Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Sneezers

The Highstakes World of Competitive Sneezing

The wikipedia entry for sneeze has this to say under epidemiology:

The speed of human sternal release has been the source of much speculation, with the most conservative estimates placing it around 150 kilometers/hour (42 meters/second) or roughly 95 mph (135 feet/second), and the highest estimates -such as the JFK Health World Museum in Barrington, Illinois- which propose a speed as fast as 85% of the speed of sound, corresponding to approximately 1045 kilometers per hour (290 meters/second) or roughly 650 mph (950 feet/second).

On a relative scale of sneezing I feel that mine have a surprising amount of force behind them. Plenty of people have small, mousy sneezes. The muscles of their face barely engage, it's more like a weak nasal hiccup. A strong sneeze can contract a surprising number of muscles: the face, neck, abdominal, lower-back, and even sphincter.

While over the last 24 hours I've transitioned to my usual winter sport (wheezy coughing), in the days preceding this one I feel I have taken my sneezing to glorious new heights. At last I feel I am a true athlete of the sneeze; a finely tuned sneezing machine. From the moment the tingling begins in my nasal cavity my muscles from the waist up go on high alert, ready. You have to be careful not tense your muscles or attempt to stifle the sneeze. This can lead to popping a blood vessel, involuntary urination, or it could even force air into the eustachian tube causing a rupture of the eardrum. You can also pull muscles that are unused to the fast-twitch fiber contraction. To prevent abdominal strains due to sneezing you may want to do planks or a few fast sets of situps every other day, along with several minutes of stretching, so your muscles will always have the strength and elasticity necessary to get the job done.

But, while I feel ready to join the high stakes world of competitive sneezing, there are still some barriers to forming this league. First we need to develop judging criteria. For instance, judges might give style points on a scale of 1-10 for the categories facial expression and audio. But those are both subjective measures, and I believe far more weight should be placed on objective sneeze accomplishments. In particular, the force or speed of the sneeze. However, first the league would need determine a measuring method. Here are a few I'm considering:

1) A speed gun, like those used by highway patrol or baseball scouts.
Pros: Intuitive design
Cons: The particulates that make up a sneeze may not be large enough to register.

2) High-speed camera images of sneeze particulate against a backdrop
Pros: Tried and True.
Cons: The website explaining this technique is a distressing red color.

3)Portable Doppler or Wind Meter
Pros: Fancy, high-tech sounding.
Cons: Does portable doppler even exist? Also, wind meters may not be able register the fastest sneeze, or the volume of the sneeze may be too low to measure.

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