Monday, February 24, 2014

In memory of Harold Ramis, let's take a closer look at Egon's Twinkie

Harold Ramis has died. He's done a lot of good work, but I'll always remember him as Egon Spengler from the Ghostbusters film franchise. It was a wonderfully cast film.

This is a memorable quote from Egon in the first Ghostbusters:

"Well, let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. According to this morning sample it would be a Twinkie 35 feet long weighing approximately 600 pounds."


But how much would a 35 foot long Twinkie actually weigh?

Artist's depiction
First I'm going to make some assumptions. I'm going to assume that the Twinkie is sized to scale (so it's the same shape after the transformation) and I'm also going to assume that it is magically held to that shape, as the materials may not be so stable at that scale in reality. Meaning an actual 35 foot long Twinkie would probably be an oozing mess.

I've found, using Google, that Twinkies weigh slightly less since they were re-released, so I'll use the original weight (presumably the weight they had during the filming of Ghostbusters) of 1.5 ounces per cake. The normal length of a Twinkie is roughly 4 inches. For the sake of estimation, we'll say it's exactly four inches.

So how much is the Twinkie growing in volume? Let's see how many inches long a 35 foot long Twinkie is, and then how many times larger this is than a normal Twinkie.

35 feet * 12 inches = 420 inches (length of the large cake)

420 inches / 4 inches = 105 (how many times longer the large cake is than the normal sized cake.)

If it is 105 times longer, then it's also 105 times taller and 105 times wider. We don't need to calculate these measurements since we're just finding the proportion. We'll do this by cubing the amount.

105^3 = 1,157,625 (how many times bigger in 3 dimensions)

While the cake is only 105 times longer, it's actually *more than a million* times greater in volume and mass. (Think of this in terms of a small block. You can put ten in a row to make it ten times longer, but once you also make it ten times higher and wider, you've used 1,000 blocks.)

And now it's simply a matter of multiplying the number of ounces in the normal cake by this factor and then dividing that by 16 to find out how many pounds that makes.

1.5 ounces * 1,157,625 = 1,736,437.5 ounces in the large cake

1,736,437.5 ounces / 16 ounces in a pound = 108,527.34~ pounds for the large cake.

So it looks like the 35 foot long Twinkie would actually weigh over 108,000 pounds, more than 180 times what Egon claimed.

Inversely, doing some background math here (which I won't bore you with), a Twinkie that was "only" 600 pounds would be a little over six feet long. This kind of makes sense if you think of a tall man in the shape of a Twinkie, with all of the space around his head and legs and body filled in with cream, he would be a heavy Twinkie. I daresay an insurmountable Twinkie.

But this is not any fault of Egon. He obviously wasn't spending his morning calculating Twinkies. He was merely trying to illustrate the enormity of the situation to some less scientifically-minded folks. And good for him. Communication is the key to education, after all.

And if I've gotten any of this wrong, please tell me. I do make mistakes daily after all.