MetaFilter callout by Randall Munroe March 17, 2015 10:31 PM   Subscribe

The xkcd author mentions an old AskMe in this week's What If?
posted by Johnny Wallflower to MetaFilter-Related at 10:31 PM (57 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Malamanteau.
posted by unliteral at 11:07 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


He's kind of like the Cecil Adams of the early 21st Century.
posted by Nevin at 1:05 AM on March 18, 2015 [5 favorites]



It's hard to find good numbers on how much force it takes to tear off a person's arm.
He says that like it's a bad thing.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:56 AM on March 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Not the first time in the last 3 months

He's watching us. Always watching.
posted by phunniemee at 5:44 AM on March 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


double block and bleed: "He says that like it's a bad thing."

He specifically footnotes: "Which is probably a good thing, to be honest."
posted by Chrysostom at 6:39 AM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Holy crap I just discovered that he lives in the Boston area. *swoon*
posted by Melismata at 8:26 AM on March 18, 2015


xkcd promotes an unattainable body image.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:31 AM on March 18, 2015 [23 favorites]


This sort of thing happens more often than you might think!
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:01 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm waiting for him to use this question.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:38 AM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Is he perhaps mefi's own?
posted by Iteki at 10:45 AM on March 18, 2015


How many people think I'm actually Randall Munroe writing about myself in third person?
posted by maxsparber at 10:49 AM on March 18, 2015


Is he perhaps mefi's own?

He has an account, although that account's only activity has been to give two very thorough answers in AskMe, years apart.
posted by metaBugs at 10:53 AM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


That qualifies.
posted by Melismata at 10:58 AM on March 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


gingerbeer: I'm waiting for him to use this question.

I think we could start sending him questions about unresolved hypothetical inquiries like that one, in the hopes we can retroactively mark the questions "solved" and give credit to one of MetaFilter's Own.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:02 AM on March 18, 2015


I thought I saw that flag pole maneuver in a Warner Bros cartoon one Saturday morning. It is always the second time when they are pulled back by gravity that the uh oh happens.
posted by 724A at 1:05 PM on March 18, 2015


I'm envisioning the old cartoon of the cooked chicken and Elmer Fudd tearing off the drumstick, but my upper arm feels weird. I don't like this feeling at all. I think it's anxiety but very tingly in the socket part.
posted by discopolo at 1:16 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Man, I got curious about this a couple months ago (prompted by newspaper Spiderman) and found it really disappointing how little actual data was out there in a place I could find. I even tried to get my medical librarian wife to help me, and we found some promising studies about dismembering force in car crashes (my google history probably has me on every watch list) but almost all of those are about shearing, not pulling. My hunch is that it's been a lower research priority because if you're getting to the point where you're subjected to a force even close enough to rip an arm off, you're probably beyond fucked anyway.
posted by klangklangston at 1:27 PM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think Randall is missing the boat on this one. In the literature, all accounts of the life-saving maneuver in question involve superheroes, who doubtless have much stronger muscles, tendons, and ligaments than even Olympic gymnasts.

The real point to consider is the strength of the flagpole and its connection to the building. Can it support the impact of a 200 pound spandex-clad superhuman traveling roughly 124 mph? If so, what sort of material would give it the needed spring to help fling our intrepid hero back roof-ward? Do we need new building codes that make flagpoles strong enough to act as safety devices? Alternately, should we have breakaway flagpoles to discourage masked vigilantism?
posted by tdismukes at 1:47 PM on March 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


One comment deleted, it's fun that xkcd linked to us, we can enjoy the nice thing without out-of-left-field gross jokes.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:58 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is interesting. I know (and seen) people who've lost limbs or parts of limbs in oil field safety accidents when they caught their hands/arms/legs in equipment or cables, not in a slicing kind of way but more of a crush kind of way. Which I guess would be shearing.

But I've also seen/know guys who've lost part of their limbs due to pressure. In all cases, they happened to be in the right spot at the right time when a highly pressured liquid or gas escaped - well blowouts, cutting into a pressurized pipe, some kind of valve problem, pipeline ruptures. Often they themselves were not in the direct path but were struck by something flying. In some of the accidents people closer were killed. The non-killing accidents were all less than 1000 PSI. (I don't know anyone who's been struck with 1000+ PSI who has lived, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything because of where they were struck.) Would that count in this hypothetical situation, or would that be more akin to slicing?

But you could easily get force if you have the PSI and area of the part of the limb that was struck. Off to look at OSHA reports!
posted by barchan at 2:01 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, if you're interested in tracking this down through OSHA, let me tell you that even when I was looking up what I thought would be the most likely source of tension dismemberment (I can go back and try to look up the terms, but I ended up doing a lot of "tension failure strength" for the muscles and tendons of the shoulder), lathes and other rotating implements, and I couldn't find any that were directly on point, and they tend not to have actual measurements (at least that I've seen) on that level.

It's getting to the point that I'm seriously considering writing off to Mythbusters. Maybe pretend I heard someone saying that a rack pulled a guy apart.
posted by klangklangston at 9:00 PM on March 18, 2015


Surely those fighter pilot studies have something on this?
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:00 PM on March 18, 2015


So today I learned that a PSI of 12 is enough to force out an eyeball.

I've been going through OSHA reports for 2 hours and now I'm incredibly depressed.
posted by barchan at 9:44 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Depressed? Aren't there any reports that say stuff like "this workplace is very safe and plus they have free bagels on tuesdays"?
posted by aubilenon at 10:15 PM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


but my dad died of bagels at work
posted by klangklangston at 10:27 PM on March 18, 2015 [17 favorites]


I GUESS THEY SHOULD HAVE MADE THEY MORE SAFE AND PUT LOX ON THEM

(Sorry. I tried really hard to not tell that joke, but I failed)
posted by aubilenon at 10:38 PM on March 18, 2015 [32 favorites]


According to the opening of Foucault's Discipline and Punish, it takes more force to pull man's limb off than a decent draft horse can muster. (A horse harnessed to each of the condemned's limbs were unable to carry out the sentence, despite much encouragement. Eventually it was done, but only after the man's tendons and tissues had been hacked through.)

Just as a data point.
posted by notyou at 10:47 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This thread is the biggest bummer I've read all week :(
posted by univac at 1:05 AM on March 19, 2015


Really? I'm actually encouraged to learn that horses can't tear my limbs off.
posted by maxsparber at 5:30 AM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


The real point to consider is the strength of the flagpole and its connection to the building. Can it support the impact of a 200 pound spandex-clad superhuman traveling roughly 124 mph? If so, what sort of material would give it the needed spring to help fling our intrepid hero back roof-ward? Do we need new building codes that make flagpoles strong enough to act as safety devices? Alternately, should we have breakaway flagpoles to discourage masked vigilantism?

I suggest that as the flagpole is hollow, it should contain some sort of viscoelastic cord that is attached to both the building and the inside of the pole. The pole should then be designed to break away fairly easily. You grab it on the way by, it snaps off, but now it's a handle to hang onto the cord with. The cord stretches and slows your fall to non-lethal speeds before you hit the ground. Something like a bungee cord with less "spring" would do it.
posted by FishBike at 6:32 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Or it just changes the arc of your fall so that you now smack into the building at 100 mph.

I'm ditching the flagpole plan and trying to aim for a circus tent. Worked for Jaws in James Bond.
posted by maxsparber at 6:34 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Clearly, I am That Guy this week, but - the horse thing is also specifically mentioned in TFA.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:46 AM on March 19, 2015


I just had a flashback to my childhood after reading this thread. Turns out, my mother, a diminutive woman of about 5'1" and 98 pounds used to tell her sons that if we didn't clean our rooms, she would tear us limb from limb. Ha! She can't do that. Not even a horse can.
posted by 724A at 6:50 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Am I the only one who noticed the question just says the flagpole is "partway" down the side of the building? It could be almost at the top and then you wouldn't rip your arms off. Everyone's such a pessimist.
posted by ODiV at 8:03 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


A horse may not, but a rig drive shaft, cathead (winch shaft) and a pump jack should as hell can tear a person's arm off. Sometimes both arms. (why you no put relevant mechanical details in your reports OSHA grrrr)

So if anyone wants to become a medieval torturer in the limb tearing off business, dispense with the horses, the rack, and the hacking away, and just use torque.

(Klangklangston, I found the keywords "amputation" and "amputated" very useful - although OSHA does't seem to have any standard keyword practices.)
posted by barchan at 8:29 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


So if anyone wants to become a medieval torturer in the limb tearing off business, dispense with the horses, the rack, and the hacking away, and just use torque.

I recall a news story a few years ago about a 10-11 year old kid who got his arms ripped off waterskiing behind a jetski on Lake Butte de Morts near Oshkosh. So, yeah.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:10 AM on March 19, 2015


I think the flagpole thing would make a great segment of Mythbusters, as I'm positive this gag was used at least once in a Fleischer-era Popeye cartoon. (I was going to say they could do a whole Popeye-themed episode as a way to promote the upcoming Genndy Tartakovsky animated movie, but I see that project has apparently been spinach-canned.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:44 AM on March 19, 2015


So today I learned that a PSI of 12 is enough to force out an eyeball.

On the upside, after that's happened you can wrap your optic nerve around a tree limb in order to break your fall.
posted by flabdablet at 10:20 AM on March 19, 2015


so it's going to be up to 100 times worse.

It can always be worse.
posted by arcticseal at 11:44 AM on March 19, 2015


I think some information about this was covered in the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. There was a section on how cadavers are used in testing automobile safety and some numbers were given, I think. Can't find my copy to verify, but fairly sure.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:52 AM on March 19, 2015


I am disappointed with the lack of reference to "See you at the party, Richter!" in this whatif.
posted by bfranklin at 12:05 PM on March 19, 2015


To be pedantic (hm... too much of my online activity starts with that phrase recently) the elevator that removed Richter's arms exerted a shear stress, not a tensile stress.
posted by Jpfed at 12:43 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who noticed the question just says the flagpole is "partway" down the side of the building? It could be almost at the top and then you wouldn't rip your arms off. Everyone's such a pessimist.

Yes, this was my thought. As phrased, the question would seem to have survivable solutions. That is, if you start out close enough to the top of the building and to the flagpole you're going to swing around you needn't have reached a very high speed by the time you grab the flagpole. Given what we know about olympic gymnasts (who can definitely swing around a bar so as to end up higher than the bar) it seems like there must be some sets of circumstances in which this works.

The only part of this that feels like a slight cheat is the "you angle your descent" which certainly sounds more like a sky-diver-at-speed maneuver--but even a gymnast falling towards a bar has to "angle their descent" correctly.
posted by yoink at 1:18 PM on March 19, 2015


I found the keywords "amputation" and "amputated" very useful

Well, I'm glad I this post contributed to barchan's getting a new hobby, if nothing else.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:17 PM on March 19, 2015


Ha, it was sadly already relevant to my interests, Johnny Wallflower. I give a lot of presentations on work safety and think about falls a lot. That plus pure curiosity because it's an interesting question.

A hobby would be if I called the American Mountaineering Museum to see if any mountain climbers have ripped off their arms trying to grab a ledge or catch themselves with their ice axes. Which I haven't. And I'm not going to. Though I did think about it.
posted by barchan at 2:35 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'll give "amputation" and "amputated" a try. Hopefully I can find some decent case studies that give at least a ball park since the other path ends with me being perp walked out of a morgue with a tensometer and a crank winch.
posted by klangklangston at 4:57 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's an easy way to figure this out. Does anyone want to volunteer for tensile load failure testing? Just raise your arm if you're interested.

Hmm. Nobody?

This might be harder than I thought.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:34 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm actually encouraged to learn that horses can't tear my limbs off

It might depend on the horse.

How much weight can a heavy horse pull?
Tremendous amounts – a draft horse can pull 4 times their body weight in dead-weight! At the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado, a team of two belgian horses weighing 4,800 lbs pulled 17,000 lbs over 7 feet. At the Iowa State fair, a team of one Belgian and one Percheron weighing 3,600 lbs pulled 14,600 lbs the complete distance of 15 ft. Do the math and these horses are pulling up to 4 times their body weight,
posted by BlueHorse at 7:38 PM on March 19, 2015


Actually, it would probably work best to anchor the other arm to something with no give. A horse on each arm doesn't allow for the big dig in to get the proper jerk.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:44 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


use a damn parachute!
posted by clavdivs at 9:52 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


That would be really dangerous. You might well avoid tearing your arms off, but swinging around the flagpole on parachute shrouds carries a high risk of garrotting.
posted by flabdablet at 2:32 AM on March 20, 2015


It might depend on the horse.

I suspect how evil the horse is might have an effect.
posted by maxsparber at 8:03 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can't you just hitch a bunch (team?) of draft horses together to get this done?
posted by Area Man at 9:42 AM on March 20, 2015


The horses will have to volunteer; there hasn't been a draft since Nam.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:34 PM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yes, there's been a real draught of horses, lately.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:37 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Deploy Unikorns.
posted by clavdivs at 3:03 PM on March 20, 2015


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