The science of Poohsticks (and the language of Poohlish)

I have known all along that “Poohsticks” is no mere game of chance. The choice of stick, the manner of dropping it, the strength of the current, the strength and direction of the wind, the position of the sun, the amount of honey consumed at breakfast,  and even the phase of the moon on the night before are all critical factors that affect the outcome. Of course, all these factors cannot even be described without knowledge of “Poohlish” which still remains a mystery. Just as physics becomes almost indescribable without the language of mathematics, knowledge of Poohlish is necessary to completely discern the science of Poohsticks. For a practitioner just knowing Poohlish needs to be augmented with practical training in Poohmatics and the art of thinking things through:

“Think it over, think it under.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Nevertheless some aspects of the game are beginning to be be quantified and some of the more superficial matters – such as the selection of a winning Poohstick – are beginning to be unravelled.

Cambridge News:

The game, in which competitors drop sticks into a river upstream off a bridge and see which comes out downstream first, is first mentioned in The House At Pooh Corner by AA Milne published in 1928.

The research, commissioned to celebrate the release of The Poohsticks Handbook: A Poohstickopedia – a new book featuring Winnie the Pooh and friends, written by comedy writer Mark Evans and illustrated by Mark Burgess – reveals the secrets to finding the perfect Poohstick according to a top scientist, and names the best places in the country to play. ……

….. The formula disproves the views of more than half of Britons (57%) who believe Poohsticks is a game of sheer luck.

Egmont Publishing joined Dr Rhys Morgan, director of engineering and education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, to equip the 39% of people who already take time sourcing the perfect Poohstick with the formula to ensure they pick the speediest stick to sail to victory. …….

…… It turns out that just 11% of Britons naturally pick the right sort of stick, with a third of people (30%) heading straight for a long and thin stick, which according to Dr Morgan is only half right.

The scientist, a father of two and avid Poohsticks player himself, said the main variables that need to be considered when designing the optimum Poohstick include cross sectional area, density/buoyancy, and the drag coefficient.

The perfect Poohstick = tubby and long, fairly heavy (but not so heavy it will sink to the bottom of the river), with quite a lot of bark to catch the flow of the river like paddles – or

PP (Perfect Poohstick) = A x Ï? x Cd.

Cross Sectional Area (= A) is important and the greater the area of an object, the more drag it creates. Normally, a large cross-sectional area decreases speed, but when it comes to Poohsticks, drag is key. If more water is able to influence the trajectory of the stick, it will accelerate more quickly. So when it comes to Poohsticks the tubbier, the better.

The density (= Ï?) of the stick affects its position in the water. The fastest part of the stream is below the surface, so theoretically, a waterlogged stick which sinks into the water a little will go faster than a stick which is floating right on the surface (where it could be slowed down by wind or other external variables).

The drag coefficient (= Cd) describes the shape of stick and roughness of its surface. Generally, a rough stick will create more drag than a smooth stick, so in general, bark is good. However, according to Dr Morgan, a certain roughness can make the stick apparently smoother, similar to the effect created by dimples in golf balls.

Meanwhile, VisitEngland has compiled a list of the best Poohsticks bridges alongside the original Poohsticks Bridge in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex.

The list includes bridges from Cumbria to Cornwall, including Sheepwash Bridge, Ashford in the Water in Derbyshire, Morden Hall Park in London, Heale Gardens in Salisbury, Wiltshire, Packhorse Bridge in Watendlath, Cumbria, and Mottisfont in Romsey, Hampshire.

Merely picking a potentially winning Poohstick is not enough of course. To truly understand the nuances of the game and become a Poohstick Master requires a sound grounding in Poohlish and some practical training in Poohmatics.

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