The brutal physics of the "milk crate challenge"

The "milk crate challenge" erupted a few weeks ago on Tik Tok; it consists of people attempting to ascend and descend a pyramidal staircase made of milk crates. Behold …

As with various former loopy social-media challenges — such as the infamous "Tide Pod Challenge" — people have been injuring the crap out of themselves, doctors are wearily urging people not to mimic the incredibly stupid things they see others do online, and nobody is heeding the warnings. This is why packet-switched data was invented, apparently.

Nonetheless! If you want to understand precisely why the milk crate challenge is so particularly hard to beat, here's a Wired video with engineer and former NASA researcher Nehemiah Mabry breaking down the physics.

The most interesting thing to me is that people most often fall when they attempt the first step downwards. In the video, Mabry talks about why that is …

Going up, you know, you're basically, you can rest your weight, right? But when you're stepping down, you actually have to control the placement of your weight a little bit more than you had to going up. And when it comes to column, the placement of your weight really, really matters.

Ideally, in a perfect case scenario, a person would be able to set their weight right down the center of that crate. And it literally has what we call pure compression, so that's all that its experiencing.

But really, if you happen to put your weight off to the side, now you're creating like a rotational moment. Well, the problem is that because these are separate crates, it's not like there's a continuation of the member of the column to actually push off of. You're really depending on your own muscle control to try to get it back stable, which is extremely tough.