'Tangled' physics

November 24, 2010 By Chris Gorski

Disney's new movie, "Tangled," features the familiar fairy tale character of Rapunzel. The new film promises many twists on the beloved tale, but her long locks will remain prominently featured.

In the Brothers Grimm story of Rapunzel, a witch holds a beautiful young woman captive in a tower. Rapunzel is blessed with a lovely singing voice and long, long blond hair.

One day, her voice enchants a prince passing through a nearby forest. They fall in love,
and Rapunzel lets down her hair so that the prince may use it to climb the tower to meet her. This chain of events may lead curious readers to ask a question. Can human hair support the weight of another person?

On average, one strand of hair can support just under 100 grams, or about the weight of two candy bars. Strands of darker hair are generally thicker, and therefore stronger, than
blond hair. But alas, Rapunzel must make do with blond locks. Given that blondes generally have about 140,000 hairs on their heads, Rapunzel's hair should easily support the weight of many climbing princes.

However, there is more to this story.

If Rapunzel simply let down her hair and the prince started climbing immediately, her hair would not break, but it might rip out. Also, the rest of her body might not be able to support the weight. Thankfully, there are strategies that she can use to help reduce the strain on her head and body.

Nathan Harshman, a physicist at American University in Washington, suggested Rapunzel would be safer and more secure if she tied her hair around something before lowering it.

"The whole idea is that you can use the of the against itself in the knot, and whatever it is tied around will support the of the prince," Harshman said. That seems to be a much better idea than making Rapunzel's scalp the anchor point.

Explore further: Hair restoration techniques improve

Related Stories

Discovery's manifest includes ponytail

December 22, 2006

U.S. astronaut Sunita Williams, assigned to the International Space Station, sent a present home with the Discovery space shuttle crew -- a ponytail.

Probing Question: Does stress produce gray hair?

February 18, 2007

A reporter struggling to meet a deadline. A single mother juggling work and kids. A student cramming for exams. Could any of these folks justifiably fault their harried lifestyles when they notice a few gray hairs?

Don't brush with baldness: put down that comb

August 10, 2009

Put that comb back in your handbag -- a study by an Israeli dermatologist has found that too much combing of the coiffure leads to hair loss, the daily Haaretz reported on Monday.

Recommended for you

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

Search for Egypt's Nefertiti gains new momentum (Update)

September 29, 2015

The search for ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti in an alleged hidden chamber in King Tut's tomb gained new momentum as Egypt's Antiquities Minister said Tuesday he is now more convinced a queen's tomb may lay hidden behind ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 25, 2010
The legend specifically mentions she tied her hair around a hook.

However, the height of the window of above the ground could be a problem. According to the legend it was on the twelfth year that Rapunzel was put in the castle. How long would her hair be at 12 years old? Did she have enough to cut some of it off and make a hair weave to extend it to the length required?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.