A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Who invented the little gizmo with the five swinging balls?

May 22, 2000

Dear Straight Dope:

There's a desktop device, a frame with five steel balls suspended from the top of the frame by strings. You pull out one of the end balls and let it go, and it swings in toward the other balls like a pendulum and hits the 2nd-to-last ball, but the energy it imparts transfers thru all the balls until the energy gets to the last ball on the other end and that ball swings out from the group under its own power. When it comes back, it hits the 2nd-to-last ball on that end, and it transfers the remaining energy thru all the balls till it gets to the ball you had originally dropped, which then swings out without your help, and the balls on either end keep swinging out and back in until all the energy is expended. Yeah, that thing. My question: what is it called and who invented it?

SDStaff McCaff replies:

"Newton's Cradle." Depending on whom you ask, this was invented either by Mariotte, or Someone Who Was Not French. Forget who . . .  oh, yeah. Isaac Newton.  Abbe Mariotte has also been credited with Boyle's Law in France, so this seems to be a habit with him, or at least with French historians. Newton was no slouch in the credit-stealing department himself.  Not only did he (falsely) accuse Leibniz of plagiarizing the calculus, he minimized Hooke's contributions to optics. The noive.

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