This Science Fair post (below) has received more traffic through the years than any other. For unknown reasons, it gets a horde of attention from Australia. Those mates must enjoy cat humor. But there’s more to the tale and, as the late radio host Paul Harvey would’ve say, I thought you might enjoy, “The rest of the story.”
It was my daughter’s first introduction to the concept of Science Fair. And, just like the rest of us in middle school, she came home with squat in regards to guidance.
“Didn’t your teacher go over this with you in class?”
A polite chuckle. “No. She gave us this paper and said it explained everything.”
I snatched it from her fingers and read. Nothing. A due date and exhibit location, but not the slightest hint of direction.
“Did you guys at least go through the scientific process? What are the steps?”
She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “Hypothesis… research… data gathering… voting… and then it’s a law, unless the president veto’s it.”
Science and Civics were getting jumbled. I decided to provide an example, using humor to make it memorable.
“You start with a question. Like, Do cats always land on their feet?”
And thus began the explanation of the finer points on how to lose a science fair. I crafted a hypothesis, explained how to test it, gather data,
skew it, and present everything on a tri-fold piece of cardboard. I wrote up the whole report, collected photos from the internet, invented figures, and crafted an authoritative looking chart. I was proud of my final product – a completely fictitious satire on science fair.
It served its purpose well. My daughter gained an understanding of the process and had fun. I carried her tri-fold into school and set it up on a lunchroom table next to others. But I had snuck in my own display behind hers and, when no one was paying attention, flipped it open on the end. If it had helped her comprehend this middle school haze, maybe others could benefit.
Apparently, a sense of humor is not a requirement to be a science fair judge.
I was halfway through my morning at work when the phone rang. Caller ID said school was calling, so I grabbed it. Maybe I’d won first prize!
“Your daughter is in the principal’s office and we have a few questions for you.”
Turns out, the judges were “confused”. That’s scary, because the report wasn’t crafted to be overly thought provoking. Come to find out, they were also “disturbed”, and at least one member of the staff was “offended”.
I apologized, smoothed the upturned hair, and bit my tongue when I considered asking why my daughter had been called to account for my own sins. Peace was restored at school, a ceasefire was announced in the Middle East, and the science fair judge union breathed a sigh of relief.
No, I didn’t win first prize. And neither did my daughter. Upon picking her up from school, my display was in the trash beneath bags of half-eaten lunch and stained with apple sauce and ketchup. But I can’t help hoping maybe it brought a smile to at least one student’s face. Even more, that someone stepped away more appreciative of the scientific process.
And now you know… the rest of the story.
Do cats always land on their feet?
Not if I can help it.
Author’s Note: No cats were injured during this project – as unfortunate as that may seem. None were tested, touched, or even referenced. Like most science fair projects, this is a complete work of fiction.
- Various cats, randomly selected
- Twenty-four foot extension ladder
- Lazy Susan
- Duct Tape
- Gather Cats: Select a variety. Neighbors’ cats are best since they are close, free, and use your flower beds as a litter box.
- Control Group: Drop all cats, properly oriented, from three feet above the ground. Repeat for each cat. Record the percentage that land on their feet.
- Disorientation at Three Feet: Continuing at the same height, orient cats in various positions before dropping. Head first is a good starting point. Repeat for all cats. Record results and compare to control.
- Disorientation with Height: Utilizing the twenty-four foot extension ladder, increase drop height in two foot increments, releasing cats from random positions, until ladder is fully extended. Record results and compare to control.Note: If your supply of cats is running low, it is advisable to place pillows under your subjects before proceeding to the next steps. If you still have plenty of cats, no need to waste the effort.
- Dizziness with Height: Place one at a time on a standard lazy Susan. Spin cats until eyes wobble violently. Grab cat, race to top of ladder, and drop. Repeat for all. Record results and compare to control.
- Height with Duct Tape: Tape cats’ feet together. First, tape the front and back pairs separately. Drop from twenty-four feet. If cat survives, tape all four feet together. Repeat for all. Record results and compare to control.
- For any surviving cats, untape feet and feed to your dog. Pet dog and tell him he’s a good boy.
Control group results were consistent. When a properly oriented, cats dropped from a three foot height landed on their feet 100% of the time.
Disorientation at Three Feet
We were surprised to learn that when cats were dropped from non-upright positions at a mere three foot height, the results were poor. Only 27% landed properly. We believe the reason for this outcome is insufficient time to right themselves before hitting the ground. We attempted the experiment over a variety of surfaces to see if a hard impact would provide increased incentive for cats to land on their feet. However, this practice had no noticeable effect, presumably because cats are too stupid to know the difference between carpet and concrete. However, one benefit we discovered was that hard surfaces are easier to clean.
Disorientation with Height
As we increased drop height, the success rate of cats landing on their feet also increased, no matter how they were oriented when dropped. At twenty-four feet, the cats were back up to 100% upright landings. However, survival rate plummeted. See graph.
Dizziness with Height
This was the most enjoyable portion of the experiment. We placed the cats on a lazy Susan and spun it till their eyes wobbled rapidly or they threw up. We dropped all remaining cats from twenty-four feet in this manner.
Results again were surprising. We had theorized that dizziness would have no significant effect on the cats’ landing since they were dropped properly oriented. However, the cats wriggled themselves around during their decent and fell on backs, head, and various other body parts. Only 24% of cats dropped after the lazy Susan treatment landed properly. At this point, since many were questionable, we defined a successful landing as, “Any impact where the first thing to hit the ground is a paw.”
Duct Tape with Height
Taping the cats’ front and back feet separately had a marginal effect on their landing ability. Wriggling and twisting violently, they somehow managed to flip themselves upright.
However, upon taping all four feet together, we were sorely disappointed. It seems at this late stage, the subjects’ true nature began to emerge. They simply stopped trying. Each pretended to have a seizure as they fell hard, landing in whatever orientation they were originally dropped. It’s like they just didn’t care anymore. Their selfish lack of effort may skew the data somewhat, but numbers don’t lie. Only 5% of the cats landed on their feet when dropped from a twenty-four foot height with all feet bound together.
Cats are lazy, selfish creatures. Further, they don’t care about my science fair project grade. They are anti-science and are holding back the advancement of modern society. If we disposed of all cats, learning would progress, cancer would be cured, world hunger would be abolished, the national budget would be balanced, and the Broncos would go back to beating the Raiders. Finally, cats do not always land on their feet.