The answer is no. And you don’t have to know related principles about the increasing speeds in fluids causing decreasing pressures and the like, either, just in case you were curious about that, too. (Editor: that’s Bernoulli’s Principle.) Suffice to say, that dolts, dullards and dunderheads can still hit a ping pong ball without having any idea whatsoever about what keeps it on the table. However, since there are some curious human beings among us – enquiring minds would like to know – (my broker is EF Hutton), I’ll supply you with the dope on this subject. (Editor: He’s qualified; takes one to be able to dispense the dope.) (Lao Du: Dutiful readers, these editorial interjections are beyond my control. I apologize for the interruptions. Kindly proceed.)
First, a full disclosure: (Editor: He’s bursting with rectitude.) I really don’t know much about fluid dynamics. (Editor: To be more exact, he’s admitting he don’t know ‘nuffin. ) Matter of fact, I’m not exactly a whiz in other areas of physics, either. Don’t get me wrong, I got good grades, but I really didn’t understand all the motion stuff with Einstein et al. For example, the one where two guys take a trip at the same time but to different places, and then they come back to where they started only to find that their watches aren’t showing the same time. That one freaked me out. Or the other one, where one twin takes a long rocket trip to Yahuhputzland, and when he comes back retaining all of his youthful vigor, he finds his twin is a doddering, old, wrinkly, whine-guzzling geezer. Jeesh! Is that creepy or what! Anyway, that stuff is mostly for nerds and geeks. Look, I like to just memorize facts, okay? Don’t give me anything that I gotta figure out, I got enough problems. I’m tellin’ ya, with these conceptual things, you got to think. What I’m good at is knowing the capital of Mexico (Mexico City) and when the War of 1812 was fought. (Editor: he also knows the capital of Panama – Panama City.) Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts (Joe Friday, Dragnet). But … I actually think I understand how a ball curves, and maybe I can explain it to you.
All right, here goes. I’m going to attempt to give you the most basic, simplistic, Mickey Mouse explanation as to why a ball with spin will swerve according to Gustav Magnus and that Italian guy, Clostridium Botulinum (Editor: Daniel Bernoulli, and he was Swiss). And you can relax, no calculus required, plus I guarantee that you won’t be required to exert much mental energy in understanding this stuff. Take this journey with me and you’ll come back looking your same swell self, and your watch will tell you the same time as everyone else’s – I promise.
If you’ve ever played baseball, tennis, soccer, golf … ping pong , you know that any of those balls used in those sports will curve or change trajectory, as they say to make it sound more scientific. Why? How? Let me ask you this before I give you the answers: Do you know why a 747 airplane weighing up to 970,000 pounds can fly in the air? Or, why a sailboat can sail against the wind? If you know the answer to either, than you’re excused. You don’t have to read beyond this point. Just pass Go and collect your 200 dollars. Skedaddle. You know too much already. The rest of you stick around, you’re not excused yet.
Here’s a Fact to start with: “The ball breaks in the direction that the leading edge of the ball is turning.” Now, that gives you the result, not the why or how. Next Fact: As the ball moves and spins, “it will drag the air around it a little, which leads to air rotating around the ball, which makes the air on one side move faster than the air on the other.” Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. Let me clear something up here about one side moving faster than the other side of a ball – that doesn’t sound exactly kosher. Why would one side be traveling faster than another? Okay, listen up. You just hit a topspin smash. The ball is going toward your opponent on the other side of the table, and it’s rotating toward the table top. Take into consideration the nature of the spin on the ball you just hit, that the top of the ball is spinning downward and is traveling against the resistance of the air in the room, while the bottom of the ball, spinning back toward you, is getting pushed by that very same wind created by your forceful shot. Got it? Now since the ball is moving faster on the bottom than on the top, there is created a differential in air pressures which is why the ball will follow the leading edge (fact one) and come down. Whew! This pressure difference causes a spinning ball to curve toward the side with lower pressure. In the case of a ball with top spin, that means downward. Halt. Let’s take a breath here. Do you understand what I just said? “This pressure difference causes a spinning ball to curve toward the side with lower pressure.” Thus, when you hit a topspin shot, the ball will go down. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the Magnus effect! I rest my case.
So, you may ask, what’s the Big Deal? Well, there is something significant here that you should know. It’s this: There’s less of a Magnus effect with a heavier ball. That’s right! Because those wily, sneaky spin-meisters can do all of their treacherous gimmicks (reverse pendulums, tomahawks) with a lighter ball, we should demand that the ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) exchange the current 2.7 gram poly balls for bowling balls weighing no more than 14 pounds. And while they’re at it, why not let the brainiacs at the Federation get some grit (maybe a 220 aluminum oxide – sandpaper, my friends) and outlaw the despicable and unworthy long pips. Hooah! Lao Du