Starch Madness: The Final Forks

The final four pasta shapes battle it out for the Starch Madness title.

Photograph: Vicky Wasik Graphic: Maggie Lee

With another two rounds of tense noodle competition in the books, Starch Madness marches into the final two rounds. While ditalini diehards bemoan the defeats of scrappy underdog shapes, pasta pragmatists acknowledge the inevitability of having the likes of penne, spaghetti, and rigatoni in the Final Forks. Even with three of the top seeds making it to the semifinals of this year's tournament, there was plenty of compelling action in the Wheat 16 and Elite Ate. So, let's cover the highlights of the past couple of rounds.

Conchiglie's Shell Game Finally Comes to an End

As predicted, conchiglie rode the wave of do-you-believe-in-miracles? momentum into their Wheat 16 matchup against six-seed radiatori, winning comfortably, 59 to 41. But in the Elite Ate, luck finally ran out for the little shells that could, as they came up against the buzzsaw that is top-seeded spaghetti.

All of the energy expended in the opening rounds may have finally caught up with conchiglie, and with the extra days of rest between the Wheat 16 and Elite Ate, spaghetti had time to pore over game tape and come up with a stifling game plan for their opponent. In the end, the talent disparity was just too wide to overcome, and the giant-killers conchiglie were finally overmatched, falling 60-40. The clock may have finally struck midnight for the tournament's most unlikely Cinderella, but they won over the hearts of many on their fairytale run.

A One-Seed Falls, as Cavatappi Uncork an Upset for the Ages

With all the underdog buzz surrounding conchiglie during the opening three rounds of Starch Madness, cavatappi's run to the Wheat 16 went somewhat unnoticed. After first dispatching tiny perline, cavatappi put an end to gomiti's hopes in the second round. These were expected results: four-seeds like cavatappi and fusilli corti bucati should take care of business against 13- and 12-seeds, as they both did. It's easy to fly under the radar when you're coming up against opponents with just-happy-to-be-here mentalities.

But in the Wheat 16, cavatappi emphatically announced their presence on the tournament's big stage, taking down number-one seed bucatini in a 52 to 48 nail-biter—a stunning upset that sent shockwaves through the pasta world. How could amatriciana royalty fall to a shape that isn't even the shape of choice for macaroni pasta salad-makers? Is there a secret society of cellentani* Illuminati that quietly drummed up support in the American Chop Suey community?

cavatappi's other name.

Many questions remain and going by the comments sections in our Starch Madness Instagram posts, these wounds will take a long time to heal for bucatini-lovers (while I suspect Sho, who refers to bucatini as "noodle urethras," is cackling with delight). What is certain is that cavatappi are now a force to be reckoned with—after sending bucatini packing in the Wheat 16, they faced off against fusilli in the Elite Ate and once again prevailed over a higher-seeded opponent, winning convincingly, 57 to 43.

With back-to-back upsets, cavatappi find themselves in the Final Forks as the only shape left in the tournament that didn't start out as a number-one seed. Have they uncorked the magic formula for defeating heavy favorites rigatoni, who have continued to dominate the field even as their competition has gotten stronger, or will the championship game be a clash of the titans? On the other side of the bracket, which top-seed will cut down the nets at the end of the Final Forks matchup between spaghetti and penne rigate? Only you can decide, so remember to go vote in our Instagram stories. Final Forks voting opens in the afternoon on Wednesday, April 8, while voting for the championship game starts Friday, April 10. Let the best pasta win!

The Best Instagram Comments of the Past Two Rounds

We love all the pasta passion the Starch Madness tournament has inspired in voters, who have turned the comments sections in our round-by-round posts on Instagram into what one reader termed "24k gold." I don't disagree. Here are some of my favorite comments from the Wheat 16 and Elite Ate announcement posts.

@garlic44 #Starchmadness is almost as fun as #tigerkingnetflix [Editor's Note: Like "Here Kitty Kitty," our Starch Madness music videos are also certified bangers.]

@four_zer0 Inject this straight into my blood please.

@jkogod What a bunch of horseshit voting. I'm appalled. Everyone who voted against orecchiette needs to be outed.

@noocha_libre SMDH, can't believe bucatini is getting trounced. What else can go wrong in 2020!?

@yungforever Bucatini will be launching an investigation into match fixing.

@mr_fatzo Bucatini got knocked out by cavatappi? Are 8 year-olds voting for their favorite mac and cheese?

@bejanyall Has this voting been hijacked by people who have never eaten pasta?

@firm.mentor HOW THE FUDGE DID TROFIE LOSE TO ZITI??? ZITI??? THE VANILLA OF PASTA SHAPES?!! This whole game is shattered for me... If Gemelli loses to fudging Penne I'm breaking quarantine. You people need to stop voting if you eat paint chips. [Editor's note: Please don't break quarantine or eat paint chips.]

@shospaeth Whoever keeps voting for farfalle, please stop, thank you.

@sadfacesmith If penne wins, we riot.

@vittoria_ann People! How did radiatori lose to conchiglie????

@natmiami This is the most emotionally invested I've ever been in any kind of bracket tournament. Please please @seriouseats tell me you have another one planned? I mean, I disagree with most of the results (come on people, penne?! Seriously?!) but I'm still invested. #BucatiniWasRobbed

@dnembhard43 I am so invested in this and have yelled at my phone a few times. Cavatappi FTW!

@kch_10019 I feel like the base majority of voters have only ever eaten pasta at Olive Garden.

@chslowgram Farfalle? That has to be a bot.

@_ma__p STILL PENNE FARFALLE AND FUSILLI? It was a very bad idea to let the lumpenproletariat that seems to comprise this audience have their say on this issue. We need an enlightened benign autocrat to intervene [on] behalf of culinary reasonability in this shameful process.

@liam.patterson Can I get a full res version of [the bracket] to put up as a poster in my room? [Editor's note: Yes, you can!]

How the Bracket and Voting Works

For those of you who need a refresher on the voting process for Starch Madness, please keep reading. We apologize in advance to our Instagram-averse readers, but it has proved to be the platform best-suited for this competition, with built-in polling features that make all of this doable for our small Serious Eats team of editors, developers, and visual designers, all of whom are working remotely during this time of social distancing. We appreciate your understanding. If you aren't the social media type, you can still participate in some capacity by printing and filling out a Starch Madness bracket! Send us a picture of your bracket, and we can feature it on The Blog.

Like the NCAA tournament, the Starch Madness bracket is made up of 64 contestants, which are divided among four regions. Each region has 16 shapes, seeded one through 16, meaning there are four number-one seeds, four number-two seeds, and so on and so forth. I spent hours vetting the field, selecting 64 shapes of dried pasta that would make it into the tournament and then determined the seeding for each shape (more on the criteria and logic for the seeding process in a bit).

If you've never watched March Madness or filled out a bracket before, here's the drill. It's a single-elimination tournament, win-or-go-home, kicking off with the strongest teams (or pasta shapes) facing the weakest opposition. The field is cut in half at every round of competition, leading to the "Elite Ate" and "Final Forks" (if you're not a sports person, don't worry about the puns, but trust me, they're gold). Survive and advance is the name of the game, and the format allows for high drama with the possibility for shocking upsets and unlikely Cinderella stories at every turn.

The kicker for Starch Madness is that you decide which pasta shapes advance in the tournament! The winner of each matchup will be determined by popular vote on Instagram, playing out as a running vote in the Stories on our Serious Eats (@seriouseats) account. (Access Stories on Instagram by tapping the Serious Eats icon in the top left corner of our feed.)

Voting opens for the Final Forks today. Not familiar with all of the shapes in the bracket and don't want to make the wrong picks? Fear not! There will be accompanying photos for each shape in our Instagram voting matchups, and you can also read about our favorite pasta shapes to get acquainted with the noodles competing for all the marbles in Starch Madness along with suggestions for saucing each of them.