Marco Visscher | August 2009 issue
After Trevor Cox, professor of acoustics at the University of Salford in central England, designed the world’s largest whoopee cushion (it’s six feet—two meters—in diameter), he was approached by the British charity Comic Relief to carry out a little, um, research. Every year Comic Relief raises millions of dollars to tackle global poverty by organizing events and comedy performances. The charity wanted Cox to find out which whoopee cushion sound was the most amusing. So he set up a website, soundsfunny.org, that asks users to rate the funniest sounds of flatulence.
When Cox isn’t testing whoopee cushions, he’s designing sound systems for concert halls and cinemas and researching the acoustics of performance spaces. He became interested in whoopee cushions, he says, because “the physics of the whoopee cushion works as an analogy of how your own voice works, or the mouthpiece of a clarinet. It’s simply a memorable way to get people, especially children, interested in acoustic science.” The Comic Relief research was “a silly science Web experiment,” Cox says. “An opportunity to raise money and have some fun.”
A fun time was had by all who’ve sampled the sounds—tens of thousands of folks to date. As a result, Cox discovered three rules of whoopee cushion acoustics: “The longer it lasts, the funnier it is; if the sound is a bit whiney, it tends to be funnier; and the younger you are, the funnier you think this is.”