This Thanksgiving, don’t forget to squeamishly plunge your hands into the depths of the turkey so as to pull out its furcula, more commonly known as the coveted wishbone.
The wishbone, located between the turkey’s neck and breast, is formed by the fusion of the bird’s clavicles at the base of its sternum. This elastic bone is crucial for the bird’s flight mechanics ”“ it serves as a spring that holds and releases energy while the bird flaps its wings attempting to fly. The wishbone might even provide scientific linkage between the anatomy of a turkey and that of the dinosaur.
The wishbone-breaking game has been around since the days of Plymouth Rock. In fact, it originated with the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization who held birds to be future-predicting oracles. Whenever the Etruscans slaughtered a chicken, they would harvest its wishbone and set it out in the sun to dry (in hopes of preserving the chicken’s divine powers). Passerby would then pick up the bone in order to hold it in their hands and softly stroke it while making wishes upon it. This is where the wishbone gets its modern-day name.
When the Romans came in contact with the Etruscans, they took hold of this custom. As legend has it, today’s ritual of breaking the wishbone first emerged because of a supply and demand problem: So many Romans wanted to make wishes upon the chicken’s furcula that there weren’t enough wishbones to go around. The Romans passed the wishbone-breaking tradition along to the English, who brought the ritual with them over to Plymouth Rock. Here, the abundance of wild turkeys provoked a switch in the fowl, from chickens to turkeys.
Now, on to the technicalities. The physics behind wishbone breaking is simple. As Newton’s Third Law of Motion states: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Considering the action of ‘wishbone breaking’ as the force of pulling the wishbone apart with the hand, and then the reaction of ‘wishbone breaking’ as the bone pushing back against your hand (or more simply, the observable tension of the tugged-upon wishbone at its focal point), the wishbone will break in half when the force of action is greater than the force of reaction, or, in layman’s terms, when the mutual tug from both players is greater than the bone’s ability to hold itself together.
This, technically speaking, is how the wishbone breaks into two. Yet achieving the larger half of the bone is a different story. Some argue that standing still and letting your opponent do all of the work is the key to success. For others, there is no single formula for winning the wishbone game; rather, it takes strength, skill and quite a bit of sheer luck.
Whether you’re overly competitive or simply have your eye on the win, check out our tips below.
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