Scientific Inquiry and the Minds of Bored Teenage Boys

Very few productive things come out of the minds of idle teenage boys. However, every once in a while they are able to think of an incredible solution to boredom. At one point, I was the recipient of one of those ideas. Or at least, the beneficiary of an excellent idea by one of my comrades.

Friends of mine had fortuitously come across the hood of their grandparents’ minivan. Why it was not currently attached to their vehicle, or whether it had been acquired legally, is unknown to me and beyond the scope of this study. What is essential is to realize that three teenage boys now had in their possession a fiberglass minivan hood.

Another ingredient to the melting pot of ingenuity was a working, fully-fueled, all-terrain vehicle. The ATV and the car hood by themselves kept things fairly compact, until we added a third component, that of a waterski rope found hanging in the garage. At this point, as they say in the south, “We were cooking with peanut oil.”

The final quandaries to solve were 1) where to mix this concoction for its full effect, and 2) when to engage in the experiment. These were easily determined by the weather and time of day themselves. Behind my friends’ home lay a large, frozen, Minnesotan lake, cleared from snow except for the drifts which had piled up after steady January winds. It is upon the ice that we would conduct our scientific experiment. And the convenience of the nighttime sky would keep our scientific findings hidden until we were able to properly publish them for review, roughly seventeen years later.

Our primary interest lay in discovering what affect centrifugal force exerts upon two human bodies as they careen over the ice in a circle with a radius of roughly a thirty foot waterski rope? Additional points of observation would soon be made about each of Newton’s three laws of motion. For good measure, we also made observations about the social dynamics between the driver and the hood pilots, and even between the hood pilots themselves when placed in stressful situations.

The initial tests included finding the best way to affix the tow rope to the ATV, and also how to maintain a good grip at high speeds. While there were some early disagreements between the driver and the pilots, including some accusations of malicious intent on behalf of the driver, the tests were able to be run in a rather straightforward fashion.

Once the mechanics of the operation were established, the driver began to test a variety of maneuvers in order to better evaluate the physical and mental stability of the pilots. Swinging the hood through large swaths of cattails, over ice-ridges, and dangerously close to ice houses were all done for the sake of science, or so it was claimed.

The primary experiment took place about five hundred yards from shore on a smooth patch of ice. The driver began to navigate the test vehicle in a loose circle at a moderate pace, while the two pilots gripped the tow line with their mittened hands. Stocking caps were pulled down over their eyes for protection from the blowing snow, cattails, and the knowledge of what was about to happen. Gradually, the driver accelerated while tightening his circle. As the circle diminished, the speed of the hood and its occupants increased. The effect on the pilots is similar to that of attaching a metal washer to a three foot piece of string and then vigorously swinging it overhead. Except for the fact that there were not two small people sitting on that washer screaming threats.

While there is no need to outline the mechanics of the entire operation, nor belittle the intellect of the astute reader with the mathematical formulas which are readily known, I will list out a few essential observations for those interested in engaging in their own study and elaboration of this scientific inquiry.

1. The facial expression and tissue manipulation of astronauts as they lift off from earth under extreme force can also be achieved on a frozen lake in Minnesota.

2. Unless both pilots release their grip from the tow rope at the same time one person will mostly likely dislocate a shoulder.

3. Under extreme speeds a fiberglass car hood can act as a hovercraft.

4. Even objects with limited friction will come to a stop at some point, especially if there is bank of ice piled up near the shore.

5. Fiberglass is not the most resilient material when interacting with banks of ice.

6. Teenage boys forget their terror relatively quickly and will continue to do scientific tests until the fuel runs out of the ATV, or their appendages begin to freeze off. Therefore this demographic makes an exceptional addition to the scientific community.

Future studies were conducted utilizing some of the same principles but exchanging variables such as a frozen lake for highway ditches, stocking caps for helmets, car hoods for other objects. As they say, “Science marches on.”