New Mathematical Model Helps Explain the Strength of Interleaved Phonebooks

Phonebooks made of paper have been going out of style, but they are still of interest to physicists. A few years ago, an episode of Mythbusters explored the strength of interleaved phone books. (Also see the sequel in Mythbusters, or maybe even try it yourself.) First, some context, in case you are a child of the 21st century, and […]

Candied orange agony: “I continue to control the hell out of the variables”

Ann Finkbeiner writes about the tricky chemistry and physics of candied orange peel made according to the recipe of a Hungarian physicist’s grandmother. Here’s a passage from the middle of the lament: …The recipe no longer works. I continue to control the hell out of the variables. I use the same amount of orange peel, […]

Podcast #32: A report on reports on reports, coffee, and ponytails

A report on reports on reports; The physics of ponytails; Why people spill coffee when they walk; and The pleasures —yes pleasures — of reading textbooks — yes, textbooks— all these all turn up in this week’s Improbable Research podcast. Click on the “Venetian blinds” icon — at the lower right corner here — to select whichever week’s episode you want to […]

How Do Bumps Form in Carpets?

We’ve all had this experience: we are walking on a carpet, and we suddenly trip over an annoying bump (or “ruck”) that we didn’t know was there. So how did it form? My colleagues Alpha Lee, Clément Le Goullec, and Dominic Vella from the Mathematical Institute at University of Oxford have just posted a new paper that endeavors to explain […]

The Enigma of the Two Phonebooks, pulled apart

Here’s a reported answer to a question only old people — people old enough to know what a “telephone book” is — will understand. Here’s video of the question: And here, the suggested new answer: “The Enigma of the Two Interleaved Phonebooks,” Hector Alarcon, Thomas Salez, Christophe Poulard, Jean-Francis Bloch, Elie Raphael, Kari Dalnoki-Veress, and […]

“… it does not exceed the precision of an upholsterer”

The non-scientific mind has the most ridiculous ideas of the precision of laboratory work, and would be much surprised to learn that, excepting electrical measurements, the bulk of it does not exceed the precision of an upholsterer who comes to measure a window for a pair of curtains. —Charles S. Peirce (1908) No doubt Charles Sanders […]

The Physics of Water-skipping Stones

In stone skipping, one tosses a stone with a flattened surface across water (or other fluid) to try to get it to bounce as many times as possible. (There are also military applications, but let’s stick to the fun stuff.) A few months ago, mechanical engineer Tadd Truscott and collagues wrote a quick study on […]