Wednesday’s Google Doodle looks like it’s about a silly car toy, but it’s really about a hands-on lesson in physics, according to artist and engineer David Lu.
“As an engineer, what interested me most was the physics involved in the bobblehead,” said Lu. “I spent hours debating the implementation of the bobble; whether it should be a spring, a pendulum, or a simple sine wave. It was worth it to relearn Grade 10 physics just for this Doodle.”
Dachsund bobbleheads (or wackeldackels, if you’d like a more fun word to say), like the one in today’s Google Doodle, first hit the market in the 1970s, and they quickly became a cultural icon in Germany.
Here’s how they work: the dog’s neck fits into its hollow body, but instead of resting in place, it’s actually suspended. There’s a hook at the back of the dog’s neck which hangs from a ring inside the body (if we’re doing toy dog anatomy, the ring would be somewhere between the dogs imaginary shoulder blades). The neck has a metal counterweight to hold the head mostly level while it hangs there, leaving the dog’s head free to nod, bounce, waggle, or turn.
And as Lu pointed out, they’re a great model for a basic physics concept: oscillating motion. A short drive with a bobblehead can demonstrate wavelength (how long it takes the head to go up and down), amplitude (how low the head dips and how high it rises), and frequency (how many times per minute the dog nods).
Bobbleheads are much older than nodding dachsunds, though. They’re even older than the baseball figures that became popular in the US in the 1960s. Americans started collecting porcelain bobbleheads in the 1900s, and by the 1950s they came in both porcelain and plastic.
But there’s an even longer tradition in south India, where for centuries people have made terracotta dolls called Thanjavur headshaking dolls. The elaborately painted, finely-dressed dolls feature not only bobbling heads, but rounded bases that keep them constantly teetering and swaying, as if they were dancing. People display the Thanjavur dolls during the annual Hindu festival of Navaratri (which starts on October 17 this year). They usually portray scenes from Hindu cosmology or legends.
Wackeldackels, on the other hand, are just along for the ride. But playing with the animated nodding pup in today’s Google Doodle is an excellent way to de-stress for a minute or two.