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The Breakdown: Tongue Deadlift

Thomas Blackthorne has performed numerous impossible acts over the years, including swallowing swords and even a jackhammer, so the idea of lifting 25 pounds with his tongue probably didn't intimidate him all that much. The tongue itself doesn't actually look like it's doing the lifting; it's not like he's doing bicep curls here. To actually raise the weight off the ground, Blackthorne appears to be engaging his lower back muscles, keeping his arms out to the side to stay balanced. The main job of his tongue, therefore, is to stretch and hold without snapping. (Which would make for some nasty video.) The tongue itself is mostly muscle. Some of those muscles are charged with altering its shape, others with keeping it attached to the floor of the mouth and back of the throat. Both sets are probably stretched to near the tearing point here. After looping a hook through his tongue, then attaching the chain to the hook, Blackthorne lifts the box, and the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles, which anchor the tongue, stretch but hold tight. Of course this should go without saying, but we'll throw it ou there anyway: Please don't try this at home.—Gregory Mone

The Breakdown: Chugging Water at Record Speed

Talk about thirsty. The water-gulping feat in the trick shown here doesn't quite demonstrate Kobayashi-level skill, but it's still a shock to watch. In a tremendously un-scientific test, we determined that it would normally take about 12 seconds for the water to empty out of a similarly-sized bottle held upside down. This drinking champion does it in under five.

The plastic bottle is critical. If he were just holding it upside down, gravity would be doing most of the work, and that's just not fast enough. Instead, he squeezes the plastic bottle, forcing half the water out. Next, he wisely pauses for a moment there in the middle of his chug, allowing air to creep up through the water and into the space between the new, lower water level and the interior bottom of the bottle. Without that, the pressure exerted would be too great - he wouldn't have been able to overcome it and suck down that last bit of water. So he lets the air flow up, lets the bottle expand and regain its normal, uncompressed state, and then crushes it again, forcing that final enormous gulp down his throat. A champion indeed.—Gregory Mone

The Breakdown: Evel Knievel

Famed stuntman Evel Knievel died last week at the age of 69. The renowned daredevil, who said he had 15 major operations to repair broken bones and other traumatic injuries, first became famous by jumping 151 feet over the fountains outside Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, finishing with the fantastic crash seen in the clip here.

He once said that landing was the hardest part of his jumps, and that's obviously evident here. He gets the slope of the takeoff ramp right, and accelerates enough to carry him across to the landing ramp, but then loses his balance. Unlike the practioners of parkour, who enter into tight rolls to absorb the shock of landing, Knievel flips over and lands fairly flat on his back. He's just moving too fast. After this initial crush, all that momentum he built up on the bike continues to carry him forward, slamming his head into the pavement. Watching this video, it's amazing to think that he lived as long as he did. There are several great obituaries honoring his amazing and thoroughly unique life. My favorite quote: “I knew I could draw a big crowd by jumping over weird stuff.”-Gregory Mone

The Breakdown: Urban Obstacle Courses

If you saw the most recent James Bond movie, Casino Royale, you might recognize the sport of parkour. It involves amazingly acrobatic, spontaneous physical feats, often performed in an urban setting. And although it looks like it's straight out of the superhuman stuff of The Matrix or Spiderman, it is very real. Its practitioners leap from rooftop to rooftop, scale walls and backflip over obstacles.

Watching a clip like this one, it's tempting to think there's some deft camera work at play, or some skilled CGI action, but these people are really just taking advantage of basic physics. They're taught to respect the laws of motion: They often roll when landing on a hard surface to reduce the impact on their legs and back. They take advantage of momentum, too, using body movements to transfer horizontal force into vertical when switching from running towards to scaling a wall. Similarly, they kick off walls to get a little higher and perhaps reach a ledge they couldn't have grabbed with a straight jump. Naturally, physics also gets them back now and then. Though you're not likely to catch too many slip-ups on the popular web videos or TV commercials featuring parkour and its variations, these guys are human: Friction and gravity don't always cooperate, and they do fall now and then.—Gregory Mone

The Breakdown: Holding Your Breath Underwater

Please, please, please don't try this at home. In this clip, a Lithuanian brother-sister team, both illusionists, goes for a few breath-holding records—the significant one appears to be thirteen minutes and 42 seconds at the start. To hold your breath for a long time, you need to slow your heartbeat significantly. If your heart's not working as hard, then it's not going to burn up the limited supply of oxygen in your blood as quickly. In the same way, the less you do while holding your breath, the better. Eventually, when things start getting ugly, the heart stops sending as much oxygen to the extremities, and focuses on keeping the vital organs stocked with blood. Obviously this pair is keeping these points in mind: You can see that the twins are completely relaxed, their faces not even moving, throughout most of the video.

And the chains? Sorry, can't make sense of those. In the end, the brother appears to hold his breath for more than 15 minutes, and the sister stays under for just a few minutes less. Apparently the pair inhaled pure oxygen before the start, which disqualifies them from the official free-diving record, but surely someone's got to recognize the feat. Then again, who knows what really went on. They are, after all, illusionists.—Gregory Mone

The Breakdown: Singing Tesla Coils

What we're seeing here are two solid-state Tesla Coils, each running in the 41 kHz range, performing a little concert thanks to some ingenious electrical work. The coils, which have been nicknamed the Zeusaphone, were developed by Tesla enthusiasts Jeff Larson and Steve Ward.

On his site, Larson explains that a particular version of this type of coil can be good for audio modulation because it produces several hundred sparks per second. The apparently continuous crack of light we see is actually a series of brief sparks. Larson and Ward figured out a way to modulate this frequency digitally, and get the sparks to crank out the sound waves or musical notes they want.

This concert features "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies," but they've also done the theme from Super Mario Brothers and others. In terms of audio quality it doesn't quite measure up, but when you're talking pure spectacle, this has to be tops. You wonder if Tesla himself would be proud.—Gregory Mone

The Breakdown: World-Record Trampoline Jump

Even Michael Jordan would have to be impressed with this dunk. The athlete (?) in this very popular video clip apparently breaks the world-record for a trampoline-aided, long-distance dunk, soaring more than 20 feet before slamming it through. That's outside the college three-point line, MJ.

The secret to his success, according to physicist Len Fisher, an Ig Nobel winner who runs a website focused on the science of everyday life, is the leap forward towards the front of the trampoline, right before he flies to the hoop. He's not merely closing the gap here. In the middle of the trampoline, he's stretching all the springs on the outside equally, but once he moves to the edge, he really only stretches the springs closest to him. "The closer to the edge," Fisher says, "the more effective the recoil is going to be." And since he tilts his body forward, that recoil throws him horizontally.

The amazing thing, Fisher adds, is that he doesn't slip when he pulls off this switch between vertical and horizontal motion. You'd need incredibly high friction between your feet and the trampoline. Fisher wonders if he had some sort of resin that gave him a better grip. And the look of tension on the face of that guy with the glasses? Sorry, we can't explain that one. But it might just be the highlight of the whole clip.—Gregory Mone

The Breakdown: Indoor Tornado

Apparently classic cars aren't enough of a draw anymore. The Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany turned its smoke ventilation system into a spectacle, generating what the Guinness World Records organization is calling the world's largest artificial tornado. (See the November issue of Popular Science for an article about an engineer who thinks these man-made vortexes could be used to generate electricity.)

Though towering, the twister probably isn't dangerous. It's not going to suck up any bystanders, or cars. To create the effect, the museum's designers set up a disco smoke machine, then activated a set of 144 nozzles on the ceiling of the building's enormous atrium. The ventilation system, designed for emergencies, sucks the disco smoke up from below. To produce a spinning vortex, however, they blew air in from the sides, forcing the smoke to swirl.

The process took seven minutes, but the result, seen here, certainly looks capable of drawing crowds. Or making them run for their lives.—Gregory Mone

The Breakdown: Fast Freezing Beer

This little party trick is guaranteed to impress, and you don't need any special materials, just a decent freezer and a bottle of beer. Emory University physicist Sidney Perkowitz, the author of the forthcoming book Hollywood Science, says the phenomenon at work here is most likely supercooling - a process by which water can remain in a liquid state below its freezing point. It's a delicate balance, though, as the water will turn to ice given the slightest shock.

If supercooling is the culprit, the hidden scientist in this video most likely left the bottle in the freezer long enough for it to drop down below the freezing point - some other sites recommend about 30 minutes. Next, the shock of slamming the bottle on the table jolts the beer, and this added energy forces it to crystallize into ice.

Of course, it's hard to say for sure what's happening in this clip, and the many other frozen beer related videos posted on YouTube, because we don't have all the information. The best way to test the idea would be to try it yourself. I'd do the same, but I don't believe in waste.—Gregory Mone

The Breakdown: Burning Rubber

This extended rubber-burning session was performed in honor of the classic Burt Reynolds movie Smokey & The Bandit, but NASCAR drivers are also prone to peeling out after a victory. So, what's at work here? We asked University of Nebraska physicist Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, the author of a forthcoming book called The Physics of Nascar, to tease out the science in the clip, and she says it's basically a big, loud, smoke-filled demonstration of the law of conservation of energy.

Normally when you step on the gas in a rear-wheel drive car, the front tires roll, and the car goes forward. Here, though, the driver also keeps one foot on the brake. The front end of the car is trying to stay in place by keeping its wheels locked, while the back end is trying to drive forward. Some of the energy the engine produces still goes into moving the car around that parking lot, but a lot of it is also lost to sound and smoke.

The asphalt itself eats away at the tires like sandpaper smoothing out a piece of wood. "You're seeing the person burning off their tires, basically," Leslie-Pelecky says. While this display is pretty impressive, NASCAR drivers produce even more smoke than this adventurous driver because their tires don't have tread. Since the tires are smooth, there's more material in contact with the track, so they burn more rubber, faster.

The final lesson? "If you try this at home," Leslie-Pelecky says, "You'll probably need a new set of tires."—Gregory Mone

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