Sunday, February 1, 2009

Of Butterflies and Bootleggers

First, do you call it a bootlegger turn or a handbrake turn? You know, that move where you yank on the emergency brake while turning the wheel, so that you can whip your car around 180 degrees (hopefully without flipping over)? It's a staple of a lot of racing video games.

I've heard it called a bootlegger turn because the mobsters running illegal liquor during prohibition would use it to escape police roadblocks. I don't know how effective it was, or how often they used it, but it's a fun mental image. Also, it was probably easier to do back then, given the low top speeds that cars used to have.

It turns out that butterflies and bootleggers may have more in common than you'd think. They both attempt erratic, high-speed maneuvers to evade capture. Butterflies may have developed their hind wings to make fast, tight turns in the air to keep from getting eaten. The wings help them move quickly and erratically. That's what they think at Cornell, although it's kind of a shame that they had to go around clipping wings off of butterflies to prove their theory.

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What no University to rag on for not being as all powerful as Penn State today?

Stanley! said...

Cornell's a university, isn't it? They're the ones who went around clipping the wings off of butterflies.

The header image is adapted from a photo taken by Bill McChesney and used under a creative commons license.
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