Why Cats Land on Their Feet: And 76 Other Physical Paradoxes and Puzzles

By Mark Levi | Go to book overview

13
THE FLIPPING CAT AND THE SPINNING EARTH

13.1 How Do Cats Flip to Land on Their Feet?

A cat released with his feet pointing up needs only a fraction of a second to point his feet down. How does he do it, with nothing to push off of?1 Some people say that the cat does it by spinning the tail. On closer inspection this turns out to be false. As an experimental fact, tailless cats are just as good as the tailed ones in flipping over. Alternatively, a theoretical argument shows that to accomplish a 180° flip in a fraction of a second, the cat would have to spin its tail so fast that its tip would have to break the sound barrier, or to come close. This would create a sonic boom, or a loud whistling at the very least. And the enormous centrifugal force would cause a part of the tail to tear off and become a deadly projectile, almost like a bullet. So the [tail] theory quickly flunks the sanity test.

What makes the cat's achievement surprising is that his spin, having started at zero, must remain zero, given that no

1 It is not hard to do a similar experiment on oneself, by sitting in a swivel chair and trying to turn around without touching the ground.

-142-

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Why Cats Land on Their Feet: And 76 Other Physical Paradoxes and Puzzles
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - Fun with Physical Paradoxes, Puzzles, and Problems 1
  • 2 - Outer Space Paradoxes 5
  • 3 - Paradoxes with Spinning Water 17
  • 4 - Floating and Diving Paradoxes 28
  • 5 - Flows and Jets 39
  • 6 - Moving Experiences- Bikes, Gymnastics, Rockets 57
  • 7 - Paradoxes with the Coriolis Force 77
  • 8 - Centrifugal Paradoxes 84
  • 9 - Gyroscopic Paradoxes 104
  • 10 - Some Hot Stuff and Cool Things 117
  • 11 - Two Perpetual Motion Machines 127
  • 12 - Sailing and Gliding 132
  • 13 - The Flipping Cat and the Spinning Earth 142
  • 14 - Miscellaneous 146
  • Appendix 161
  • Bibliography 187
  • Index 189
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