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02 November 2006 @ 02:31 pm
Case for the Mythbusters: Bag of oranges and bruises  
I was having a discussion with someone over punishment, and the usual legend about Bing Crosby and his kids came up.

Can anyone help me out here? I also recall hearing that Bing Crosby used a bag of oranges to beat his kids so it wouldn’t leave bruises, but I have always considered this baloney, and always wondered if anyone has actually done this. So, of course, I looked it up in Google. I kept finding people quoting the theory, or refer to incidents from the 1991 film, “The Grifters” where a bag of oranges actually leaves bruises, but causes no real damage (kind of the opposite). But no “this is a myth” or “yeah, this works, here’s our Youtube experiment!”

I tired to think about this once, because it smelled very much like an urban legend (I checked Snopes, no mention of it). Here’s why I think it’s baloney, although to be fair, I have not actually attempted to hit anyone or anything with a bag of oranges because that’s a waste of oranges. Maybe Bing could have done this because he had all that money, but it smells fishy nonetheless.

The effectiveness of a bag of oranges as a physical weapon seems dubious, if anything, because how does one apply the force? I would assume swinging a bag overhand or horizontally at your target (as opposed to, say, pushing it at them?). A bag of oranges, which weight about 5-10 pounds on average, is an unwieldy and unbalanced object that requires a lot of inertia, so you’d have to really give yourself a lot of room, like swinging a two-handed sword or a large battle axe, to hit anyone with enough impact that would cause any sort of pain or damage. Probably you’ll also be in enclosed space, which would make it even harder to swing one of those around, unless you took your victim outside like some parents did when they whipped their child with a “switch” or stick. I’d be afraid of hitting the lamps and such, especially if I was angry.

Maybe it’s like the Olympic sport of shotput, you have to spin around a few times to get up the speed you need to do the actual impact. That seems kind of complicated, can you imagine saying, “Hold still while I spin around a few times to hit you with this sack of oranges.” It gives time for your opponent to duck or use their arms to defend themselves.

On top of that, a bag or oranges probably is not meant to take that kind of force upon impact. Most seem to be a plastic bag or a red nylon mesh of some kind. I’d give it 2-3 good hits before it breaks. The oranges themselves would quickly break down under impact as well, and I would think after about 3 hits, you would have a disintegrating sack of a pulpy mash flinging juicy bits of orange peel and flesh everywhere. That stuff is hard to get off walls, man.

The actual impact of a deftly swung bag may or may not be an effective deterrent, even upon first impact, any more than being hit by a small child. It would depend on where you were hit, how hard or soft the oranges were, and how long the oranges stayed on the impact site after the hit. That’s how boxing gloves work: it’s not the actual strike, but the combination of the strike and surface area of the glove that can knock out a guy; that’s why the arms are more important in boxing than the fists. The arm carries the glove and keeps it on the same spot. I suppose that if you got enough inertia behind a bag of oranges, or anything for that matter, you could cause pain. But I’d think at that level, you’d definitely leave marks even if you were hit by a bag of dry sponges.

The storage period of such a weapon is also a problem. Unless you always have a fresh sack of oranges in your home, you would either have to rely on when you last bought a bag, and how much has also been consumed since you bought it. It’s not like a paddle or whip you can leave hanging up on the wall or in the closet. A sack of oranges will go fuzzy and rot pretty quickly. “I am so mad... you will be so sorry... stay right there, son! I gotta go to Safeway to get something to beat you with!” Maybe beating with oranges is something you have to plan for in advance.

I am so curious about this, that I might offer myself up as a guinea pig. I’d need someone who had good accuracy, and a few sacks of oranges, who was also willing to hit me with them with earnest force like someone trying to beat me. Then I’d wait to see if they left bruises. I am pretty hardy: I got beat up a LOT as a teen, and so I know how to deal with repeated bruises. Of course, then there’s the question, what if it leaves no bruises, but breaks a kidney or another vital organ? How will I explain that to my insurance company?

Hmmm... maybe I’ll never know. What do you think?
Kory M. Kaese tth on November 2nd, 2006 07:37 pm (UTC)
E-mail the mythbusters. Sorry man I could not take a swing at you. There are plenty of other people on the other hand I would not mind as musch.

Ian Mc ianmcin on November 2nd, 2006 07:46 pm (UTC)
I always thought that if you wanted to beat somebody and not leave bruises, you used the phone book, not a bag of oranges.

I seem to recall an SCTV skit where Bing Crosby was an orange juice pitchman, offering his kids glasses of juice because it was supposed to help with "those bumps and bruises". It may be that when allegations surfaced about Crosby's child abuse, his most recent work had been as an orange juice spokesman, and things just got a bit conflated. (Then again, his wikipedia article mentions nothing about orange juice, so I could merely be talking out my arse.)
Christine takayla on November 3rd, 2006 03:51 pm (UTC)
I have also seen this skit, and having had heard of the Bing Crosby/oranges incident prior to it, thought it was pretty funny.
csue_n_moo csue_n_moo on November 2nd, 2006 10:29 pm (UTC)
Nah, I'd feel guilty about hitting *you* with oranges, bagged or not.

Step 1: find a terrorist.
Step 2: kidnap him/her/it.
Step 3: test the oranges.

Hmmm, maybe that's why Gitmo's in Cuba; tropical weather and all that, they can probably grow LOTS of oranges. And who'd believe such a thing if they complained to the Red Cross? "They beat you with fruit? Come on, we only care if they beat you with electrical cord."

OK, I'll stop now.
Dave bulsi on November 3rd, 2006 12:54 pm (UTC)
I imagine this to be akin to beating some one with a bar of soap in a sock. Maybe one to three oranges in the bag swung like a flail. My guess is the oranges will break down on impact absorbing some of the force them selves causing less damage to the target. I doubt you could get more the a few swings before the orange flail would become useless.

Will the cause pain w/o bruising? I think it will lessen the chances of a bruise forming but if you hit hard enough I think it will still bruise.
maugorn maugorn on November 3rd, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)
I'm seconding bulsi on this.

It's all hinges on dissipating the force of the impact.
If you do that, you reduce the chance of bruise vs pain.

An orange, on a sharp impact will warp, and then break, sending the energy of the impact outward as it bursts.

I believe that the physics will look like this:

x/A= strength of impact needed to cause hematoma (burst blood vessels resulting in a bruise)in an area. BUT that If the entire force is distributed over a larger area then such that x/A is less than the x needed, then no hematoma.

So we're dealing with a translation of a force x over the area of an orange, or many oranges, or over a very complicated surface caused by a bag of oranges.

y would be the amount of attenuation of force caused by an individual orange squashing.
z would be the amount of force dissipated by an orange exploding, but that would *only* happen if the net force goes over a certain threshold. There *could* be a key factor here, if the maximum force an orange can deliver is less than the bruising threshold. If the force the orange is *going* to deliver exceeds that threshold, the orange bursts, dissipating the excess energy outward. This would be imperfect, but a powerful limiting factor.

And then we get into
The chaotic interaction of a BAG full of oranges which starts making this REALLY ugly to figure, but EVERY interaction will involve a net attenuation of the energy such that the initial force being delivered:


F -(y(orangesinbag) + z(orangesthatburst) +(interactionlosses) + (Ghodknoswhatelse) = F1 (attenuated force)

which will be significantly less than F.

IF F1 is still greater than x/A, then you still get a bruise. But chances are the attenuating factors, even if you get a boost from gravity, centripetal forces, and the weight of the bag, F1 will be vastly reduced.

I think that the bottom line is that you can HIT someone with more force(from you) and not bruise them. If the attenuated force of your strike(s) are less than the x/A needed to cause hematoma, then you *can* repeatedly strike someone with what *would* be deadly blows if you were using a stick or even your fist, and have the result of this barrage be only a pained victim and a bag of battered oranges.
I think the urban legend comes from the physics being understood backwards.
There's nothing special about oranges (except for possibly that z factor). It all adds up to a way of attenuating the power of the blows such that *you* can feel like you're beating the crap out someone, but they are only going "ow" instead of being bruised and broken.

That is my theory, that is to say, the theory that is mine.
wombat1138 wombat1138 on November 3rd, 2006 10:27 pm (UTC)
So it's like Nerf clubs, only biodegradable.

No wonder we've never heard of a "Narn sack-of-oranges squad", aside from the general infelicity of the phrase.
Christine: oh god the drama takayla on November 3rd, 2006 04:32 pm (UTC)
I think this allegation came from Bing's son, Gary's, book "Going My Own Way". I actually think that I read that book years and years ago. Bing had 4 sons by his first wife, Dixie. Gary was one of those, 2 of his brothers confirm the story, 1 denies it. Bing had 3 children by his second wife, Kathryn, who also deny Gary's allegations. The two brothers who confirmed it both killed themselves later by putting a shotgun barrel in their mouth. One did it on Christmas Day after watching White Christmas.

Interesting Trivia - Bing's daughter Mary, was the person who shot J.R. on Dallas. Bing's granddaughter, Denise, (Phillip is her father) played Tasha Yar on ST:TNG. :-)