Video: 'Tangled' inside look

Inside Science News Service
updated 11/24/2010 8:29:55 PM ET 2010-11-25T01:29:55

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 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?

Story: Disney's 'Tangled' updates Rapunzel

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. 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.

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

This report originally appeared on the Inside Science News Service website as "Tangled Physics," and is republished with permission. © 2010 American Institute of Physics.

Explainer: 7 sci-fi worlds that have enraptured moviegoers

  • Image: "Tales from Earthsea"
    Disney / Studio Ghibli

    Science fiction allows writers and directors to transport audiences to landscapes that are beyond the realm of human experience. For example, in a new movie titled "Tales from Earthsea," Studio Ghibli takes audiences to a magical world of islands and largely uncharted seas where dragons fill the air. The film is loosely based on author Ursula K. Le Guin's series of novels set on the watery planet.

    Click ahead to see six more sci-fi worlds that have enraptured movie audiences over the years. Then weigh in with a comment on your favorite, or let us know what super-cool realm we missed.

  • Pandora, full of humanoids, and maybe real

    Image: Pandora's floating mountains dwarf a massive gunship
    20th Century Fox

    In his epic film "Avatar," director James Cameron takes audiences to a world filled with blue, nature-loving humanoids, flora and fauna that glow in the dark, and floating mountain islands.

    The planet, called Pandora, is located 4.4 light-years from Earth in the Alpha Centauri star system, where it orbits a Jupiterlike gas giant called Polyphemus.

    Although Pandora is fictional, scientists with the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics say such an inhabitable world really could exist. "All of the gas giant planets in our solar system have rocky and icy moons," says the center's Lisa Kaltenegger. "That raises the possibility that alien Jupiters will also have moons. Some of those may be Earth-sized and able to hold onto an atmosphere."

  • In "Star Wars," there's no place like home

    Image: C3PO and Luke Skywalker
    Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM, via Associated Press

    Baked dry by twin yellow suns, the desert planet of Tatooine may not be the lap of luxury, but for Luke Skywalker and his clan, it is home sweet home. Audiences first met Skywalker on Tatooine in the 1977 release of "Star Wars," the first of several films in the saga played out in that galaxy far, far away.

    There's little to do on Tatooine except farm moisture and break the law. Skywalker himself was a humble moisture farmer before acquiring the droids R2D2 and C3PO, who held plans for the Death Star.

    The planet's many lawbreakers gather at one of the coolest, though toughest, bars ever imagined for any world, anywhere: Mos Eisley Cantina. It's a crossroads for traders of almost everything illegal. They make deals while rocking out to an all-alien band and downing concoctions slung by a surly bartender.

  • Dagobah: A swampy land for sage advice

    Image: "Empire Strikes Back" Yoda and Luke

    A mist-enshrouded, overgrown swamp greets Luke Skywalker when he crash-lands on Dagobah to train with the Jedi Master Yoda, who made the planet his hideout after fleeing the forces of the Galactic Empire. The planet is poor in high-tech flash, but rich in timeless advice shared by Yoda.

    "Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try," the little old man tells the young buck as learns to trust the powers of the Force. The promise of receiving such wisdom ought to make Dagobah a must stop for any Jedi in training.

  • LV-426: Where aliens rule

    Image: Newt in "Aliens"
    Twentieth Century-Fox

    Most noted for its spirelike rocks and consistently gloomy weather, LV-426 may not seem welcoming, but nevertheless a colony of humans in 1986's "Aliens" found it suitable enough for "terraforming," the act of making an extraterrestrial body habitable.

    The decision to colonize turned out to be a big mistake. Newt, shown here, was the only one to survive the deadly attacks from the facehuggers, the resident parasitic aliens. The film was critically acclaimed as a standard bearer in the sci-fi genre, making LV-426 an unforgettable world.

  • Krypton: Long-gone land of Superman

    Image: Superman above the Earth
    Warner Bros. Pictures

    Superman is either the superhero he is because of or in spite of his home planet, Krypton, which has been re-conceived several times since the world's most easily recognized superhero burst upon the pages of Action Comics No. 1 in 1938.

    The one thing that holds true throughout the versions of Superman's history is the explosion of the planet shortly after the superhero's departure, which created Kryptonite, the only material capable of harming Superman.

  • Middle-earth: Home from an irretrievable time

    Image: "The Lord of the Rings" screenshot
    New Line Cinema

    Film director Peter Jackson deftly transports audiences to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth in the big-screen adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, an epic tale of the struggle between good and evil. According to Tolkien, Middle-earth is part of Earth, but from a mythical time.

    The setting is one of familiar and stunning scenery with towering mountains, lush forests and gushing streams. Fans wishing to get a feel for the world as depicted by Jackson should book a trip to New Zealand, where much of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was filmed.


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