What Is The History Behind The Broom Challenge?

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What Is The History Behind The Broom Challenge?

A broom challenge

It’s back again, everybody. The Broom Challenge asks you whether you can balance a broom upright on its bristles. It’s swept rapidly through social media, from Tik-Tok to Facebook. It began on Instagram on the 7th, and it exploded with a tweet on the 10th from Twitter user @mikaiylaaaaa, citing a supposed announcement from NASA.

Or did it begin here?

The same challenge was trending back in 2012, claiming that brooms would stand up on the spring equinox. Many other sources are citing this as the origin of the trend, and calling that the end of it.

The Secret History of the Broom Challenge

But just a little further back, the idea was alive and well, though it took the form of balancing an egg, not a broom. This earlier variant of the meme was so big that it was even featured in a 2003 episode of the West Wing that guest-starred Matthew Perry, and before that it circulated through chain emails in the 1990s.

It turns out this phenomenon dates at least as far back as the 1940s, where Americans in China took note of an “egg-balancing craze” for the spring festival of Lichun, as written in a March 1945 issue of Life magazine. (Incidentally, NASA wasn’t founded until 1958.) The people of Chungking weren’t even using the method of crushing the end of the egg described in Gulliver’s Travels. Just nice smooth eggs, flat ground and careful hands. As with so many memes, the Broom Challenge is a lot older than most people think.

Now to be fair, calling this broom-balancing act a “hoax” is a bit of an exaggeration. The explanations many have provided may not always be complete, but they surround the truth, and the truth is that some brooms and some eggs do balance on their ends.

How To Try The Broom Challenge

To balance a broom, or any object, there’s only two rules. First, the object’s base has to have three points of contact with the surface it’s on. Second, the object’s center of mass has to be above the base.

With brooms, which have a wide base and a low center of mass, this is surprisingly easy. At least, compared to eggs. But just as it’s worked throughout history, it will work any day of the year, with just a little know-how.

A version of the Broom Challenge you can try yourself
scienceworld.ca/resource/balance/

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