1950s >> 1958 >> no-650-october-1958

Whip Crackaway

One morning midway between my tea and cornflakes my attention was arrested by an announcement in a programme on the radio that scientists had carried out an investigation to find out why a whip cracked when it was flicked. Moreover, one of them was about to make a statement on this phenomenon. I listened with, breathless interest while a wise, grave voice poured out a mass of scientific detail about supersonic sound barriers being broken and other effects. The whole thing seemed quite fantastic. Surely a group of scientists didn’t carry out a detailed study just to find out why a whip cracked.
The idea began to present some fascinating possibilities. Perhaps a vast research station somewhere in the Nevada desert. Rubber gloved and masked technicians cracking whips by remote control. Huge areas cordoned off, concrete shelters erected, complicated machinery recording every effect. Then later, the dramatic headlines, “The United States has cracked its biggest supersonic whip to date.”
From there, inevitably the Whip Disarmament Committee. Demonstrations at Trafalgar Square. Momentous statements by Mr. Bevan and the Archbishop of Canterbury—and what will Donald Soper do now, poor thing? Later, public spirited citizens will call for the pooling of whip-cracking secrets and international control. The Russians offering Ike a conducted tour of their whip plants in Siberia. The whole world waiting tensely for talks at the summit. Tass Agency issues the statement that Russia has cracked a supersonic whip with a small dog attached to the end. An American Lieutenant-Colonel announces that the United States will carry out their experiments with an even bigger dog.
What a panorama unfolds of State visits, high and low-level conferences, broken treaties, falling shares, the Queen “Bless this whip and all who crack it.”
I can see the whole stupendous drama culminating in the biggest crack of the biggest whip—but quite incidentally, why on earth does a whip crack?
J. H.

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