For a brief period of time Wednesday afternoon, a man who called himself “Steve” captured our imaginations. He attempted to scale the side of the Trump Tower with suction cups, proving that cartoons aren’t so detached from reality after all.
“Steve” has since been taken into police custody, and the spectacle has died down for the moment, so we’re going to take the time to look at this event and try to figure out how the hell he did it.
He’s not even the first person to scale a glass skyscraper with suction cups. Dan Goodwin, otherwise known as “Spider-Dan,” scaled the Sears Tower in Chicago in 1981 with suction cups and skyhooks. Of course, he was dressed as Spider-man. He also did something similar in 2010 in San Francisco.
But how did both of these guys manage to scale glass buildings, besides relying on the help of being ridiculously in shape and the power of luck? It comes down to suction.
A suction cup is a curved object—usually malleable and flexible like rubber or plastic—that pushes out the air between it and the surface it’s pressed against, creating a vacuum, which has a lower pressure than the air around it (called atmospheric pressure). This difference in pressure ensures it stays down. The edges of the cup are able to keep that vacuum intact since no air can get out.
Suction cups are incredibly strong and don’t fall off easily. When removing a suction cup from a surface, you usually can’t just lift it off from the center. You have to peel back one of the sides, letting air in and decreasing the pressure.
The larger the cup, the more weight it can hold (the amount is equal to the surface area multiplied by the atmospheric pressure).
The same kind of climb can be performed with anything that creates a vacuum, like say a vacuum. In order to demonstrate one of its newest vacuums, LG recruited a professional climber to scale a 33-story building in South Korea.
Despite how easy it appears to be, we don’t recommend trying this at home. These are probably specialized suction cups like the ones that Goodwin used. Using another suction cup, such as a plunger, wouldn’t quite work the same way. You’d also need a clean, smooth surface so that no particles get stuck. Glass is probably the best for this, as it is also non-porous and therefore won’t let any air in.
We also wouldn’t want to anyway because oh god that’s high.