How to Best Smash a Full Beer Can on Your Face, According to Physics


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How to Best Smash a Full Beer Can on Your Face, According to Physics

July 3, 2015, 5:51pm

Look at these bros. Just look at them! I have no idea what day of the year this video was taken on, but it might as well have been Independence Day, because they are taking their freedom and doing something with it, goddammit.

They're enjoying their freedom so much that it pains me to have to interrupt for a moment and say sorry, sirs, you're doing it wrong. Objectively, the best way to smash a beer can on your face is to do it while jumping off some sort of dock situation into some sort of body of water, beer blasting skyward, howls of "DETONATOR" reverberating through the airwaves, shards of aluminum possibly entering your skull as your fans/friends/awed bystanders marvel at your talents. But if you fuck it up, if that beer don't burst on the first try, well, you have blown it, my friend.


This is of course a simple question of physics, and so I spent an afternoon emailing dozens of the best materials physicists in the entire world to get down to it: What is the best way to slam a beer can into your big stupid face?

It may shock you to learn that none of them responded to my email. Undeterred, I did what anyone else would do. I turned to Reddit's AskPhysics section.

My inquiry was better received there, as you might expect. I've witnessed a beer detonation or two in my time, so I had some burning questions. My most burningest of these is: Will you die if you attempt to detonate one of those steel Sapporo cans on your face?

But we'll get to that in a minute. Here is how you, a Cool Guy or Cool Girl, should detonate a beer. Disclaimer: Although these people seem to know what they're talking about, I can't totally vouch for the science. But let's argue about it if you disagree!

Use a Coors Light

It shouldn't matter if those Rockies are blue—the Silver Bullet's secret is that it's a little bit taller and thinner than your standard beer can.

"The tall boy is generally easier to detonate as you'd have the ability to split the can in the middle easier by applying a large torque on the edges which would be able to tear the can easier," nctweg, who claimed to be a materials physics grad student, told me.

Form Matters

My friends have always said that you want to hold the can with two hands, one at either end, and essentially pull the can across your face, using that force to basically tear it in two. Nctweg says my friends are on to something: "Pull the can apart as you've described will definitely make it easier to break. As you pull apart, you're 'stretching' the center of the can which creates a structural weakness. Then when you smash against your head, you're compounding a force on top of the structural weakness."


Shake that thing up

If you can push the pressure of the carbon dioxide within the can up a couple notches i.e., by shaking the hell out of it, you can make the can a bit more rigid and thus easier to destroy. "If one can 1) get the content of the can to as high a pressure as possible—completely filled with an incompressible fluid would be optimal but probably not possible and 2) Hit it as hard as you can with as small an area as you can, it's entirely reasonable to, for a brief instant, vastly exceed the rated strength of an aluminum can," a Redditor who goes by Zebediah49 wrote. Nctweg agreed with that assessment: "all else equal, you can assume more carbonation = higher pressure = easier to burst."

Dent it a bit, maybe. But before, not on your head

In beer can detonation, there is no shame in cheating. Bang the can against a railing or some jerk's hipbone or something. Another Redditor, who goes by 1plusperspective said that any structural deformity may help you succeed: "I bet in experiments you see sidewall failure opposite impact the majority of the time Internal pressure will rise and facilitate failure at the point of tensile stress. Any little fold or dent will help this along."

Just do it. But not with a Sapporo one

"Considering the differences in tensile strength [between steel and aluminum], I wouldn't try it," 1plusperspective wrote. He or she was much more interested in the overall physics of detonation, however. "It would be worth doing some experiments on."

You heard em—get out there and smash some beers on your face. For science and for America.