Jason Kottke takes the plunge

A pool cue even robots would love

When you play pool, one of the things that screws up your shot is “cue deflection” — when the cue hits the ball so hard it adds unwanted spin. Pros know how to control their shots so well they can avoid this; the rest of amateurs, not so much. To help out us lamers, the folks at Predator decided to make a cue that has a tip so slight in mass that when you take a hard shot, the ball’s mass pushes the cue aside — and not vice versa. They spent a huge amount of time engineering the cue, including splicing it together out of 10 pie-shaped wedges.

Then they built a robot. As the New York Times reports:

To test the Z Shaft’s novel shape, Predator enlisted the aid of Iron Willie, the company’s 70-pound robot. Equipped with an elbow that never tires, Iron Willie was charged with shooting a cue ball toward a piece of carbonless copy paper, moving five millimeters to the right or left and then shooting again - and again and again - until Predator determined exactly how much taper could virtually eliminate cue ball deflection without making the shaft susceptible to fracturing.

The shaft is so slender that it produces a fair amount of tactile feedback when it meets the cue ball. After a few hundred games, Z Shaft users can sense the pleasant vibration that indicates a perfectly struck cue ball, versus the rough twitter that accompanies an uneven stroke.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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