Brains in Fashion
The Vans Challenge Explained
8th March 2019
What do Vans, cats and buttered toast have in common? They all land in a predictable way.
March 2019 was the month that the internet discovered that no matter how you throw Vans (the skate shoe... not the vehicle), they will always land right side up. Within hours the internet was filled with videos of people testing the theory and pushing its limits. There were people throwing Vans off tall buildings, down the stairs and 6 pairs at a time. Lo and behold, even those that landed sideways rolled around before ending upright! Absolute wizardry.
Aside from the obvious conclusion that Vans have enchanted all their shoes to behave in this way, the only other viable solution is science. That's right- every time you fling your Vans, you're actually conducting your own science experiment. The reason you get the same result from this experiment every time, is due to the weight imbalance in the shoe.
Vans were initially designed as skate shoes, which means that they need a thick sole to protect the skater's feet from the impact of hard landings and to stop the sole wearing out quickly. The thick, protective nature of the sole means that it needs to be heavy and durable, while the top part of the shoe will be light in comparison.
The laws of physics tell us that the larger the mass of an object, the stronger its gravitational pull. This means that gravity is essentially pulling harder at the sole to keep it in contact with the ground than it is the rest of the shoe. So, no matter how you throw your Vans, gravity will always come out victorious! The same can be said for other shoes with heavy soles, including our favourite shoes to mock: Crocs!
But what about cats?!
Unlike Vans, cats don't have heavy feet that help them land safely. It's actually due to their built-in reorientating ability, which helps them rebalance mid-air to prevent them from injuring themselves. This ability kicks into action within a split second of the start of the fall.
A clever balancing system within a cat's inner ear determines which way is up, allowing the cat to work out where it is about to land. It can then reorientate its body using their super flexible spines, arch its back and prepare for a safe landing.
Of course, their ability to land on their feet will depend on the height of the fall... so please don't go throwing your cats to test this theory!
What would happen if you strapped buttered toast to a cat's back and put Vans on its feet?! We can only imagine that it would just spin above the ground for all eternity! We'd love to see your videos of Van flipping, send them in to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or @wonkscience.