A 10-year-old boy in Hammond, Ind. got his tongue stuck to a streetlight pole Wednesday evening during a cold snap he'll likely never forget.
And yes, his friends dared him, according to a local newspaper report.
The uncomfortable stunt is typically preceded by a triple-dog dare, as in the modern movie "A Christmas Story," in which Flick tries it as his friend Ralphie watches on with horror. But many people (presumably including the Hammond boy) aren't sure it can really happen.
Here's how it works: The tongue is covered with moisture, so when exposed to temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, that moisture can freeze. The temperature in Hammond was about 10 degrees Wednesday evening.
Of course, the heart constantly pumps warm blood to the tongue, trying to keep it from freezing. But a frigid metal pole has no heart.
"The metal is a much better conductor than your tongue (up to 400 times more powerful)," explains Frank J. DiSalvo, director of the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future and co-director of the Cornell Fuel Cell Institute. "The metal takes heat faster than your body can replenish it."
Put your tongue to a frozen pole, and the moisture on your tongue may indeed freeze. Pull it off, and you may loose some tongue. The Hammond boy did just that and ended up with a bleeding tongue.
A more practical solution, if there's a friend nearby (perhaps the one who triple-dog dared you): Pour warm (not hot) water on the junction of tongue and pole. A better idea: Don't accept the dare.
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Robert Roy Britt is the Editorial Director of Imaginova. In this column, The Water Cooler, he takes a daily look at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond.