Have you ever seen A Christmas Story? If so, you probably remember the famous scene where Ralphie and his friends triple-dog dare their buddy, Flick, to stick his tongue to a flagpole.
Since it was winter and very cold out, the flagpole was frozen and Flick’s tongue got stuck! The poor kid had to wait for the fire department to come and rescue him.
You may have WONDERed if this could really happen in real life. In fact, it can and does happen all the time. Apparently there is no shortage of kids willing to triple-dog dare their friends to try what they see in the movies. Take it from us, though, this is something that CAN happen and WILL happen, so don’t try it yourselves, Wonder Friends!
WHY it happens is just a matter of science. Since it sits inside your warm mouth all the time, your tongue is naturally coated with moisture. That moisture will quickly freeze if the temperature drops below 32º F.
So why doesn’t your tongue freeze when you eat something cold, like ice cream? Your body keeps the tongue from freezing by pumping warm blood to your tongue. When you eat ice cream, for example, your body continually warms the tongue from the inside out.
Why doesn’t this work if you lick a flagpole then? The reason your tongue sticks to a flagpole is the thermal conductivity of metal. Metals conduct heat extremely well. In fact, metal conducts heat about 400 times better than your tongue.
When your tongue freezes to a metal flagpole, the metal robs your tongue of heat much faster than it can be replaced by your body. When you add in the fact that your tongue has all sorts of grooves and crevices where moisture hides, it’s easy to see why it can freeze so quickly and get stuck so solidly to a metal flagpole — or any other type of very cold metal.
If you ever get your tongue — or any exposed skin — frozen solid to a flagpole or any other type of metal, just relax and don’t panic. Don’t try to pull it off right away, as you’ll leave a nice coating of skin on the metal…and that won’t feel very good at all!
Instead, just get help from someone as quickly as possible. Pouring warm water on and around your skin and the metal should heat things up, so that you can thaw your skin enough to separate it from the metal without permanent injury.