You’ve heard of those thirty-year cases of the hiccups, right? It seems like one of those facts you always hear about in the third grade– perhaps it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records, like the long fingernail dude and the longest falling distance survived without a parachute. I haven’t looked up the “longest case of the hiccups,” though, so like other third-grade playground facts, it should be taken with a grain of salt.
You’ve heard the one about pennies thrown off the Empire State Building, right? Where they embed in the pavement, or punch holes through the roofs of cars? This seems to be one of those “facts” that live and persist through the years in every elementary school playground. I remember hearing about it when I was a kid, and I heard it again some years later, but from an older vantage point.
When I did some mentoring for kids a few years ago, and was told by the kids about the danger of pennies and the Empire State building, I asked them why raindrops didn’t perforate our skulls despite falling from an even greater height, since many rain drops (and certainly hailstones) have a mass similar to a penny. I received a look that indicated that I didn’t know anything: how could I, as someone who took all those physics classes, chucked rocks off of mountainous cliffs, and even visited the Empire State Building, not understand this basic fact of life? Pennies kill like a hundred unsuspecting 34th street pedestrians a year, regardless of what some fancy pants adult has to say about it.
While I was writing this, I decided to do some hiccup fact-checking, and both the BBC and the New York Times seem to indicate that my “thirty year” case is not nearly the longest recorded episode. It’s too short, actually: both sources cite the longest documented case to be 68 years. Now, this is just a quick and superficial internet search, so I’d look for some more primary sources before I wrote a dissertation about it, but that’s quite a long time to have some hiccups.
Yeesh, I just did a search about pennies falling from the Empire State Building too, and while I found plenty of things saying “they won’t kill you”, one article seems to indicate that plenty of adults persist in believing in the Fatal Penny Fallacy. I guess that’s not one we naturally grow out of, like thinking the the process of digging a hole to China will take at most five hours.
Oh, and welcome to a slightly new site design too! You may have noticed it earlier this week: Lorie has been working away at making adjustments to spice things up here since Sunday. What this means for the comic specifically is that I can post a bigger version of the work, so you might see some more visible details now. Thanks Lorie!