Monday, September 12, 2011

Grasping at Wet Straws

At last, a possible answer to the age-old question of why fingers get all prune-y in the bathtub, dishpan, swimming pool [insert other instances of water in which hands might be submerged, as desired].

The NYT Well blog reports on a theory that wrinkly fingers and toes are better at gripping things. Cause they're all textured. Like a tread on a shoe, say.

It's almost too simple, isn't it? Why didn't I think of that?

I mean, aside from the fact that I really never thought much about wrinkly fingers and toes in the first place. Sometimes actually asking the question is the most important step.

Not that the actual research wasn't also interesting. You can read the paper online, at least right now, and it's full of nifty illustrations showing that finger wrinkles line up in such a way as might be expected to allow for optimal drainage of water from the fingertip surface, the better to grab presumably slippery wet things.

Fish. Cranberries. Baseballs in the rain. Children trying to flee the bathtub. Your cell phone that you just dropped in the sink.

I am all over the fact that someone decided to write a paper about this, and hope that their proposed future research is full of solid data and novel conclusions. They want to do behavioral studies to test whether wrinkled fingers in fact possess superior gripping capacity to unwrinkled ones, and I think that's research we could all be part of, in our own way!

My proposed experimental design is as follows:

Start by juggling some wet wine glasses when your hands are dry and your fingertips are smooth, then try again after soaking your hands for about five minutes in water until they get wrinkly.

Count the number of dropped glasses after each attempt. You might want to video record the whole thing, so you can also count near-fumbles.

This will have several exciting results:

  • Delicious brand new data for crunching
  • Thrilling crashes
  • Sparkly broken glass
  • Potential gory injury, hence edge-of-the-seat suspense for viewers

OK, I'll admit it, I'm both designing an experiment and trying to appeal to the thrill-seeking youth of today. This is something that has serious YouTube potential, everyone.

If you fill the wet wine glasses with wads of colorful burning paper, even more so. If they're wet because they've been washed with gasoline...I need to go lie down before the excitement overcomes me.

I am generously making this experimental design available to anyone who would like to carry it out, asking not so much as a co-authorship in return. In fact, don't even mention my name in the references. I'm very modest.

Regardless of the form the behavioral studies eventually take, however, I look forward to one day learning more about whether or not wrinkled fingers are grippy fingers.

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