spaceSpace and Physics

A New Sporting Competition – Which Balls Are Most Affected By The Magnus Effect?


Stephen Luntz

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

Freelance Writer

balls v balls

Without being thrown, which ball will go further under spin and the Magnus effect? How Ridiculous

The team from How Ridiculous have found a new way to pit ball sports against each other, testing which balls are most subject to swing when dropped from a very, very high place with spin.

In 2015, How Ridiculous experimented with trying to score a basket from the top of a 126 meter (415 feet) high dam. While up there, they rediscovered the Magnus effect, finding that backspin caused the ball to swing away from the dam. It's the same effect that allowed Parminder Nagra to Bend it Like Beckham and tennis players to hit balls so hard without them going out of court, but the height really shows it off.


Derek Muller of Veritasium, explained the physics along with some ways the same effect is being put to non-sporting uses.

Now the How Ridiculous crew is experimenting with whether the effect makes a football or basketball fly further.

(They also gave a baseball, American football, golf and tennis ball a go.)

Of course, when it comes to scientific testing this leaves a lot to be desired. We don't know if both balls had exactly the same amount of spin, and good research would use repetition to take out one-off effects.


The physics of which ball will go furthest is complex. Weight matters, but so does the ball's surface. The bumps that help basketball players grip the ball increases the interaction between the ball and the air, enhancing the Magnus effect. The football, being smoother, doesn't push on the air as much as it spins. As you can see from the video, the differences in roughness, weight, size, and the amount of spin the balls were given almost cancel each other out.


spaceSpace and Physics
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  • magnus effect,

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  • basketballs,

  • high dams,

  • home experiments