David wen avatar
David Wen
Entrepreneur, software developer, management consultant. He has slept on the street in Tanzania before.
Playground analytics

“A seesaw (also known as a teeter-totter or teeter board) is a long, narrow board pivoted in the middle so that, as one end goes up, the other goes down.”

And is awesome.  Maybe I’ll add that to the Wikipedia posting.

I was on one today.  There’s a sudden moment of weightlessness as your counterpart pushes off the ground and you feel as if the bottom dropped out from under you.  Then as you land on the tire you see the other person do a little hop into the air as she reaches the top.  You think about all the cool things that are involved, like the force of gravity, your mass, how close you are to the fulcrum, why you keep flying once the seesaw reaches its limit…

Let’s do a comparison between this and other playground equipment.

Tire swing

This vomit-inducing contraption is more for the pleasure of the people not on the tire swing than for the person (or people, if they’re skinny) on the tire swing.  One plus is that kids learn about centrifugal force.  The minuses are dizziness, headaches, and potentially lethal bumps to the head if your pushes are having a real good time.  I’ll give this a C minus.

Monkey bars

This one is ok.  There’s a clear purpose to monkey bars - to get to the other side without touching the ground.  Sometimes things get out of control and people start playing chicken fights, which is where two kids hold on to some bars in the middle facing each other, and kick the other person.  First to fall loses.  Or last to fall wins (I’m not sure if one is more politically correct than the other).  Monkey bars don’t teach much about physics though, aside from how much force is required to kick the opponent off, and maybe the benefits of a pendulum swinging kick.  That said, still a solid B.


Kind of pointless.  I mean, it’s not that thrilling, and there’s so much work involved to climb back up and wait in line.  A saving grace is one neat game that evolved from slides.  It is called the alligator game, where kids sit at the top of the slide and the alligator kid runs up the slide ramp and tries to grab the sitting kids’ legs and drag them down (a wide slide is needed).  The kids who are dragged down turn into alligators too until no more kids are left.  The only physics elements are the realization that you need shoes with a high degree of dry friction, and a conceptual understanding of the formula Fr = μN.

I give this a C plus.


Based on how I analyzed these playground equipments, my conclusion is that I have definitely lost my childhood.  But maybe today I got a tiny piece of it back.  The thrills that I felt as the seesaw went up and down were a peak into the inner child that has been waiting for the chance to play for a long time.

Today: A plus :)

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David wen avatar
David Wen
Entrepreneur, software developer, management consultant. His favourite book is The Power of One.