Foolish Medieval Remedies

May 17, 2022

It is time for a new puzzler! This is not one of those embarrassing puzzlers either, I'm happy to say. This is a good one!

There's a little bit of history woven into this one. Some years ago we had a mechanic that worked for us. Back when we were mere neophytes, back at the turn of the century... You know, way back in the late 80s. 
And one day a car came in that had obviously been flooded. It was a cold winter day. And the owner of the car had tried to start it and the choke was stuck. And the thing was flooded. It was pretty obvious. We tried to start it and it made that wrrrrring sound because it was flooded. 

We decided we were gonna take the plugs out, but my mechanic stopped me and said he wanted to try something first. 
He was a great one for experimentation, this guy. He had always wanted to rebuild the transmission or two!
He took all the sparkplug wires off the plug. He removed them all and instead of taking the plugs out, he put all the plug wires back on but left a distance between the end of the spark plug. There was a distance of perhaps an inch between the end of the spark plug wire, the middle part of the wire, and the tip of the spark plug.

So in other words, the spark had to jump. It was as if the spark plug wires were about to fall off. He installed them in such a manner that they were about to fall off so that the spark could no longer make a smooth transition through a conductor from the wire to the plug. It now has to jump an inch across.
So instead of having what everyone would say is a good connection. You had what electricians would call a lousy connection. 
So he did that to all eight plugs.

He does that and he gets in the car and turns the key, and guess what? It starts right up. It starts right up!

And the question is, do you believe this?
The mechanic makes a purposely bad connection. And BINGO BINGO the car starts right up.

Are these old wives tales or are these foolish medieval Alchemist remedies or is there some basic physics involved here?



This is a good, good puzzler because it's always nice to expose or bring to light an old wives tale. Or a good husband's tale! There are so many interesting, little solutions to problems that have evolved over the centuries that cars have been around. And some people think they're true and some people think they're not true. And this is one of those. 

Okay, old crusty mechanic guy. One day a car came in and it was an old eight cylinder jalopy. It had obviously been flooded. It was a cold, lousy winter day. We tried like crazy to start it. 
And the mechanic wants to try something. He took the spark plug wires halfway off. He left a little distance between the conductor part of the wire and the end of the spark plug. The wires were just dangling.

They were hanging there, but normally, you'd have a nice tight fit and a good connection.

So basically, he made a bad connection. He gets in the car, and it started right up.

Every backyard mechanic knows this trick!
Anyone who's ever had trouble starting a car has noticed this phenomenon. When I pulled the wire out of the coil, the car started. We've had many occasions over the years to verify this fact, that it's true. We've had many instances where the car wouldn't start, you yank all the wires, turn the key, and BINGO, BINGO. The car starts.

So the question I asked is, is there a scientific explanation for this and is this possible?

And the answer is, that this is possible and there is a scientific explanation for it.

I don't know what that explanation is, but that doesn't mean there isn't one! So that will be next week's puzzler, I think!


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