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Devo Eat Your Heart Out
July 12, 2004 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Whip It...Not So Good? Apparently the whip, beloved in movies, games, and other various pursuits, isn't actually that fantastic of a weapon -- at least from a defensive point of view. And that supersonic crack? It ain't the tip. Interesting!
posted by effugas (29 comments total)

 
A whip with a dagger on the end of it, on the other hand...
posted by Space Coyote at 10:24 AM on July 12, 2004


"As the tip exceeds 750 miles per hour it generates shock waves in the air creating a small sonic boom. This is what is heard when a whip cracks."

It kind of is the tip.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:29 AM on July 12, 2004


Continue reading -- that's what was supposed circa 1958. Relevant section:
By feeding their equations into a computer, Goriely and McMillen determined that the leading edge of the loop would break the sound barrier while still partially curled. Even though the tip's speed is also supersonic, the tip at that moment remains in the leading edge's wake and can't create shock waves, Goriely explains.
Basically, the loop in the whip accelerates as the thickness of the whip decreases, eventually reaching supersonic speeds. When the tip is actually in high speed motion, it itself can't create any waves due to its own position -- and no waves, no sound.
posted by effugas at 10:38 AM on July 12, 2004


Perhaps a shark with a whip attached to its forhead...
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:43 AM on July 12, 2004


Or a whip with a frickin' shark at the end
posted by petebest at 10:44 AM on July 12, 2004


What about a whip with a grizzly bear at the end?
posted by kenko at 10:46 AM on July 12, 2004


a supersonic grizzly would indeed be fearsome to behold.
posted by th3ph17 at 10:49 AM on July 12, 2004


If the whip were an effective weapon against swords, guns, and knives, why didn’t Indy just go after the swordsman with his whip? Apart from ‘it wasn’t written that way,’ it is because getting enough time to throw the whip, not to mention to have the space required, wasn’t practical or believable.

Actually it was written that way, there was suppossed to be an elaborate whip vs. sword fight, but Harrison Ford was so worn out by the time they got around to doing that scene he suggested just shooting the guy.
posted by bobo123 at 10:51 AM on July 12, 2004


worn out = severe dysentry. That facial experssion is all too real.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:55 AM on July 12, 2004


I've spent a great deal of time practicing with whips of various sorts.

If you actually hit something with the tip - almost impossible with anything moving faster than a slow walk - you don't do much damage, and the tip starts to disintegrate rather rapidly. It's certainly no more, and probably less, destructive than a "rat-tail" one might make from a gym towel.

I used to practice on tennis balls by tossing the ball into the air and then hitting it with the crack of the whip. The ball would never go more than a few feet even if hit solidly.

Using it to entangle is more effective. But that's very hard to pull off in a predictable manner. Most times the whip will wrap around the target but then slide right off. You can increase the success rate for entangling, but only if you throw the whip very slowly so that you can manipulate the angle as it's in the process of wrapping.

And even then, the subset of things you can entangle is limited. You need something rather thin and rough. Poles won't do. And you need unrestricted room around the area being entangled - So legs are out since the whip will hang up on the other leg. And you need to be very close since the action required is more of side-arm motion rather than a fly casting one.

And the item has to very rather solid. Anything that has give will fail to get wrapped properly.

Given a great deal of luck you can jerk something out of place. For example a sword could be jerked from someone's hand. But this is wildly unreliable. Unless they were holding it out to the side and bracing for the pull, I doubt you could do it more than one time in 20. And even then you aren't usually entangling. It's more reliable to pull back sharply as the whip is making it's first half loop around the target. The friction does the work rather than any wrapping.

In addition this wouldn't work well against an opponent coming towards you. If you entangle a sword or an arm and pull it towards you, you aren't gaining much. And if an attacker is running at you you wouldn't even be able to do much of anything since they'd be in and out of the effective range too fast.

I decided that the whip would be most effective as a weapon if I reversed it and used the heavy handle as a flail.

Also - Shorter whips are more effective. Longer whips just make noise. Tying nasty items such as spikes to the whip don't seem to help much, although I didn't test that against flesh. it could be very effective against nude attackers.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:20 AM on July 12, 2004


it could be very effective against nude attackers.
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:25 AM on July 12, 2004


Overall, I think I'd rather be struck with a whip than, say, a broadsword or a 7.62 round.
posted by Foosnark at 11:32 AM on July 12, 2004


Foosnark: Overall, I think I'd rather be struck with a whip than, say, a broadsword or a 7.62 round.

I think that is between you and you sweetie.

In general: Isn't this obvious? If whips were effective weapons for disabling or killing foes, they wouldn't make good insturments of torture. The reason why whips are used on prisoners, slaves, wayward sailors and beasts of burden is that you might want them them to hurt, but you don't want them dead until they are no longer useful or essential.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:44 AM on July 12, 2004


Oooh, sorry, Keyser Soze. You didn't phrase your comment in the form of a tagline. /Trebek

Metafilter: Very effective against nude attackers.
posted by emelenjr at 11:48 AM on July 12, 2004


The reason why whips are used on prisoners, slaves, wayward sailors and beasts of burden is that you might want them them to hurt, but you don't want them dead until they are no longer useful or essential.

Torture's for fear, too. A nice crack along someone's back is going to be nice and effective. I suppose shooting them in the kneecaps would be too, for that reason (provided you do it at a close enough range).
posted by angry modem at 11:48 AM on July 12, 2004


"When the tip is actually in high speed motion, it itself can't create any waves due to its own position -- and no waves, no sound"

If the tip is in high speed motion then it would indeed create waves, as any object in motion through air would. These waves would be of a higher frequency than waves caused by motion of other parts of the whip, which are moving slower.
posted by Outlawyr at 11:52 AM on July 12, 2004


Out--

The point is, the tip might be moving fast, but it's moving with an existing wave (the one created by this supersonic accelerating bulge) rather than creating some particularly unique new wave. Essentially, the surrounding air is already in shock-motion; the end of the whip didn't start that.
posted by effugas at 12:05 PM on July 12, 2004


But does it make any difference to their effectiveness if you're having a whip fight on a tilting platform with retractable spikes on the floor controlled by Brian Blessed; and all balanced over a bottomless void?
posted by biffa at 12:28 PM on July 12, 2004


Torture's for fear, too. A nice crack along someone's back is going to be nice and effective. I suppose shooting them in the kneecaps would be too, for that reason (provided you do it at a close enough range).

True, but if you shoot a mule in the kneecap, it's a long way to California with a partial team.

Which is one reason why whips are part of the lore of the old west.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:56 PM on July 12, 2004


Duh, it only did like 1-2 hp of damage. My dirk could at least do 4!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:01 PM on July 12, 2004


Is there a back-whip multiplier? /geek-out
posted by kahboom at 1:20 PM on July 12, 2004


Computer simulations by Myhrvold indicate that some big dinosaurs could have created sonic booms with their whip-like tails, possibly for communication.

!!!
posted by five fresh fish at 2:06 PM on July 12, 2004


Tangentially related story from Sunday's Washington Post magazine: Boy Whips Girl.
posted by Wet Spot at 4:02 PM on July 12, 2004


Not to put too fine a point on it (no pun intended) but I still say it kinda is the tip. In addition, I think the statement in the FPP, "And that supersonic crack? It ain't the tip." is false. The body of the whip could be moving slower than the speed of sound, accelerating to the tip, which breaks the sound barrier. At slower speeds nothing breaks the sound barrier. At higher speeds more of the whip, from the tip back, breaks the sound barrier. But in all cases where the crack of the whip breaks the sound barrier, at least the tip and possibly more of the whip will be the cause of the sonic boom
posted by Outlawyr at 5:43 PM on July 12, 2004


I think that if you're going to evaluate the effectiveness of the whip as a weapon, then it makes the most sense to compare a guy with a whip to a guy without one. Remember that in this scenario the guy with the whip can do everything the guy without the whip can, and then some. It won't surprise anyone that a gun or a sword is a more effective weapon, but that's not saying much.

Thanks, y6y6y6, that was an interesting read.
posted by epimorph at 6:35 PM on July 12, 2004


epi--

Not exactly -- remember, the most effective martial artists always end up being grapplers, and it's hard to grapple if you're holding a whip.
posted by effugas at 7:46 PM on July 12, 2004


Out--

I'll grant the tip is actually involved, in that it's part of the wavefront that's generating the supersonic pulse. But the point is that the supersonic effects begin long before the tip.

What doesn't happen is what I expected, which is that the tip goes forward...forward...forward...and then, BOOM, is pulled backwards so fast that the tip leaves a vacuum for air to crash back into. That's how I thought whipcracks worked, and it's just not true.
posted by effugas at 7:48 PM on July 12, 2004


"you don't do much damage, and the tip starts to disintegrate rather rapidly. It's certainly no more, and probably less, destructive than a "rat-tail" one might make from a gym towel."

Our experiences are markedly different. Granted my usage is more specifically geared to the effect of the whip on skin, so I may be having different results. In the BDSM context (the one I use a variety of whips ranging from 6-12 foot in) it has become clear that the tip of a cracking whip when handled correctly will absolutely do much more damage than a towel snap. For instance if you have practiced to do so it is common to break and open the skin.

I doubt it could be done against a fast moving opponent of course.

Obviously the dangers of the whip are over dramatized (stories of an accidental strike shattering bone is, for instance, not something I buy into) but I have seen it cut thin cloth, cut skin and a number of other things.

Again, this was not an accidental strike which rarely does any of this... and it was not in a moving, fluid combat context. This was a deliberately executed strike specifically designed to inflict "damage". Almost always this is using nylon poppers as well, they are much "sharper" and more durable than cotton.

"And even then, the subset of things you can entangle is limited. You need something rather thin and rough. Poles won't do. And you need unrestricted room around the area being entangled - So legs are out since the whip will hang up on the other leg. And you need to be very close since the action required is more of side-arm motion rather than a fly casting one."

Again, my experience differs but maybe we are saying the same thing just differently. I have entangled arms and legs and can get enough pull to take control of the limp... I have seen legs pulled out from under people. In each of those though it is the friction of the whip on itself and the object that did the pull, and in a short time the whip was free again. You had to act in a very short time span.

When I worked with Antony DeLongis (he does a lot of whip work in Hollywood) for an afternoon I saw he had an uncanny ability to get his whip to wrap an object and loop itself. He is the only man who I believe could wrap a whip on something overhead and have it briefly support his weight.

As for the crack I have always felt that it was the loop that was crucial, the rapid acceleration that happens when that loop unrolls greatly accelerates the tip and makes the crack you "want" to hear, but a badly thrown whip can crack much higher up it's length. What I suspect is that while the loop hits speed much earlier it's lack of an "end" prevents it from generating a shockwave easily.

It's utility as a weapon is limited... though I think the 4 foot might be useful. It wont get in the way of Judo or Ju-Jitsu and would make a nice choke tool for a lot of the finishes, not to mention a handy tie to substitute for cuffs in some of the police techniques :)
posted by soulhuntre at 9:41 PM on July 12, 2004


I'll second soulhuntre's experience and add that a popper with steel threads added can do an impressive amount of damage to wood and aluminium and will cut even heavy cloth.
posted by Mitheral at 9:47 AM on July 13, 2004


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