A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Why do some water fountains produce two streams of water that merge into one?

December 21, 1990

Dear Cecil:

Why do the spouters on some water fountains produce two streams of water that merge into one before reaching your parched lips? Why not just one stream to start with?

Cecil replies:

In an age when you can't even fix your Chevy without having to fool with microchips, Cecil is always cheered by examples of low-tech ingenuity. The twin-stream water fountain is a perfect example. But first we need to put things in proper historical perspective. Let me quote from a brochure for Halsey Taylor water fountains, one of the leading names in the industry:

"In 1896, Halsey W. Taylor lost his father to an outbreak of typhoid fever caused by a contaminated water supply. This personal tragedy led the young Halsey Taylor to dedicate his life to providing a safe, sanitary drink of water in public places. … The historic Double Bubbler projector [spouter] was designed by Halsey Taylor himself, and still ranks as the most important innovation in the industry's history. It projects two separate streams of water, which converge to provide an abundant `pyramid' of water at the apex of the stream. This gives the user a fuller, more satisfying drink."

The folks at Halsey Taylor are being polite here. What they mean is that the Double Bubbler enables you to take in more water and less air when you drink. As a result, you don't burp. Think of all the delicate social negotiations you've been involved in that have gone awry because of an ill-timed eructation (that's belch for you dropouts). Had you been drinking from a Double Bubbler, that fat contract (job, babe, whatever) might have been yours.

The Double Bubbler serves other purposes as well. You get less spraying, presumably because the water slows down when the two streams merge. The double streams also act as a sort of pressure regulator. If the water pressure is unusually strong one day, a single-stream fountain might give the unwary sipper a shot in the eye. When the twin streams of the Double Bubbler meet, however, their upward momentums tend to cancel out no matter how high the pressure gets.

One last thing. You know how kids like to hold their thumbs over the bubbler to make the water spray all over the room? Halsey Taylor has a way to deal with that too. Its fountains have an "anti-squirt groove" consisting of a slot cut through the bubbler head just below the tip. If some wisenheimer puts his thumb over the tip to try to make the fountain squirt, the water merely dribbles harmlessly out the sides through the anti-squirt groove — a drag if you're a rambunctious sixth-grader, but a gift from God if you're anybody else.

Little squirts

Dear Cecil:

This is how we sixth-grade wisenheimers in Dallas public school got around the "antisquirt groove" in Halsey-Taylor water fountains. We just stretched the skin between thumb and forefinger flat and slipped it in the groove. Squirt-a-rama!

Cecil replies:

The history of warfare is the eternal struggle between offensive and defensive capabilities. I imagine strategists at Halsey-Taylor will read your comments with interest.

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