Anyone who loves to spend time in nature often likes exploring the numerous wonders of nature too. Nature has given us so much in the form of resources and scientific discoveries. However, if we truly explore the interesting things nature has to offer, we might be in for some entertainment as well.
Spending time in nature is very relaxing and when we use our surroundings to have some fun by playing games, this relaxation increases manifold. One such game that many of us have played outdoors is skipping stones.
You may have seen people tossing pebbles or stones in the water. Very few of those people are able to make their stones skip perfectly on the surface of the water. That’s the game of skipping stones. Although this game looks crazy at first it's so contagious that after a while you might see people around also trying to find the perfect pebble.
The Game of Skipping Stones
The game looks simple although it requires a certain amount of skill and practice. A stone skipper needs a stone or pebble and a water body such as a pond or a lake to play this game. All you need to do is throw a stone or a pebble across the surface of the water and if thrown perfectly, the stone skims across the water, jumping 2, 5, or even 10 times across the water surface. The more the number of jumps a stone takes, the higher the stone skipper’s score.
Every player must keep two things in mind while playing this game: using a flat-smooth stone and tossing that stone at the water surface at a low angle so that it bounces, and doesn't sink.
Ideally, the stone should skip more than once. Amateurs may struggle with this game at first but the key to winning this game is using good stones and great technique. Every player tries to get the most skips out of their stone. Anything over 4-5 is a good run, but the best stone skippers in the world can easily get a score that touches double digits!
If you’re wondering how you can skip stones over water without sinking them after the first toss, let’s understand the science behind it. Physicist Lydéric Bocquet’s 7-year-old son asked him why a stone that is thrown at the water surface of a lake skips instead of sinking. He tried answering it using a set of equations that explained the Physics underlying this interesting game. Let's understand how Physics makes this game work.
Two key forces act on making a stone skip. While one is gravity, which pulls the stone down, the other is the lift, the reactive force of the water, which pushes the stone up each time it hits the water surface. When the lift force is greater than the gravitational, the stone bounces up; else, it sinks. This will answer your question,’ how does a stone skip across the water?’
Flat stones are the perfect skipping stones for this game. The stone should be hurled nearly parallel to the water, fast and in a spinning motion. When the stone is flat, it maximises its lift, as well as its speed. The speed also creates the energy to keep the stone bouncing along.
These principles of Physics also keep a water-skier from sinking. Spinning the stone keeps it from tilting and hitting the water edge-first. This is similar to the fast rotations of a bicycle wheel that stabilises it or the motion of a spinning top.
You’ve got the perfect stone and the right spin on that stone. But there’s one more crucial ingredient that you need to become a master of this game. It’s magic! Technically not the wizard kind of magic but a scientific one. To get the perfect skip, it’s crucial to keep the path of the stone at an angle of twenty degrees to the water. The question here is, why is twenty degrees the best angle for your stone?
Your stone will skip even if you throw it at any other angle too, but when the angle is shallow, it won't skip too far. Try throwing the stone at an angle of more than forty-five degrees and it’ll simply sink into the water, taking your chance of winning the game down with it. Twenty degrees is the best angle to achieve the maximum number of bounces across the water.
This game can make you world-famous too, like many stone skippers who have made world records. We’re talking about the Kurt Steiner stone skipping record. Kurt “Mountain-Man” Steiner holds the Guinness World Record for the highest number of consecutive skips of a stone on water. On September 6, 2013, Steiner managed to touch the water 88 times with his skipping stone! That was an impressive feat and it wasn’t just a stroke of good luck that created this world record. There were years of practice and honing his talent behind his achievement.
According to Kurt, his secret also lies in him collecting several thousands of “quality stones” and then sorting each according to its type. This helps him get the best ones for his game. Just like a surfer or skimboarder picks a different board for a specific type of wave, he believes that you need a stone shape that is perfect for the skip you want and conditions. Kurt has stones of all shapes and kinds in his arsenal; from triangles and circles to even square-shaped stones.
He has also developed and perfected his own tossing style, which somehow defies the scientific paradigms dictating optimal skimming stone formulae. He doesn't throw the stones at a twenty-degree angle, but at thirty degrees to an imaginary horizontal line. He also has a unique style where he swivels his shoulder back and brings his arm like a whip. The most interesting trivia about this Guinness record holder in skipping stones is that he never counts his skips!
Skipping stones is an interesting game that requires a little work to get a whole lot of fun. Stone skippers can be at their game for very long since there is never a dull moment in this game. As more people join the group of stone skippers, the game can get quite competitive. Who knew a simple stone and water could be so much fun!