Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fox Tossing and Other Forgotten And Dangerous Sports, Pastimes, and Games

This book was a Christmas gift from my daughter, and was so strange that I read it first.  First, what is fox tossing?  Picture a bunch of titled European nobility in the so-called Age of Enlightenment, a huge slingshot, and an absolutely terrified fox doing a furry version of an egg tossing contest!

There are many other sports that are so cruel like head-butting cats and octopus wrestling that I am glad they are gone.  New technologies were also hybridized on to existing sports, resulting in auto polo (imagine demolition derby with mallets), auto golf and a variant of golf where the first stroke was a throw from an airplane with ground players taking over.  Some variants never took off, like auto bullfighting, because the bulls were not stupid enough to chase a matador in a Model T.

One sport that tempts me is one that first occurred to me while backpacking in the Sierras when I was about 11 with my sister and cousin.  The 20 pounds I was aring seemed absurd.  I was a wimp.  My cousin had just returned from an all-expenses paid tour of the Vietnamese highlands, and 45 pounds was nothing to him, especially because there were no boobytraps or VC.

I remember thinking that inflating a backpack with helium would make this easier, but the volume of helium to produce lift is really quite large.  The sport was balloon jumping.  Imagine that instead of weighing 150 pounds, you are wearing a harness attached to a balloon with 140 pounds of lift.  How high can you jump if you only weigh 10 pounds?  Calculate the volume required, and you will see why hydrogen was preferred (1/2 the molecular weight; twice the lift) until the first balloon jumper hit the power lines.  Some jumpers apparently had too much lift for their weight and flew off until the wind took them away.

A very odd and entertaining book by someone with a most British name: Edward Brooke-Hitching.


  1. But Hydrogen is a dimer, and Helium is a monomer. Hydrogen does not have twice the lift of Helium. It is slightly better (IIRC about 10%), but not twice.

  2. Hydrogen's atomic weight is ~1; molecular weight is therefore ~2. Helium's atomic weight is ~4.

  3. Hydrogen can't have double the lift of helium, because lift depends on the difference in molecular weight between the inside and outside. Outside air is mostly nitrogen gas (28) and oxygen (32), average molecular weight 29. It doesn't matter much if inside is helium (4) or hydrogen (2).

    Helium is -25 compared to air; hydrogen is -27. A zero molecular weight gas, (or a balloon that could somehow hold a vacuum and maintain its volume), would be -29. That's not even a 20% improvement on lift versus helium.