Buttered cat paradox
The paradox arises when one considers what would happen if one attached a piece of buttered toast (butter side up) to the back of a cat, then dropped the cat from a large height. The buttered cat paradox, submitted by artist John Frazee of Kingston, New York, won a 1993 OMNI magazine competition about paradoxes. The basic premise, stating the conditions of the cat and bread and posed as a question, was presented in a routine by comic and juggler Michael Davis, appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, July 22, 1988.
Some people jokingly maintain that the experiment will produce an anti-gravity effect. They propose that as the cat falls towards the ground, it will slow down and start to rotate, eventually reaching a steady state of hovering a short distance from the ground while rotating at high speed as both the buttered side of the toast and the cat’s feet attempt to land on the ground. In June 2003, Kimberly Miner won a Student Academy Award for her film Perpetual Motion. Miner based her film on a paper written by a high-school friend that explored the potential implications of the cat and buttered toast idea.
The faux paradox has captured the imagination of science-oriented humorists. In May 1992, the Usenet Oracle Digest #441 included a question from a supplicant asking about the paradox. Testing the theory is the main theme in an episode of the comic book strip Jack B. Quick, the title character seeks to test this theory, leading to the cat hovering above the ground, with the cat's wagging tail providing propulsion. The March 31, 2005, strip of the webcomic Bunny also explored the idea in the guise of a plan for a "Perpetual Motion MoggieToast 5k Power Generator", based on Sod's law. In Science Askew, Donald E. Simanek comments on this phenomenon.
- "Would it still work if you used margarine?",
- "Would it still work if you used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter?", and
- "What if the toast was covered in something that was not butter, but the cat thought it was butter?" (the idea being that it would act like a placebo).
The paradox also appeared in the episode "Gravitational Anarchy" of the scientific podcast Radiolab. Later, a humoristic explainer animation was put together by the animated production company Barq, based on an extracted audio clip from the Radiolab episode.
It also appeared in a comics series called Kid Paddle where Kid tells the story to his gullible friend Horace while at the dinner table. The comic is fairly popular in France and Belgium.
In reality, cats possess the ability to turn themselves right side up in mid-air if they should fall upside-down, known as the cat righting reflex. This enables them to land on their feet if dropped from sufficient height, about 30 cm (12 in).
Toast, being an inanimate object, lacks both the ability and the desire to right itself. A study at Manchester Metropolitan University involving dropping 100 slices under laboratory conditions established that toast typically lands on the floor butter-side-down as a result of the manner in which it is typically dropped from a table, and the aerodynamic drag caused by the air pockets within the bread. The toast is typically butter-side-up when dropped. As it falls, it rotates; given the typical speed of rotation and the typical height of a table, a slice of toast that began butter-side-up on the table will land butter-side-down on the floor in 81% of cases.
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- The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, July 22, 1988
- "UoWaikato newsletter" (PDF). University of Waikato. August 2003. Retrieved 2012-06-20.
- Available at http://www.kminer.net/2011/07/perpetual-motion/
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- Krulwich, Robert; Abumrad, Jad; Quammen, David (guest) & deGrasse Tyson, Neil (guest) (2010-11-29). "Gravitational Anarchy". Radiolab. Event occurs at 20:48. NPR. Retrieved 2015-01-11. Alternate link via iTunes.
- barqvideo (2012-04-25). "The Cat and Jelly Toast Experiment aka the Buttered Cat Paradox explainer". Youtube.com. Retrieved 2012-06-20.
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- vibeFlyingHorse (2012-04-10). "Flying Horse - Gatorrada (Cat-Toast)". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-08-23.
- Beltrone, Gabriel (2012-05-14). "Energy Drink Makes the Most of the Buttered-Cat Paradox Age-old physics law inspires Ogilvy ad". Adweek.
- Nguyen, Huy D. (1998). "How does a Cat always land on its feet?". Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Medical Engineering. Archived from the original on 2001-04-10. Retrieved 2014-08-23.
- Slater, Chris (2013-09-05). "(-Rav)/ t = R: Manchester boffins find formula for why toast lands butter side down". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 2017-03-06.