Geek Trivia

Famed Greek Mathematician Pythagoras Invented A Device To Defend Against?

A Phenomenon Known As A "River" Is A Problem In Which Design-Related Field?

Answer: Drunkenness

In addition to working out problems in early mathematics and philosophy, Pythagoras was also an inventor. One of his more famous (and entertaining) inventions is the Pythagorean Cup (also known as the Greedy Cup or Tantalus Cup). The cup was a goblet that featured a column in the center of the bowl, similar in shape to an inverted bunt cake pan. The column features a tube that begins at the very base of the goblet’s chamber, rises up inside the column, and then snakes down right through the handle of the goblet.

What purpose could such a design serve? It’s a very clever application of what would later be known as Pascal’s Principle of Communicating Vessels. Wine poured into the Pythagorean Cup would equalize in depth inside and outside the column. If you poured too much wine into the main chamber, the wine would rise up over the bend in the column and begin to pour out through the tube which passed through the stem of the goblet. A siphon would form and the entire contents of your goblet would pour right out in your lap. The only way to avoid wine everywhere was to fill your cup in moderation.

While the design hardly caught on in practical use (who, after all, wants a cup that punishes them for pouring too much wine?), the principle of the design was widely adopted. Hero of Alexandria used the mechanism in some of his automatons and the water-spill-to-siphon effect is still used in many modern toilet designs.

Image courtesy of Nevit Dilmen.