Published: January 16, 2011

I am proposing a new basketball system: The Leidenfrost System, or Leidenball, as it will be known.    

Walking on coals, water dancing on a pan, and sticking your hand in molten lead . . . these are all related physical phenomena.  They are all made possible by the Leidenfrost effect.  

Let’s start with what we know:

Temperature on our scale can be viewed as a measure of a relative energy content.  A glass of water has energy X and temperature Y.  Half of that glass has half the energy but the same temperature.  This energy is manifested by `jittering’ of the molecules that make up the mass. In solids, molecules just jitter.  In liquids, the molecules jitter and can slide over one another.  In gases, the molecules jitter over a great range, relatively speaking.  Nota bene: it’s really more complicated, but this is right enough for our purposes here.  

Insulation is normally about trapping gasses.  This is because the most efficient way to move energy is by slamming masses into one another (E=mc2 being the ultimate example of this). Since gases are less dense, they transmit energy at a much lower rate, thus changing temperature much more slowly.  This is why `layering’ works to keep you warm.  Thick jackets, etc. have lots of trapped gases, but can have thermal leaks by the natural openings on the jackets.  This is also why when you enter a warm room after being out in the cold, you should take off your jacket to warm up more quickly: the jacket that kept you warm outside did so by slowing your cooling rate; it will likewise slow your warming rate when you walk into a warm room. Don’t let it do that.  Take it off.  

These facts can be uses to create `insulation on demand’ in the cases of extreme temperatures.  Consider a hot pan in the kitchen.  Pouring a cup of liquid in it does nothing special, but putting water in the pan via a series of drops results in the drops `dancing’.  This is because if the pan is hot enough, it can vaporize the lower surface of the drop.  This vapor takes up more space than the liquid since the molecules really move instead of just jitter.  This expansion of the vapor can push up light drops. This vapor also insulates the drop so the rest of it doesn’t vaporize like the lower surface.  This allows the drop to persist while it dances.  If it all vaporized, no drop.  If the vapor didn’t expand, no dancing.  

When attempting to walk on coals, you need, as you may guess, really hot coals and wet feet.  This can be accomplished by placing your feet in water, or, more commonly in a show, by allowing the feet to build up a sweat by the hot coals in parallel with other showmanship activities that build drama.  By walking very quickly, the sweat vapor forms enough of a barrier as you quickly walk across the coals to keep the energy, you know, the stuff that burns you, from seeping into your tissue.  The only spiritual focus you need to walk on coals is a trust in physics and in your ability to estimate.  

When attempting to dunk your fingers in molten lead, it’s the same thing.  You have to be very mindful of the amount of liquid and temperature, as, ironically, a lower temperature may burn you more.  And, yes, that is irony.  

So what is Leidenball?  Leidenball would rely not on ball movement, but on player movement.  Constant rotation.  Never let the bad guys know who is going to guard them.  Really swarm them.  Rotate at unexpected times.  By moving around so much, it will create hesitation.  By provided insane matchups, it will be hard for the coaches to game plan against you.  

The rotations should follow the spokes of a wheel.  2 switches will be preferred: from the 3 point line to near the basket and back, around the basket and back.  You allow the inefficient shots more often, the long two-pointers.  You really squelch the running around the 3 point line as its much quicker in many cases to cut through the court, or better yet, just take the guy player A is guarding while player A take the guy you had who ran around the line.  Let the bad guys get tired.  

The analogy to the Leidenfrost effect would be to create, through motion, a lack of penetration of players from the wing.  

The coaches can work out the details, but remember: Everyone needs a mathematician. 


And only try the drops of water on a pan thing at home. Safety first, my friends. 

This post was submitted by 420ftJesus.


  1. Michael McNamara

    January 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    I love the post and this is not as obscure as it seems upon first glance.

    I was having dinner with a player personnel guy in the league one night and he proposed something very similar- just not as extreme.

    “Why don’t coaches just mix it up every couple of minutes?” he asked. “You know, just go press, then zone, back to press, then man-to-man. Double the ball in the post for a couple posessions, then don’t do it for a while, etc. etc.

    I think there has to be something to combining your two trains of thought moving forward. Offense is evolving and the best thing a defense can be is unpredictable.

    When I coach 11 year olds, you better believe I will be instituting Leidenball!!

    • 42

      January 16, 2011 at 11:03 pm

      Thanks for slogging through it. I take your approval as high praise, especially given your background.

      Looks like 99% are passing on the journal . . . just as you requested . . .

  2. geocp3

    January 17, 2011 at 5:34 am

    If you don’t mind me asking 42 have you done any work in journalism apart from this website? Otherwise how did you become so knowledgeable on such a wide range of subjects?

  3. 42

    January 17, 2011 at 6:54 am

    No journalism. I’ve had a few jobs of different natures comimg up, including teaching at a university.

    Someone smart told me a long time ago that you should be able to carry on a conversation with anyone about anything if you want to be regarded as well-rounded instead of a nerd. That seemed hard to do since there are so many people and so many things. Then I realized something: just let them talk, and I’ll listen. That’s what I do. I try to make sure I listen, consider, and toss away nothing. If it’s not true, then I ask “Why do they think this?” After a while you have a passing knowledge of the Seljuk Turks, how Smokey Yunick drove a racecar while the fuel tank was on a work bench, or why Dante Spinotti is so highly regarded.

  4. Michael McNamara

    January 20, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Can’t stop thinking about this post! I am determined to see it in action, however I can not simulate it on NBA 2K11. Hornets Nation- get a pickup game going with one squad coached by 42 and FILM IT. PLEASE!!!!!

    • 42

      January 20, 2011 at 7:37 pm

      Dude, I just bought NBA Coaches’ Playbook!

      We can do this Sharks and Jets style . . .

      snap . . . snap . . . snap . . .

      I did actually get the book. Call it growth.

      Thanks, though, seriously. From you, sir, this is high praise.

      It was really meant to be a distraction, as you requested, with what I thought was some nice practical and fun physics. I love the Leidenfrost effect, in case you can’t tell. Thermodynamics!

      But then I started thinking about tying to basketball, add a dash of Art of War . . . and you get something. Whodathunk?

      Too bad no one enjoyed the physics . . . ha!

      • Michael McNamara

        January 21, 2011 at 9:37 am

        If we can get some diagrams going and even put them in motion- I am willing to break out my deep voice and do a Morgan Freeman type voice-over on top of the plays, explaining the premise.

        I seriously think this could work for short periods of time and at random moments- and perhaps even longer than that at the lower levels.

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