Science joins search for a conkering hero

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's a tough nut that even scientists find hard to crack: what should you do to ensure that you have a winning conker, which when drilled and threaded on string will beat off all comers?

It is not a trivial question: for example, the World Conker Championship, being held tomorrow outside Nottingham, are expected to attract 800 people, all of whom take their sport deadly seriously.

But should you pickle it in vinegar, or bake it in an oven, or both? Or is there another answer?

Readers of New Scientist magazine reckon that they know. In reply to an anguished query asking "Which method produces winning conkers, and why?" the scientific readership was quick to respond. "Do not put your conkers in vinegar," advised Patrick Wigg of London sternly, explaining that though this hardens the shell it can weaken the flesh - "making the conker useless." He advised baking at Gas Mark 1. (The Independent's executive news editor has determined empirically that this causes raw conkers to explode.)

"I always soak them in vinegar," said Michael Dutton, of Gloucester. "This hardens them into champion conkers." However, he admitted that: "I was content with this method until a few years ago when I was beaten by someone who had smeared his conker in Oil of Ulay. Apparently, this made the conker more malleable, allowing it to absorb the impact of my prize pickled nut."

Nick Aitchison said: "Pickling rots the inside. Varnishing is also ineffective (and readily detectable)." Instead, he - and at least two other respondents - recommend laissez-faire: put your conker in a drawer for a year and leave it alone. "The older they are, the harder they are."

Such as show of scientific indeterminism has apparently proved too much for New Scientist. "As such disputes are an essential part of the sport, we leave the question with the totally contradictory answer given," wrote the editor. But, presumably, it'll be back next year.

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