Teach Physics With “The Pit and the Pendulum”

Pit and the Pendulum Rap

Physics teachers take heed: Halloween is the perfect time to brush up on your Edgar Allan Poe. You may ask, “Aren’t they covering that over in the English department?” They may. But with this interdisciplinary mini-lesson, you’ll have your students thinking about this gothic tale of terror in a mathematical way. So go ahead…teach physics with “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

Before you begin, you can watch our video that summarizes “The Pit and the Pendulum” or read the full story here.Then you are ready for two key questions.

QUESTION ONE: HOW DEEP IS THE WELL?

In the story, the prisoner drops a stone into the pit to determine its depth. Here’s the original text:

“Groping about the masonry just below the margin, I succeeded in dislodging a small fragment, and let it fall into the abyss. For many seconds I hearkened to its reverberations as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its descent ; at length there was a sullen plunge into water, succeeded by loud echoes.”

Using this information, calculate the depth of the well. (Click on the related lyrics to find the answer.)

QUESTION TWO: HOW DO PENDULUMS WORK?

The prisoner makes this remark about the pendulum, when he realizes that it is getting closer and closer to his body:

“The sweep of the pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard. As a natural consequence, its velocity was also much greater.”

Explain why its velocity was greater.

Post your answers in the comments!

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