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

Why does your skin stick to an ice-cube tray, but not to a Popsicle?

May 18, 1990

Dear Cecil:

Have you ever gotten your fingers stuck to a metal ice cube tray in the freezer? They won't come loose until you run warm water over them. Similarly, I've heard you're in big trouble if you put your tongue on a cold flagpole in the winter. Yet you can eat a totally frozen Popsicle without injury. What makes human flesh stick to some frozen stuff and not others?

Cecil replies:

Applying your tongue to a flagpole is definitely asking for it, Michael, especially if the daddy flagpole finds out. The reason flesh sticks to metal is that the moisture on your skin freezes on contact, bonding it to the metal. Your tongue doesn't stick to a Popsicle (for long, anyway) because the Popsicle warms up too fast. Metal is an efficient conductor of heat and can easily disperse the warmth from your fingertips, but ice isn't and can't. The surface of the Popsicle melts almost instantly when you lick it, whereas you have to warm up half the ice-cube tray before the surface under your fingertips rises above freezing. That's one reason plastic trays have become such a popular substitute.

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