Measuring a Building with a Barometer
A final exam in a college physics class included a question about how one would go about measuring the height of a skyscraper using a barometer. The expected answer involved measuring the air pressure at the base of the building and again at its apex and using the difference in air pressure to calculate the building's height.
One student, however, suggested that he could tie a rope around his roommate's neck and throw his roommate off the top of the building. When the rope stopped uncoiling, he could pull it taught, return to the ground, measure his roommate's new height and the length of the rope, and by adding them know the height of the building.
The assistant who graded the exams gave the non-standard answer a failing grade. But the student appealed to the professor, pointing out that his solution would indeed work. The professor agreed, but said that it showed no appreciable knowledge of physics. The student then offered a number of other possible solutions. For example, he could measure the building's height by:
After listening to all of this, the professor pointed out that, although the solutions proposed would all work, none of them made use of a barometer. The student countered that it didn't matter since, in every case his roommate would be dead and so, per university policy, he would receive straight "A" grades in all of his classes. He also pointed out that the measuring techniques would work just as well with a tenured college professor as it would with a roommate.
After pondering this for a moment, the professor gave the student a passing grade.
Behind the Legend
This unusual incident occurred in 1957. The professor was physicist Neils Bohr. The student? Charles Manson.