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The Science Behind “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” Spookiness

You remember the standard sleepover fare: junk food, sleeping bags, video games, whispering about who in class you have a crush on. But during the month of October, when Halloween draws near, you may have added another, weirder ritual to your slumber parties: “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.” If you’re not familiar with the game, one lucky friend lies motionless, positioned as if in a coffin, on the ground, while the rest of the gang lifts that living corpse using nothing but fingertips (and chanting “light as a feather, stiff as a board” all the while). Though ’tis the season of all things spooky, and the feelings you got from the performance were always a bit unsettling, there’s an explanation behind this that’s far from supernatural.

It all comes down to physics (as everything does). Take an average adult’s mass—around 60 kilograms—and spread it over five people attempting the lift. Each person has two hands, and so each hand only has to lift six kilograms, less than a bag of groceries. The math is fairly straightforward! (So why did we get so freaked out as kids?)

At the heart of the spooky feeling lies a disconnect: we know implicitly that people are heavy things, and so when we see someone “levitating” on just our fingertips, it contradicts that intuition. We tend to focus on what’s right in front of us, and not on the math behind it.

Did you ever play “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” as a kid? Have a better explanation that involves demons? Let us know in the comments below.

Welcome to Nerdoween! Throughout the month of October, we’ll be celebrating everything spooky, macabre, and just plain weird. Nerdoween 2017 is presented by Alpha, our interactive membership service, which offers you exclusive content from Nerdist and Geek & Sundry, as well as a 10% discount on all of our merch.

Featured Image: Columbia Pictures

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