6 Death-Defying Stunts That Are Secretly Easy to Do
None of the below stunts requires magic or ancient mystical mastery of your body's inner energies. What they do require is lots of practice guided by someone who knows what the hell he's doing.
In other words, do not get drunk and try these just because this article explained how they're done. You can totally kill yourself if you do them wrong. Seriously.
As the name may indicate, sword swallowing is basically when a performer shoves a blade down his gullet, sometimes deep enough to enter the stomach and scramble undigested Toaster Strudels. Anyone unfamiliar with the trick would have to assume that it's some kind of illusion, because it's pretty hard to believe that someone could jab at his innards with a goddamn sword without incurring some breathtakingly serious injury.
The trick has been impressing crowds since Old Testament days; the stunt originated in India over 4000 years ago, making it one of the earliest and most impressive things to come out of the subcontinent.
So, they use a trick sword made out of taffy or something, right?
Nope, you can totally do it with a real sword. As it turns out, the only trick to deep-throating a sword is overcoming your gag reflex. When something enters our esophagus, it contracts to push it down toward the stomach. This reaction occurs automatically, whether we are downing a burger and fries or 22 inches of forged steel.
"I think I see the problem right here."
Problems tend to arise when your esophagus contracts around the latter, so the entire trick to sword swallowing is to slowly (usually over a few years) train yourself to control your gag reflex. If stopping an automatic reflex sounds impossible, just ask any contact lens wearer. The first time you try to touch your eyeball with your finger, your eyelids reflexively slam shut. But after a few months of inserting contacts every morning, you get to where you can jab you finger right in there without so much as a twitch. It's just a matter of concentration plus repetition.
So once you've gotten control of your gag reflex, it's just a matter of tilting your head back at a 90-degree angle (so that your GI tract is straightened out), and then you've got a more or less straight path for the blade (or whatever) to slip down your throat. You do have to do it slowly -- your GI tract still isn't perfectly straight so you're kind of using the sword to gently nudge your internal organs out of the way.
AGAIN: DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THIS.
Needless to say, the swords used in this trick are usually dull, unless the performer has a death wish. Of course, performers do try to top one another, doing things like using multiple swords, which as you may imagine is fantastically dangerous. Particularly when you get to the whole "shifting internal organs" part of the trick.
The only thing missing here is one giant sword for America.
Fire eating has been a favorite at freak shows and circuses for centuries, as well as by drunken frat guys looking to impress girls at a party just moments before a screaming trip to the emergency room.
But once again, it's all in the technique, and understanding something about physics.
The trick begins when the performer dips a specialized torch into fuel and lights it. He then takes a broad stance and tilts his head back at a 90-degree angle (which you'll remember was also the first step to sword swallowing, but it's done here for a different reason).
The picture up there tells the story. Heat rises and fire goes up -- that's why you can hold your fingers on either side of a candle but put a finger right over the flame and you'll be in tears. Likewise, the flame coming off the end of the torch wants nothing more than to burn your face into Eric Stoltz from Mask, but you can safely get it into your mouth if you give the heat a perfect, vertical, invisible chimney to rise up out of.
But if the angle is wrong, God help you.
While lowering the flame, the performer also needs to slowly exhale in a steady stream. This is another strategy to keep the heat of the flame away from the face by blowing it up and away, but there is another, much more crucial reason:
If the performer inhales, the fire is going to get sucked right into his lungs and roast his insides.
Imagine this guy's stomach lining in a microwave. Nobody wants that.
If everything has been done up to this point without a burntacular injury, the fire has finally made its way into the performer's mouth. Then he closes his lips around the flame without touching them to the neck of the torch -- at this point the torch is red-hot and would melt his lips together like a soldering iron -- and with one last, quick exhale he can extinguish the fire.
Breaking Boards or Blocks With Your Hand
Human flesh is fragile and easily damaged, so how is it that some people can hurl their hands and arms at stacks of wood boards and concrete blocks and make them look like they're made out of Styrofoam? Hell, even children can do it.
"TRY TAKING MY XBOX NOW, MOM."
Well, as it turns out, block breaking has less to do with strength and more to do with knowing the physics behind this feat.
It's a well-known scientific fact that breaking bricks makes you look suspiciously like Gary Busey.
See, every time you see this trick done, the blocks are suspended by dividers on either side that hold up the very edges of the blocks or boards. This part is crucial and is the reason why karate masters aren't tearing apart skyscrapers and sidewalks with their bare hands. For the blocks to break, there must be enough space beneath them for them to bend.
All materials flex and bend to some degree when impacted, even cement. That's part of what makes something a good building material; you want it to give a little. It's this small but important flex made by the blocks that allows you to break them.
As Bruce Lee -- or rather, the people who fought Bruce Lee -- can tell you, the karate chop is one of the most efficient movements the human body can do, exerting thousands of newtons of force. If you hit the blocks in the exact middle and -- this part is important -- then follow through with a pushing motion to complete the chop, it prevents the blocks from rebounding from that bend. So the break hinges on this critical follow-through.
This is why you won't (necessarily) shatter every bone in your hand by trying to chop through concrete. But just to be clear: The technique is everything. This still shouldn't be attempted by anyone who hasn't been trained professionally unless you're not planning on using your hand for the rest of the year.
The nurse will not be impressed.
The Human Blockhead
Few things are as cringe-inducing as watching someone shove pieces of metal into his face. The human blockhead is essentially just that. The performer puts a long piece of metal, like a nail or a screw driver, into his nose and then pushes it deep into his skull, presumably to dazzle prospective employers at a job interview.
The drill counts as a personal reference.
But for a well-practiced professional, this trick isn't very painful or even all that dangerous (again, FOR A WELL-PRACTICED PROFESSIONAL). As it turns out, the human skull has a lot of empty spaces inside it.
Your nasal cavity, for instance, is a large empty space that extends pretty far back into your head. The ceiling of this cavity is about even with the top of your nose, which means that sometimes you might have to turn your nostril upward before you shove a nail in there.
... who figured this out?
Your nasal cavity is ribbed with small grooves called conchae that hold mucus, which allows a smooth, lubricated insertion for whatever lucky object you've decided to ram into your face. Some performers will even go so far as to use a hammer to literally drive nails into their skulls, which you may notice is a task typically left to serial killers, and is something that can backfire spectacularly if the length of the nails involved has been misjudged.
"It's hammer time! But seriously, this nail is lodged about a centimeter in my brain and I can't remember how to breathe."
Bed of Nails
If American cinema is to be believed, there is a bed of nails on every Turkish street corner, with a dude in a loincloth lounging on it. Why? Because the people there are exotic and magical and can do things no simple Westerner can do!
But let's see this guy kick our asses at Call of Duty.
Understandably they tend to draw a crowd, because a bunch of nails clustered together isn't the kind of surface that begs to be slept on.
"I'd sit up but I'm afraid it'll nail my scrotum to my taint."
But it isn't a miracle that people can lie on them without bleeding out like a sprinkler head. It's one of those cases where more nails equals less danger. If you don't know what we mean, offer the death-defying nail bed guy a chance to lie on just one vertical nail. He'll decline.
But stick bunches of nails together, only an inch or so apart, and you're in business. Because you're distributing your weight over hundreds of nails, you're not putting much weight on any one point. Certainly not enough to let the nail punch through your skin. As long as you spread out the weight, you can lie there for hours without getting a scratch. It's not even all that uncomfortable.
But you have to be careful getting on and off the bed, because once you put all the weight of your body onto just one hand or foot or elbow, you'll suddenly realize that these are goddamned nails here.
He's in time out.
In ancient times, fire walking was a noble tradition practiced as a part of religion and in rites of initiation. These days, it's used for team-building exercises, usually trying to teach some lesson about courage and the power of positive mental energy or some shit.
There's no fakery as far as the fire is concerned; the hot coals used for fire walking usually exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. But thanks to science you, too, can walk barefoot across the coals without getting burned.
First off, you'll notice they often wet the area right before you start on the coals, or at least do it next to wet grass. If your feet are moist, you have the Leidenfrost effect protecting you, which occurs when you have a layer of liquid between an object and a major heat source. The water creates an insulating vapor to greatly reduce heat transference, essentially encasing your feet in a fireproof mist.
Seriously DO NOT try this at home you stupid little fucks.
Considering that you are basically water and bits of flesh, you can also depend on the principles of heat capacity. Water has a very high heat capacity, while the coals have a very low heat capacity. Therefore, the temperature of your feet will change less than that of the coals as you walk across them. And because of water's high thermal conductivity, rich blood flow in the foot can carry the heat away, diffusing it upward. This is all fancy talk to say that your very watery body is able to put up a shield (of science) to briefly protect your feet from the scorching heat of the coals.
Make no mistake: If you stand on hot coals, you're going to burn the shit out of your feet. Conversely, you can't run top speed across them because that'll cause your feet to sink deeper into the coals with each step (think of the deep footprints you dig when running through sand, for instance), which will also burn the shit out of you. The key is to lightly and quickly step across them.
Also, if you don't let the coals burn down long enough before you try walking over them, that's also bad news. The coals are usually just burning cinders of wood, and wood has moisture in it. If the water inside the coals hasn't had enough time to evaporate it counteracts the difference in thermal conductivity we discussed earlier, and once again you're screwed.
Also, you could try just not doing it.
For more ill-advised do-it-yourselfs, check out Nectar of the Broke: The World's 5 Worst Ways To Get Drunk and 7 High Tech Products And Their Cheap Ass Ingredients.
And stop by Linkstorm to learn how to shove your whole fist in your mouth.
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