WootBot


quality posts: 15 Private Messages WootBot

Staff

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, August is, just like the human body, at least 60 percent made of water: vacations to the beach, weekend trips to the lake or pool, big pitchers full of refreshing ice water. August is also National Water Quality Month, as you probably know, and it’s when we all have our big get-togethers to celebrate World Water Week (August 26-31!) and Sea Serpent Day (August 7). It may be hot and dry where you are right now, but at least Ken Jennings can make it rain knowledge with his August Debunker column, deflating everything you think you know about H2O.

Water Myth #2: Bathroom Fixtures Drain the Opposite Way in the Southern Hemisphere.

Fans of TV’s The Simpsons may recall the 1995 episode in which ten-year-old Bart creates an international incident by calling Australia to confirm the commonly held belief that the rotation of the Earth makes toilets flush clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere but counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere. (Fleeing corporal punishment from the Australian parliament, Bart later seeks refuge in the American embassy there, where he finds that plumbers have installed devices in the toilets to make them “swirl the correct American way...”)


This idea has been tested by scientists since 1908, and was popularized by a 1962 article in Nature magazine called “Bath-Tub Vortex.” In that experiment, a 300-gallon tank of water was allowed to settle for 24 hours, so as to be absolutely still. When a central plug was removed the next day, tiny chips of wood revealed that the water did, indeed begin to rotate counterclockwise after about fifteen minutes. This is consistent with the “Coriolis effect” caused by the Earth’s rotation, the same phenomenon that makes storms rotate opposite directions in the two hemispheres.

Unfortunately, bathroom sinks, tubs, and toilets are much smaller than hurricanes, and any possible Coriolis influence is mathematically insignificant compared to other forces that might create a drain vortex, like currents in the water or irregularities in the container shape. Water can drain either direction in either hemisphere, in other words, unless you go to great lengths to cancel out all other factors except the rotation of the Earth. Unless your toilet is mathematically perfect, it probably goes both ways.

Quick Quiz: What’s the most populous country located entirely in the Southern Hemisphere?

Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

Photo by Flickr member peapod labs. Used under a Creative Commons License.

afotycon


quality posts: 2 Private Messages afotycon

Brasil

jai151


quality posts: 8 Private Messages jai151
afotycon wrote:Brasil



Is not entirely below the equator. South Africa, however, is

maxrfb


quality posts: 8 Private Messages maxrfb

I have long suspected that my toilet goes both ways!

wow. I actually bought a Robot Elvis.
What was I thinking?

jcolag


quality posts: 8 Private Messages jcolag

I seem to recall hearing that, to shut people up who believe this sort of thing, toilet manufacturers largely make their basins with a bias. True? Untrue? Makes a great story, either way...

exjoburger


quality posts: 0 Private Messages exjoburger
jai151 wrote:Is not entirely below the equator. South Africa, however, is



Yep, South African is well below the equator, and they have summer in December! (sorry, as a South African I find the ignorance of some Northern American TV hosts horrific and amusing). As for most populous country - possibly, but I could have sworn is wasn't when I lived there.

kc8emd


quality posts: 0 Private Messages kc8emd

For anyone who has not been south of the equator or outside of America, most foreign toilets do not swirl. Swirling toilets seem to be uniquely North American.

gbein83


quality posts: 0 Private Messages gbein83

Zimbabwe?

rkjohn99


quality posts: 0 Private Messages rkjohn99
kc8emd wrote:For anyone who has not been south of the equator or outside of America, most foreign toilets do not swirl. Swirling toilets seem to be uniquely North American.



Then how do you give someone a swirly?

jai151


quality posts: 8 Private Messages jai151
exjoburger wrote:Yep, South African is well below the equator, and they have summer in December! (sorry, as a South African I find the ignorance of some Northern American TV hosts horrific and amusing). As for most populous country - possibly, but I could have sworn is wasn't when I lived there.



There are surprisingly few countries below the equator.

MrGoodfriend


quality posts: 0 Private Messages MrGoodfriend

Googled population of countries. Wikipedia shows up with the following: South Africa, 48mill... first TOTALLY below the equator.
http://www.xaranews.com

jcolag


quality posts: 8 Private Messages jcolag
rkjohn99 wrote:Then how do you give someone a swirly?



Hang them from the ceiling and twist the rope, maybe? Or you could build a motorized device...