the morning, and then we’re off to lunch in Hollywood.  We’ll then go to see Secretariat at the El Capitan Theater for the 4:00 show.

Then, it’s off to The Grove in Los Angeles to The Cheesecake Factory for dinner, and the tie-breaking showdown!

Stay tuned to see how it all plays out, and which cheesecake gets the opportunity to face off against the top seed, the 30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake Cheesecake

You can check out the Cheesecake Playoff brackets here.

An aside – as we enter the playoffs, we’ve found that we’re not making everybody happy.  Not that these folks don’t enjoy the decadent duels that will be playing out over the next several weeks…

It’s seems that some are upset that we’re not including MORE of The Cheesecake Factory’s desserts.  There are more specialty offerings – such as Lemoncello Cream Torte™ and Black-Out Cake.   We had specific complaints with not including Fresh Strawberry Shortcake and Linda’s Fudge Cake!

Well, fear not, our dear fans!  I have a feeling we’ll be tasting these tasties soon, but we certainly need to keep our focus on the cheesecakes at hand.  Champions can’t be distracted from achieving their goal  – we gotta keep our eyes on the prize!

The First Ever Cheesecake Playoffs

Today is the first day of the Major League Baseball playoffs, but you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy the playoff atmosphere.

In fact, if you love dessert, then our family has a competition worth keeping track of.

Single elimination.  Gloves off.  Full contact.  Competition for the best of the best of the best in cheesecake!

OK – now that you’re all excited about this, let’s start from the beginning…  

At the beginning of 2010, Stephanie, Monroe, and I thought it would be fun to try every cheesecake that The Cheesecake Factory had to offer on their dessert menu.

Yes, every one!

Now, if you’re not familiar with The Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, then shame on you!  Of course, this is what they are famous for, and they have 31 different types of cheesecake on their regular menu, including one that came out at the beginning of the year – Stefanie’s Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake.

It turns out that we actually tried 35 different kinds, because some were seasonal (Pumpkin Cheesecake and Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake, coming out just this past week) and two more that came out this year (Mango Key Lime Cheesecake and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cake Cheesecake).

We spent each week through the year getting a piece of cheesecake (and three forks) and bringing it home to taste.  Sometimes, we’d enjoy dinner at The Cheesecake Factory (we like the Factory Chopped Salad – no avocados…) and get a piece of cheesecake for dessert, which can be tough because the meals themselves can be pretty filling…

After we devoured the cheesecake, Stephanie, Monroe, and I would then rank it on a scale from 0 to 10.  It’s taken us nearly nine months to get through the entire menu, but we did it!  And here is how the final tally turned out:

Cheesecake Mic Stephanie Monroe  Total
30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake Cheesecake 9 10 10 29
Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple 9 8 10 27
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cake Cheesecake 9 7 8 24
Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake 8 7 8 23
Original 7 7 8 22
Fresh Strawberry 7 7 8 22
Pumpkin Cheesecake 8 5 9 22
Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake 8 5 8 21
Tiramisu Cheesecake 8 5 8 21
Chocolate Oreo Mudslide Cheesecake 8 7 6 21
Chocolate Chip Cookie-Dough Cheesecake 6 7 8 21
Oreo Cheesecake 7 7 7 21
White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle 7 5 8 20
Kahlua Cocoa Coffee Cheesecake 7 7 6 20
Wild Blueberry White Chocolate Cheesecake 5 6 9 20
Mango Key Lime Cheesecake 7 6 6 19
Caramel Pecan Turtle Cheesecake 8 5 6 19
Brownie Sundae Cheesecake 7 6 6 19
Snickers Bar Chunks and Chessecake 7 6 5 18
Cherry Cheesecake 8 5 5 18
Fresh Banana Cream Cheesecake 7 3 7 17
White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Cheesecake 7 5 4 16
Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake 5 6 5 16
Dulce De Leche Caramel Cheesecake 8 7 0 15
Lemon Raspberry Cream Cheesecake 5 3 5 13
Vanilla Bean Cheesecake 5 5 3 13
Stefanie’s Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake 5 5 2 12
Dutch Apple Caramel Streusel 5 3 4 12
Chocolate Tuxedo Cream Cheesecake 5 2 4 11
Chocolate Raspberry Truffle 5 3 3 11
Key Lime Cheesecake 6 1 4 11
Craig’s Crazy Carrot Cake Cheesecake 3 7 1 11
Chocolate Coconut Cream Cheesecake 4 3 3 10
Low Carb Cheesecake 3 1 2 6
Low Carb Cheesecake with Strawberries 3 1 2 6

 

Now, one might conclude that, as far as we’re concerned, the 30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake Cheesecake is by far our favorite, and, of course, the best!  (We all admit – it is fantastic!)

However, America is the land of second chances, so these other cheesecakes deserve a real shot at the title!

(Anyway, I don’t think we’re done enjoying the cheesecake quite yet…)

So, in the spirit of our sports culture, we will be holding the first ever Cheesecake Playoffs!

The top 12 scoring cheesecakes qualify for the playoffs in a single elimination tournament.  The top four (30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake Cheesecake, Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cake Cheesecake, and Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake) each get a “bye” in the first round (and based on their yumminess, a well-deserved bye…)  This leaves the remaining eight to battle it out to compete against these top seeds.

So, what are the rules?  Simple…  No more rankings – it’s cheesecake vs. cheesecake.  Mano y mano!

Rather than eat one piece of cheesecake, we will eat two in one sitting, and Stephanie, Monroe, and I will each select which of the two is the best.  The cheesecake getting at least two of the three votes advances to the next round.

Here are the seedings as we start the tournament.  After each week’s competition (if we can manage doubling up on the cheesecake…), we’ll announce the winner, and update the tournament brackets.  If everything goes according to plan, the champion will be crowned around the Christmas holiday (just in time to try the Peppermint Bark Cheesecake and see if we should end up starting the whole thing over again in 2011!…)

Wish us luck, and send us your comments!

Interesting items to watch out for in the Second Season

–          Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple has been the standard “peanut butter and chocolate” cheesecake offering by The Cheesecake Factory for some time.  However, they recently came out with the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cake Cheesecake.  Each ranks high with the Farris family, but their seedings put them in a potential clash in the semifinals.  Watch out for this possible no-holds-barred matchup as we get to the Final Four!

–          The Original Cheesecake Factory cheesecake made a great showing in our cheesecake rankings.  The original Original ranked at the number 5 seed, while the original with strawberry toppings (Fresh Strawberry) made it in as number 6.  You might think that plenty of offerings having exotic flavors and chocolate (mmmm, chocolate…) might push standard, boring ol’ regular cheesecake out of the running.  But, no sirree!  Let’s see how the Original holds up in the playoff battles…

–          The Oreo flavors made quite a splash as well, making up two of the twelve playoff contenders (Oreo Cheesecake and Chocolate Oreo Mudslide Cheesecake).  

–          For a seasonal offering, we were surprised how much we liked the Pumpkin Cheesecake, gaining a well-deserved #7 seed and extended life in the Cheesecake Playoffs…

Video: Stephen Wolfram – Computing a Theory of Everything

Stephen Wolfram recently gave a talk about his efforts to understand the universe around us through computation.  He’s the CEO and founder of Wolfram Research, creator of Mathematica, and author of A New Kind of Science.  Wolfram recently launches his computational knowledge engine, Wolfram|Alpha (I wrote a post about its launch some time back…). 

Here’s the video of his talk, given at a recent TED conference

Watch and learn!

Newsweek on iPad: Having It Both Ways

Apple CEO Steve Jobs and the new iPad tablet computer

Back in January, I posted the announcement of Apple’s iPad tablet computer.  I’m personally really excited about it – don’t know if we’ll get one right away (it took us a couple of years before Stephanie and I both got our iPhones – which we love…).

However, this post is about the irony of Newsweek Magazine’s Senior Editor Daniel Lyons writing, within the course of two months, articles which seem to be covering their bets on whether the iPad will be a success or a failure.

The first article is titled “Why the iPad is a Letdown” and the second article is titled “Why the iPad Will Change Everything“.  Maybe they’re consistent with each other (?), but it’s kinda like betting on red and on black in roulette, just to make sure you win (hopefully the wheel doesn’t come up double-zero!…).

Again, I’m personally intrigued by the iPad launch – it’s probably the first time tablet computing will be taken seriously (and probably will take off much like the iPhone did…).  Here’s to another of Steve Jobs’ impact on the computing world!

Einstein and Eddington

Albert Einstein and Arthur Eddington

HBO is airing a docudrama they produced in conjunction with BBC on the pursuit for a new theory of gravity.  The movie “Einstein and Eddington” details (if not dramatizes a bit…) Albert Einstein’s efforts to come up with his theory of general relativity, and Arthur Eddington’s efforts to prove him right, all in the backdrop of World War I.

The tensions of the times (and within the movie) highlight that, with World War I pitting German and English armies against each other, Einstein was German-born and Eddington was English, so their long distance correspondence went against the nationalistic trends of the day.

As many people know, Einstein allowed us to realize that objects with heavy mass, such as the Sun, bend the space around it, which is why planets orbit around the Sun.  The theory would also predict that light would also be bent in the same way as it traveled by the Sun. 

If this were true, stars would appear to us in slightly different places in the sky when stars are behind the Sun.  Eddington realized that this could be tested by photographing stars at night, and then photographing these same stars during a total solar eclipse.  In the solar eclipse, the starlight would have to pass by the Sun, but the Moon would block out any sunlight, allowing us to view the stars themselves.

Eddington had to wait several years for the right eclipse conditions, traveling to Africa in 1919.  There were rain and clouds that made the expedition a near failure – but only a near failure because he actually got two good pictures that were enough to confirm Einstein’s theory.  As a result of Eddington’s efforts, Einstein became a celebrity overnight and changed the way we view the universe around us.

There are some interesting ideas that are brought to light in this movie, which track the real-life arcs of these two great scientists pretty well, although there is a little literary license to make the scientists “Hollywood” interesting.  Still, if you run across it, “Einstein and Eddington” is worth the hour-and-a-half of your time.

Interview with Roger Penrose

Sir Roger Penrose of Oxford University

An Example of Penrose Tiles

An Example of Penrose Tiles

I recently came across this great interview by Discover Magazine with Sir Roger Penrose of Oxford University.  Penrose has made monumental contributions to theoretical physics, geometry, and mathematics.  He’s also the author of The Emperor’s New Mind and The Road To Reality, and invented what are now called Penrose tiles, which are geometric shapes that can be tiled together to create solid surface (see the graphic on the right…)

Penrose talks about the problems with quantum physics and string theory, leading to mass belief within the scientific communities of “many worlds” and other non-sensical interpretations of how the universe works.   Here’s a bit of what Penrose had to about why we’ve gotten to where we are:

And in a certain sense, I blame quantum mechanics, because people say, “Well, quantum mechanics is so nonintuitive; if you believe that, you can believe anything that’s non­intuitive.”

I posted my thoughts on this subject a while back (which is in line with Penrose’s…), and it’s always good to have people questioning the conventional wisdom in order to get to what’s really true.  This interview is definitely worth a read…

“The Big Short” – Tale of the Financial Meltdown

Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short, interviewed on 60 Minutes

60 Minutes did a two-part story interviewing Michael Lewis on his new book, The Big Short.  In his book, Lewis details how probably only 10 or 20 people in the entire financial sector knew what was going to happen, and how Wall Street nearly created its own demise.

In the 60 Minutes piece, Lewis describes how, at a result of the financial crisis, many people think that everyone on Wall Street were just a bunch of crooks and knew that they were getting themselves into.  So the post-trauma reaction would be to punish a few banking CEOs and the problem will be taken care of.

However, according to Lewis, it’s quite the contrary – the financial meltdown is probably much closer to an example of mass delusion.  Everybody just kept thinking it was going to keep going – until it didn’t.

Probably the most telling part (at least in my mind) is where he describes the incentives that the financial industry operate under on Wall Street.  I am a strong believer that people make decisions based upon the incentives and disincentives in their environment – change the rules of the game and you’ll change the behavior.

Here’s what Lewis had to say on this topic:

 “Wall Street is able to delude itself because it’s paid to delude itself.  That’s one of the lessons of this story is that people see what they are incentivized to see.  If you pay someone not to see the truth, they will not see the truth, and Wall Street organized itself so people were paid to see someone other than the truth. 

And that’s one of the central messages of the story, you have to be very careful how you incentivize people, because they will respond to the incentives.”

Also described is how Michael Barry, an independent manager of a hedge fund, made $725 million on the credit default swaps that were created to “insure” the subprime mortgages that eventually defaulted.  He was able to do this by examining – by himself – the public information about the declining creditworthiness of these financial products.  Anyone, especially the bond rating agencies, should have been able to see this for themselves, but the Wall Street community was collectively blinded to the reality of the numbers that Barry was able to spot.

(Turns out Barry only has one good eye himself, and he wasn’t blind to this oncoming catastrophe…)

Lewis credits Barry’s ability to take advantage of this as “not being part of the collective”.  Even though Wall Street could have (and should have) seen this as well, they had different incentives at work than Barry did.  He was incentivized to look at the numbers rationally, and he profited from them – Wall Street was incentivized to keep the profit center going as long as they could, which they did, and it almost took the world’s financial markets down with it.

Change the incentives and you’ll change the behavior. 

Lewis is the author of 13 best selling books including Liar’s Poker and Moneyball.

You can watch the two-part 60 Minutes interview here