When cold weather hits, children who have seen the movie “A Christmas Story,” may be tempted to triple dog dare another child to lick a metal pole. If the other child takes the dare, they may be surprised when their tongue becomes stuck to the cold metal.
Why the tongue becomes attached is a curiosity begging to be answered.
The moisture on the tongue freezes between the pole and the tongue is the easy answer. In order for this to happen the temperature of the metal pole must fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If the pole’s temperature is higher, the moisture from the tongue will not freeze. As the temperature of the metal falls farther below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the tongue will adhere more quickly. A sweaty hand could also stick to a pole at, or below, 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Frank J. DiSalvo, professor physical science at Cornell University, metal has a high thermal conductivity. This helps the heat to transfer from a greater temperature to a lower one. So when the tongue touches the pole, the heat from it to the metal is faster than the circulatory system in the body in reheating the tongue’s tip. Due to this the saliva freezes very quickly when it touches the metal pole.
Plastics and rubber have lower thermal conductivity so if this dare were performed on an object made of these materials, sticking is less likely. Opposite to this is the conductivity of ice, which is high, leading tongues to stick to ice cubes.
If a tongue does get stuck to a metal pole, do not panic or try to pull it off the metal. This action can lead to torn tongue tissues, bleeding and other minor injuries.
Instead, someone should pour warm water over the tongue until the connection between the tissue and the pole is broken. This may not be possible if there is no one else around. If this is the case, bring your body as close to the pole as possible, without increasing the area of the tongue that is touching the pole. Using a gloved or dry hand, rub the metal close to where the tongue is stuck. By doing this, the temperature of the metal may increase, so the body’s heat can melt the ice which is holding the tongue in place. This way the connection is broken without any injuries.
Even though there is a solution to this problem, the best thing may be to ignore the triple dog dare and walk away. Otherwise, the person may be embarrassed by his picture in the newspaper or other local news source.