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HIGH LIFE : Newton's Law Works in Elevator Shaft, Too

January 09, 1988|Bill Cosby

In Cecil Adams' column "The Straight Dope," which has appeared in alternative newspapers since 1973, he answered the following letter:

"I have always wondered whether I might be able to save myself from dying in a plunging elevator by jumping into the air at the moment of impact, thus offsetting the force of gravity. Would it work?"

"Sorry, kiddo," Adams replied. "It's a simple matter of physics. Let's say, for purposes of illustration, that your falling elevator reaches a terminal velocity of 100 feet per second. Even if you manage a great leap, you'll only reach a speed of maybe 5-10 feet per second (for comparison, a sprinter doing 40 yards in five seconds is moving at 24 feet per second). That leaves you with a net downward velocity of 90-95 feet per second. In short, Pancake City."

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."

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