Help Me Name My...
Myth: A penny dropped off the Empire State building can kill a person.
Hell yeah it will kill somone. I've heard it will total a truck, even!
  • 1 penny
  • 1 tall building
  • Couple of jackasses

    The first thing we needed was the Empire State Building. The thing is, despite the fact that 2/3 of us live in NYC, there's no way any of us will pay the fee to go to the top. That's a tourist thing to do. Instead, we took a trip to Seattle to visit the Space Needle:

    Another advantage of going to Seattle to do this experiment is that there's no way we'd get away with throwing things off the Empire State Building. All the liberals (read: commies) in Seattle don't care at all about homeland security at all, and will let anyone throw anything off of towers (Note: The preceding sentence does not necessarily reflect the political beliefs of the entire ATF team).

    Anyway, we figured the Space Needle was pretty tall - cetainly tall enough to kill a person with a penny. And besides - we didn't actually want to kill anyone. We figured that if we used the smaller building and just hurt someone badly then we could extrapolate the damage that the real Empire State Building would cause.

    The next thing to find out was exactly how tall the Space Needle is, and how that compares to the Empire State Building. Surprisingly, the Empire State Building is quite low on the list of tallest buildings in the world. The talled is the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, stading at 508 meters (1,657 ft). Tied for second are the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, which measure 452 meters (1,483 feet).

    The Empire State Building comes in at 9th place, standing 381 meters (1,250 feet) tall.
     Building, cityYearStoriesHeight
    1.Taipei 101, Taipei, Taiwan20041015091,670
    2.Petronas Tower 1, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia1998884521,483
    3.Petronas Tower 2, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia1998884521,483
    4.Sears Tower, Chicago19741104421,450
    5.Jin Mao Building, Shanghai 1999884211,381
    6.Two International Finance Centre, Hong Kong2003884151,362
    7.CITIC Plaza, Guangzhou, China1996803911,283
    8.Shun Hing Square, Shenzhen, China1996693841,260
    9.Empire State Building, New York19311023811,250

    The Space Needle is a mere 184 meters (605 feet). That makes it approximately 1/2 the height of the Empire State Building.

    To get an idea of this ratio, it's a lot like Ben and Kennyb standing next to one another.

    Note: Kennyb (left) shown here on a stepping stool

    The next thing we needed was a penny. That wasn't too hard to come by. There are around 140 billion of them in circulation.

    We found a rather average looking one, shown here next to a 50 cent piece (note: the 50 cent piece is not particularly relevant to this story, but we just wanted to give a shout out to a) our favorite rapper and b) reminisce about the glory days when we had a president that wasn't a complete travesty (Note: The preceding sentence does not necessarily reflect the political beliefs of the entire ATF team)).

    But I digress. Why couldn't we just do the math ourselves and figure out whether or not it would kill someone? I mean, we're all engineers. Kinematics equations are trivial for us! So why not just list a bunch of equations? That's a great question! And of course, there are a number of reasons. The most obvious of which is that web pages filled with formulas are generally not funny. (The obvious exception is Mathematical Pi, by Ton and KennyF). (Oh, that, and the integral of 3d(r^2) where d is a constant. Hahaha!!! Hardy Har Har!!!)

    But once again, I digress. We did actually make it to the top of the Space Needle. We were there with Allison visiting Kenny's friend Dave, who you might remember as the photographer of the Astor Cube Prank.

    Here's Kennyb looking through one of those telescopes or periscopes or whatever you call them. Wanna hear something creepy? Dave (who we were visiting) lives in Seattle. We could actually see in him bedroom window through the telescope! Weird huh? I wonder if perverts tend to get jobs working at the tops of national monuments? Are all docents perverts? Or are all perverts docents? Ton did spent a summer working in a Science Center with 7 year olds...

    Alright already - on to the myth busting! Here's Kennyb with the penny in question:

    Next we had to take a break and get a cup of coffee. I don't know what it is about Seattle, but they love their coffee. And I don't mean in a yeah-yeah-seattle-coffee-sure kind of way. I mean it in a driving-through-bumblefuck-trailer-park-middle-of-nowhere-no-electricity-and-passing-a-drive-through-espresso-shack kind of crazy way.

    We then got into a pretty serious debate about the proper method of releasing the penny. Do you just let it go? Throw it up? Throw it down? Flip it? Toss it? After much arguing, we remembered that the myth itself refers to a penny "dropped" from the Empire State building. So I don't know why there was really any question or debate in the first place. Probably just to prolong both this myth and the time period before we potentially killed some poor washingtonian. (interesting side-note: people from michigan are called michiganders. how about that?)

    Kennyb ready to drop the penny:

    The penny in mid-flight:

    A picture of Dave trying to unsuccessfully spot the penny on its way down:

    (Hey kids! Dave couldn't spot the penny. But can you spot the split infinitive?!)


    We couldn't see where the penny landed from where we were standing. So we rushed down to the bottom as fast as the elevator would take us (we actually asked how fast the elevator was travelling, but that number eludes me at the moment. Nor do you care).

    We got to the bottom and couldn't find the penny, any sign damage, and certainly no dead people. We asked at the customer service center if anyone was rushed to the hospital in the past few minutes, and they looked at us like we were a bunch of loonies.

    Potentially it just landed and someone picked it up? (How's this for irony: If the penny landed on heads and someone picked it up, it's their lucky day. But if it landed on somebody's head, it's their unlucky day. Go figure.)

    The other option is that it got so hot when it re-entered the atmosphere that it just melted. (It doesn't take much - just 700 degrees Kelvin to melt a penny.)

    Anyway, I guess we'll never know. Or we'll just agree to disagree. Either way, our results are inconclusive. But we'll publish anyway - publish or perish as the saying goes, right? Doesn't matter if you have any real results!

    Cost Analysis:

    Item Cost
    2 Plane Tickets to Seattle $300.00 (Yeah Jet Blue!)
    Ticket to the Space Needle $20.00 x 4 = $80.00
    Penny $0.01
    Starbucks at the top $7
    This Experiment Worthless

    P.S. The best part of the whole Seattle trip was going to the Pike Place fish market where we got to see real live dead halibut! Sweeet!

    It was cool that this time they let us take pictures

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