President Trump has put a lot of thought into his proposed border wall and all of the things that would be required of it so that Americans are protected from harm.
For example, there’s this, from his conversation with reporters on Air Force One as he made his way to Paris earlier this week.
One of the things with the wall is you need transparency. You have to be able to see through it. In other words, if you can’t see through that wall — so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what’s on the other side of the wall.
And I’ll give you an example. As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall.
Fair enough. Don’t want to be walking along next to the wall and suddenly get brained by a big bag of meth.
But I couldn’t help but wonder: Could someone actually throw a 60-pound bag high enough in the air to clear Trump’s wall?
To answer that, we first need to know how high Trump’s wall would be. We assessed this last year, compiling Trump’s various claims about how high the wall would need to be in his vision for it, including saying during a debate last February that it would need to be higher than the ceiling of the debate venue, the Moores Opera Center at the University of Houston. That meant, in essence, that the wall would need to be about 50 feet high.
We made a graphic to visualize that.
Let’s set aside how the majority of drugs that are smuggled into the United States across the southern border come through existing checkpoints and not in areas where the border is unprotected. Could a drug smuggler who chose to tackle the wall actually throw a bag of drugs that high?
I asked David Hogg, professor of physics and data science at New York University, to offer his opinion over email. He was skeptical.
“No simple force calculation is possible, because the way things are thrown involves a lot of complex body kinematics that don’t boil down to simple forces,” he wrote. But, he added, it probably wasn’t possible simply because humans do try to throw heavy objects high in the air — and no one has thrown that big a weight that high.
When is this feat attempted? As part of the international Strongman competitions that seem to air incessantly on ESPN2 in the middle of Saturday afternoons. There’s an event called “keg-tossing” in those competitions that is precisely what it sounds like: Throwing a beer keg as high in the air as possible.
The world record holder for that is a man named Hafthor Bjornsson, who might be recognized by fans of “Game of Thrones” as the character “The Mountain.” In November 2015, he threw a keg that cleared a 24-foot 6-inch bar.
You may notice, in that video, that the keg actually goes somewhat higher than needed.
The keg is about 14 inches high.
So we estimate that Bjornsson’s keg probably went about 28 feet in the air.
That’s a heavy object, traveling high in the air — but the keg is only (“only”) 33 pounds, and it’s not clearing 50 feet.
Paul Mouser, West Virginia state chairman for Strongman Corporation (which runs American competitions) offered his thoughts on the feasibility of throwing a 60-pound bag of drugs over a wall of that height: “Not feasible at all.”
He noted that there’s another sort of competition from the Highland Games, a strongman competition with a Scottish theme. It’s called, simply enough, “weight over bar.” There are two ways to do it, either standing in place and throwing it over your head or spinning beforehand to build up momentum. The world record for the stand-in-place style is held by a guy named … Hafthor Bjornsson, who might be recognized by fans of “Game of Thrones” as the character “The Mountain.”
Here’s his record-setting throw of the 56-pound weight. It cleared a 19-foot 7-inch bar.
Mouser said that the record for the spinning style was slightly higher: 21 feet or so. Still not quite enough weight; still not quite enough height.
How best to get that 60-pound bag over the wall? “You would need a catapult,” Mouser said — a slightly different take on it than Hogg offered. Hogg suggested a trebuchet.
A trebuchet is a sort of sling, like a catapult but with a slightly different functionality. (There is a semi-sincere feud over the superiority of either device on the Web.) Using an online trebuchet simulator (what a world), I was able to create a device that would throw a 60-pound object more than 52 feet in the air and a distance of 63 feet. Like so:
(The simulation chided me because “the sling was not in tension for the whole launch,” but I’m about results, not perfection.)
Set up a trebuchet like that on one side of the wall and the bags o’ drugs can go sailing over.
And those falling drug bags would indeed be dangerous. I asked Hogg to figure out how fast they’d be falling; he estimated somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 mph. But, happily, the American perambulators enjoying their walk beside the wall would need only peek through it to see drug dealers loading up a medieval siege weapon, allowing them to hastily run for cover.
Looks like all of the problems with the wall have been solved.