Breaking the Sound Barrier On Horseback

Jun 19, 2006

RAY: The inspiration for this puzzler was sent in by a fellow named Pierro Martilucci.

Nowadays, we're very accustomed to high-speed travel. We have passenger planes that go close to 500 mph, and even our cars can go well over 100 mph. But until the advent of the train, the fastest that anyone could travel, unless you either fell off a cliff or were shot from a cannon, was as fast as a horse could carry or pull you. And yet, some of the people on horseback or driving a team of horses broke the sound barrier on a regular basis.

How did they do it?

And by the way there are hints in here!
RAY: We discovered this phenomenon in the locker room in high school, with a wet towel. We would wet the end of a towel and you'd snap it, and it would make a loud, 'crack'!

The tip of the wet towel when it snapped at the end was going faster than the speed of sound, and that's why it hurt so much when we caught somebody in the butt. But the end of a whip is also traveling faster than the speed of sound.

It's creating a little sonic boom. Pretty cute, huh? Do we have a winner?

TOM: Yep. The winner this week is Alfred Kleck, from Fairbanks, Alaska. And for having his answer selected at random from among all the correct answers that we got, Alfred gets a 26-dollar gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division at, with which he can get the always stylish, red, black and gray Car Talk baseball jersey.

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