Charles Darwin at a green chalkboard.

1999 Darwin Awards

Honoring Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool--by removing themselves from it in the most spectacular way possible.

Sink the Cue Ball
1999 Darwin Award Winner Unconfirmed by Darwin

(Scotland) A 23-year-old painter was known by his friends as 'Death Wish' because of his reckless behaviour, which included smashing glasses on his forehead and swallowing keys and glass. The police described him as "of good health physically but of low intellect." He was generally regarded as a bit of a fool, and probably resorted to such tricks in an futile effort to increase his social standing.

Frequently, he would "swallow" a pool ball and then regurgitate it. The man had successfully performed this trick on many occasions, by keeping the pool ball at the back of his pharynx, or throat. This was possible because of the unique size of a pool ball.

One day, a typical day in many respects, he was seen consuming large quantities of draught lager. After closing time, the publican readmitted him to continue illegal drinking with his friends. As the evening dragged on, he was seen to place a cue ball in his mouth. He had done this so many times that his behaviour did not cause any concern. But this time, he found himself in difficulties. His friends tried to intervene, but he ran out of the pub and collapsed in the street, and began to blue. Neither his friends nor an ambulance crew were able to save his life.

What went wrong?

On this occasion, Death Wish had elected to swallow a cue ball. He wasn't aware that a cue ball has a physical property that makes it perfectly suited for lodging in a pharynx. A cue ball is smaller than a pool ball, so that it can be automatically recovered whenever it is potted. Unfortunately, our Darwin Award contender was oblivious to this fact. A cue ball is 4.75 cm in diameter, while pool balls are 5.03 cm. This small difference in diameter makes little difference in appearance. The beauty of this death, and the problem for Death Wish, is that a smaller diameter causes an exponentially lesser volume. A cue ball is 10.52 ml smaller than a pool ball.

In his efforts to prove he wasn't a fool, Death Wish disregarded common sense and simple mathematics, and lodged the cue ball in his pharynx.

In the research article which describes this mishap, there is a photo of the victim's dissected throat, complete with the lodged cue ball and a rather ugly protruding tongue.

For another fascinating treatise on bizarre deaths, the author of this article recommends 'Live Fishes Impacted in Food and Air Passages of Man' by EW Gudger (1962) Arch.Pathol.Lab.Med. 2, pp. 355-375. © 1994 - 2004
Submitted by: Grant Harris

Reference: 'A Case Of Fatal Suffocation During An Attempt To Swallow A Pool Ball'
by Gyan C. A. Fernando, MB, BS, MRCPath, DMJ, Forensic Medicine Unit, Department of Pathology, University of Edinburgh. From Medicine, Science and Law, the Official Journal of the British Academy of Forensic Scientists (1989) Vol. 29, No. 4, p. 308.

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