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Science finally proves cartoons aren't realistic

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I cannot tell you how happy I am that the scientific community has stopped wasting time on trivial things such as killer diseases and is now focusing its mental energy on issues that really matter to everyday folk like you and I.

For instance, have you ever found yourself sitting around and wondering how cartoon legend Fred Flintstone, patriarch of the "modern Stone Age family," is able to stop his caveman car using nothing but his feet?

No? Well, neither have I, but that is probably because you and I are not scientists with massive brains and, as far as I can tell, way too much time on our hands.

Even when I was a not-overly-bright kid, I didn't have too much trouble differentiating between (a) the cartoon universe unfolding on my TV set every Saturday morning and (b) the real world wherein the first law of physics states that if someone drops a piano on your head, the result will most likely be extremely disgusting.

But it's different for scientific minds such as Kyle Hill, who wrote a scholarly and entertaining blog for Scientific American, wherein he took a serious look at what would happen to Fred Flintstone, in the real world, if he actually used his calloused caveman feet to halt the forward momentum of his rock-mobile, which essentially was two rock rollers -- like granite rolling pins on steroids -- held together by logs.

Employing the scientific method, Hill calculated that Fred, a cartoon character who exists on a diet of Brontosaurus Burgers, weighs in at a hefty 95 kilograms (210 pounds) whereas his foot-powered cave car tips the scales of science at 865 kilograms and can travel at a top speed of about 25 cartoon miles per hour.

In the cartoon universe, Hill points out, Fred's famed feet are indestructible and by slamming them into the road he can bring the rock-mobile to a stop in about eight metres (or 26 feet).

In the real world -- get ready for a surprise -- the story would be a little bit different for our animated hero.

"The force of friction on his feet would be twice the bite force of a large American alligator, so I don't think his toes would take it too well," Hill points out on the Scientific American website. "To put it another way, it would be like standing on a belt sander with an adolescent African elephant on your back."

To recap: We have a very smart real-life researcher who understands science explaining that a cartoon character's feet would burst into flames if he stopped his cartoon car using his unprotected feet as brakes.

Or in Hill's words: "When a material can't handle the friction, the result is catastrophic heating and disintegration. In all likelihood, Fred Flintstone's feet after braking would look like airplane landing gear when it can't handle the friction."

While this is not good news for Wilma and Pebbles, science shouldn't stop here. There are many more cartoon questions that need to go under the microscope, such as what would happen, in reality, if a clever roadrunner obtained, say, an anvil from the Acme Anvil Co. and dropped it on top of a hungry but dumb coyote that had been pursuing him for no apparent reason in every single episode?

Or what if that same coyote ran off a steep cliff and then just stood there, hanging in mid-air, possibly doing his taxes, possibly reading a library book, but definitely refusing to look down? Would he just float there, blatantly defying the laws of gravity, until he finally glanced down at his feet, at which point he would plummet like a (bad word) stone, leaving a cartoon-style coyote-shaped hole in the ground, but sustaining absolutely no life-threatening injuries? Is that what would happen in real life?

I'd love to tell you the answers, but I can't do that, because, even though I have seen almost every episode of Pinky and the Brain, I'm not a scientist.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 6, 2013 A2

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