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The physics of tossing fried rice

February 16th, 2020

David Hu, who has two Ig Nobel physics prizes (the first for discovering nearly-universal urination duration in mammals, the second for studying why wombat poo is cubic-shaped) has a new study out with colleague Hungtang Ko, about the physics of tossing fried rice.

The study is “The physics of tossing fried rice,” Hungtang Ko and David L. Hu, Journal of the Royal Society: Interface, 2020. Here are details from the study:

“Fried rice is a 1500-year-old dish that is prepared using wok tossing, a technique that enables food to undergo temperatures of 1200°C without burning. Tossing of the heavy wok at high speed may be one contributor to shoulder pain, which is reported by 64.5% of Chinese restaurant chefs. In this combined experimental and theoretical study, we report the wok tossing kinematics of five professional restaurant chefs. The wok toss has a period of 0.3 s and involves two directions of movement: translation, which slides the rice along the wok, and rotation, which throws the rice into the air. We report the chosen kinematics of the chefs and use a theoretical model to predict the trajectory of rice based on projectile motion. Using our model, we rank all possible kinematics in terms of three metrics: the proportion of the rice that is tossed, its flight height and the angular displacement of the rice. We identify an optimal regime for making fried rice and suggest ways that wok tossing may be improved. “

Improbable Research Saturday night in Seattle

February 15th, 2020

Join us Saturday night, February 15, at the Improbable Research show at the AAAS Annual Meeting, Grand Hyatt Seattle, 71 Pine Street (in Princessa Ballrooms 1 & 2),

The annual Improbable Research session will, this year, include:

  • Marc Abrahams, founder of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony
  • Theresa McKeon, 2019 Ig Nobel Prize winner for using a simple animal-training technique— called “clicker training” —to train surgeons to perform orthopedic surgery.
  • Kazutaka Kurihara, 2012 Ig Nobel Prize winner for creating the SpeechJammer — a machine that disrupts a person’s speech, by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.
  • (Brief!) Dramatic readings from improbable research studies, some of which have won Ig Nobel Prizes.
  • and other stuff.

This session is open free to the public.  Bring friends. (Seating is limited—arrive early if you want seats.) #AAASmtg

BONUS EVENT the next day

The next day—Sunday, February 16, at noon—join us for some additional, dramatic readings from improbable research studies, at Archie McPhee, 1300 N 45th St, Seattle. The Archie McPhee event, too, is free, and open to everyone.

Using a photocopy machine to make images of atoms

February 14th, 2020

Xerox Enlargement Microscopy (XEM) is a cheap, simple, if poor, way to make large images of even the tiniest objects. One uses a photocopy machine, repeatedly.

The technique was introduced in an article in the March/April 1995 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research.

Not Only Assholes Drive Mercedes [research study]

February 12th, 2020

Evidence suggests that one can accurately judge a person by seeing what kind of car the person drives, at least in Finland, suggests a new study.

The study is: “Not Only Assholes Drive Mercedes. Besides Disagreeable Men, Also Conscientious People Drive High‐Status Cars,” Jan Erik Lönnqvist, Ville‐Juhani Ilmarinen, and Sointu Leikas, International Journal of Psychology, epub 2019. (Thanks to Kristine Danowski for bringing this to our attention.)

The authors, at the University of Helsinki, explain:

the results can be interpreted from the perspective of self‐congruity theory, according to which consumers purchase brands that best reflect their actual or ideal personalities. An important implication is that the association between driving a high‐status car and unethical driving behaviour may not, as is commonly argued, be due to the corruptive effects of wealth. Rather, certain personality traits, such as low agreeableness, may be associated with both unethical driving behaviour and with driving a high‐status car.

BONUS: Here are some advertisements for Mercedes cars:


February mini-AIR: Felons’ footware, etc

February 10th, 2020

The February issue of mini-AIR is out, with these items:

  • 02 Imminent Events
  • 03 IN THE MAGAZINE ITSELF: Ig then Psych
  • 04 Stuck on a Shoe
  • 05 Limerick Challenge: Felons’ Footware
  • 06 Perspicacity Winner (to last month’s Research Limerick Challenge)
  • 07 MORE IMPROBABLE: Madman, Egg, Sneezing, etc.
  • 08 Temporal Landscape of Shoes

Read it online. And/or subscribe (it’s free), and get mini-AIR emailed to you every month.

What is mini-AIR? mini-AIR is the tiny supplement of overflow detritus from the actual magazine Annals of Improbable Research.


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