don't drop a steel pen with a shirt clip from the empire state building -- 6/12/18

Today's selection -- from And Then You're Dead by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty, PhD. Proof that adds immeasurable value to your lives. Happy reading:

"The bad news: A penny dropped on your head from the top of the Empire State Building will not bore a hole straight through your skull. Its terminal velocity is only 25 miles per hour at sea level. The penny is both light and, like all coins, tumbles as it falls, which adds to its surface area and makes it an especially poor lethal projectile. Not even the Eisen­hower silver dollar, the largest coin in circulation, would do more than sting.

"Everyone is always disappointed to learn this. The image of a smoking penny-size hole through your head is so com­pelling that most people aren't willing to give it up easily.

"However, there are some objects that will do more damage if they're dropped from the top of the Empire State Building, but as the penny example demonstrates, it isn't always intui­tive which you should try to catch and which you should run from. In response to this common urban-dweller's dilemma, we have created a guide to walking under the Empire State Building.

"Here's what you should do if you see these objects falling from the top of the skyscraper.

"A five-ounce baseball dropped from the top of the Empire State Building would top out at 95 miles per hour, about the speed of a major league fastball. If it bounced off your head you would probably suffer a concussion. But there is also an opportunity for a record here.

"In 1939, Joe Sprinz, a catcher for the San Francisco Seals, set a world record by catching a baseball dropped 800 feet from a blimp. The ball hit his glove with enough force to smash it into his face, break a few teeth, and fracture his jaw.

"In 2013, Zack Hample extended the record to 1,052 feet (he wore a catcher's mask). Since the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet tall, you could set a new mark. Or concuss your­self in the effort.

"Conclusion: If you see a ball falling from the ESB, grab a glove -- and maybe some protective gear as well. Baseballs traveling slower than 95 miles per hour have killed people.

"A grape's terminal velocity is 65 miles per hour -- not enough momentum to do any damage even if it hit your head. How­ever, the world record for catching a grape in your mouth is 788 feet, set by Paul Tavilla in 1988.

"Conclusion: If you see a grape falling, first make sure it's a grape and not something more solid, and then open wide!

"A soccer ball is relatively large and light, a slow combination for falling objects. It would max out at 54 miles per hour if someone threw one from the top of the Empire State Build­ing. Soccer players regularly kick them faster than that -- the record is 132 miles per hour -- and go to enormous effort to place their heads in front of them, suffering nothing more than a headache and the loss of a few brain cells as a consequence.

"How high would the ball bounce? A soccer ball's coeffi­cient of restitution (COR) (how much energy an object re­tains after it bounces off a given material, in this case your head) is 0.85. If it hit your head, it would bounce back to the fourth story.

"Conclusion: Bouncy, but not lethal. (If you're looking for even bouncier, try dropping a Super Ball. It has a terminal velocity of 70 miles per hour-also not lethal, but with a COR of 0.90 it would bounce 80 feet high if you dropped it from the skyscraper.)

"A ballpoint pen without a shirt clip will tumble as it falls and go too slowly to do any damage. If, on the other hand, it's a steel pen with a shirt clip, it would drill that hole in your head that the penny was supposed to. Why?

"The shirt clip would act like the feather fletching on an arrow and keep the pen pointed down. Not only would it ac­celerate to 190 miles per hour, it would hit your head as a rod -- and rods are great for puncturing because they carry extra momentum without adding drag (which is why anti­tank ammunition is rod shaped).

"Conclusion: Thanks to its 'fletching' and its rod-momentum bonus, a falling pen with a shirt clip will puncture your skull and pierce your brain. Result? If falling from the top of a sky­scraper, a pen is as mighty as the sword."



Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty, Ph.D


And Then You're Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara


Penguin Books


Copyright 2017 Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty, Ph.D


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