Yogi Berra? Ken Thompson? Bobby Bragan? Muriel Vernick? Danny Osinski? Andy Wimpfheimer? George Carlin? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a comical tale about whether a pizza should be cut into six or eight slices. The punchline is typically attributed to an athlete such as Yogi Berra. Are you familiar with this joke? Would you please explore its history?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this anecdote located by QI was published on June 17, 1965 in a Nebraska newspaper which acknowledged a Wisconsin newspaper: 1
Ken Thompson stopped in at Dick McDaniels’ Pizza Palace the other night and ordered a pizza. When it was ready, Dick asked Ken if he wanted it cut in six or eight pieces.
Ken thought a while, and then said, “Better make it six pieces. I could never eat eight.”—Weyauwega (Wis.) Chronicle.
A variety of citations appeared in 1965 with several different ascriptions. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
On July 23, 1965 an instance of the story was told by Bobby Bragan whose career as a baseball player and manager was spent at multiple organizations. The “Los Angeles Times” in California published the jest: 2
. . . Bobby Bragan was telling about one of his pitchers who went to a pizza joint and ordered one of the delicacies. When the clerk asked him if he wanted the pizza cut in six or eight slices he said, “cut it up in six slices. I don’t think I can eat eight.”
On August 8, 1965 a columnist in a North Carolina newspaper printed another account from Bobby Bragan who connected the story to an unnamed New York Mets baseball player: 3
Bobby Bragan, who has a controversy going with the umpires and spitballs, told a story about the Mets when he was with their organization a while back.
“I went out to eat with a couple of the young Mets’ players,” he related, “and we stopped off at a pizza house. The waiter ask one of the boys whether he wanted his pizza cut into six pieces or eight pieces. ‘Better make, it six,’ he answered ‘I don’t know if I can eat eight.'”
On August 21, 1965 the “Chicago Tribune” of Illinois printed a version of the gag in its popular long-lived column “A Line O’ Type Or Two”: 4
Muriel Vernick overheard a man in a restaurant order a pizza pie that was cut into six pieces rather than eight. “I don’t feel hungry enough for eight pieces,” he explained.
On October 29, 1965 a syndicated sports column reported in a luncheon that featured broadcaster and raconteur Joe Garagiola as toastmaster. Garagiola told a version of the joke with a fellow baseball player delivering the punchline: 5
“Or Danny Osinski. He made my team last summer when he went in to buy a pizza pie and the waitress asked him if she should cut it into six pieces or eight pieces. ‘You better cut it in sixes,’ my man said, ‘because I can’t eat eight pieces.'”
On November 18, 1965 the diligent anecdote collector Bennett Cerf printed an instance in his widely-syndicated column that attributed the punchline to yet another individual: 6
Andy Wimpfheimer invaded a snack bar and demanded a giant-size pizza pie to be eaten on the premises. “I like a man with a good appetite,” approved the proprietor. “Do you want it cut in six pieces or eight pieces?” “Six by all means,” ordered Andy. “I never could eat eight pieces.”
On January 31, 1966 a columnist in “The Oregonian” noted that the story about Osinski followed a style that was usually connected to Yogi Berra. Indeed, a Yogi-version of the joke eventually did emerge: 7
Yogi Berra-type story making the rounds on Danny Osinski…
In 1968 the Sunday-newspaper-supplement Parade magazine linked the jest to the well-known comedian George Carlin: 8
From the Favorite Jokes of George Carlin comes this gem: A man ordering a pizza was asked if he wanted it sliced into six or eight pieces. “You better make it six. I don’t think I can eat eight pieces.”
By the 1970s Yogi Berra had been incorporated in the story. Here is a 1971 version attributed to the baseball player Mickey Mantle: 9
Seems Mantle, Berra and Whitey Ford went looking for a bite to eat after a night game in Baltimore (I think) and stopped in at a pizza parlor. They each ordered a large one, and when the waitress asked Yogi whether he wanted his sliced in eight pieces or four, he shot back, “Four. I don’t think I can eat eight.”
In 2005 “The Guardian” newspaper based in London published an interview with professional footballer (soccer player) Jason McAteer. The interview column was called “Small Talk”: 10
Small Talk’s always wondered whether the famous McAteer pizza story is urban myth or fact?
It is true mate, yeah. They asked if I wanted a whole pizza cut into four or eight and I said four because I’d never eat all of it.
In conclusion, the earliest evidence uncovered by QI pointed to Ken Thompson as creator of this punchline. However, these citations only represent a snapshot of knowledge, and earlier instances will probably emerge in the future. The joke was widely disseminated by 1965. Some of these tales were constructed to entertain and were fictional. Also, some individuals who employed the line were probably repeating an already known quip.
(Special thanks to Barry Popik for his valuable research on this topic at barrypopik.com. Some citations above were first located by Popik. In Memoriam: For my brother Stephen who enjoyed real and fake Yogi quotes.)
Update History: On July 20, 2015 the 2005 citation was added.
- 1965 June 17, Omaha World Herald, Quick Reading: A Smile or Two, Quote Page 24, Column 2, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1965 July 23, Los Angeles Times, “Aaron Strikes Again, Dodgers Fall, 5-2” by Frank Finch, Start Page B1, Quote Page B2, Column 3, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1965 August 8, The High Point Enterprise, Take 10 with Shinn by Paul Shinn, Quote Page 2D, Column 1, High Point, North Carolina. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1965 August 21, Chicago Tribune, A Line O’ Type Or Two, Quote Page 10, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1965 October 29, Boston Herald, Who Remembers Pirates’ Nick Koback?: Garagiola Enlivens Hot Stove League by Leonard Koppett, Quote Page 38, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1965 November 18, Marietta Journal, Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 3-B, Column 3, Marietta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1966 January 31, Oregonian, Section 3, Greg’s Gossip by L. H. Gregory, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1968 November 1, Augusta Chronicle, Advertisement: Coming in Parade, Quote Page 13A, Column 1, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1971 October 5, Abilene Reporter, Oak’s Pokes by Steve Oakey, Quote Page 9A, Column 2, Abilene, Texas. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 2005 March 4, The Guardian UK, Article Title: Sport Small Talk: Jason McAteer, Article Subtitle: The former Ireland midfielder on why he likes Keane the band, if not Keane the player. And at long last, the truth behind the infamous McAteer pizza story, Author: Sean Ingle, London, UK. (Accessed theguardian.com on July 19, 2015) link ↩