American Ninja Warrior returns, bringing Science in Suburbia with it

Unlike my previous extended absences (outlined here and here), this past one isn’t just due to work. (Partially, yes; exclusively, no.) It’s been rough going for several months now, and when I don’t feel like myself, I don’t see the science in everything. No science = no posts. Bit by bit I’ve been trying to get my proverbial ducks back in a row, but I haven’t been sure how to dip back into the blogosphere.

Enter this week’s season premiere of American Ninja Warrior, the inspiration for past posts and one of my favorite summer shows. While the show’s hosts have noted the physics behind the sport in previous seasons, it became the running theme during science teacher Keita Kashiwagi’s debut performance. Excerpts from his application video showed him using physical feats to demonstrate concepts to students, and the hosts (albeit briefly, and not always by name) covered the usual suspects during his run: momentum, strength-to-weight ratio, and friction. 

Kashiwagi proved that there is some overlap in the Venn diagram of science enthusiasts and athletes, performing well enough to advance to the next round. Only the final obstacle of the course was able to best him, and a possible mathematical explanation for this is near and dear to my heart.

The Warped Wall requires contestants to scale a fourteen-foot (168-inch) curved wall. This is no mean feat for any competitor, but, at 5’4″, Kashiwagi is at a distinct disadvantage. (At just under five feet tall, I feel for him.) Let’s break out the percentages and compare Kashiwagi to a six-foot-tall competitor.

**Quick Percents Review: A percentage is just a specific way of presenting a fraction. If you want to find what percent x is of y, x is the numerator (on top) and y is the denominator (on bottom). Do the division (top divided by bottom) to get the decimal, then multiply by 100 (shortcut: move the decimal point two places to the right) to get the percentage. Please note that a result of over 100% is perfectly valid and is to be expected whenever your numerator is larger than your denominator. Now, back to the action.**

While the eight-inch difference is under 5% of the wall itself (8/168), its significance becomes more apparent when the wall is compared to the contestants. The obstacle is about 263% of Kashiwagi’s height, while it is about 233% of a six-foot-tall contestant’s height.

As if short people didn’t already have enough to deal with.

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