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Over on TikTok, the New Viral Challenge Is Using Toilet Paper Rolls as a Straw

‘This is kind of a poor man’s beer bong — another totally stupid idea, with the goal to see if you can drown yourself with a beverage in your own kitchen’

Things are, as you certainly already know, not going so well. We have the deadly coronavirus pandemic on our hands, the economy is collapsing, everyone is going broke and we all have to cope alone, confined to our homes as the outside world withers. Some of us have found comfort in the simple things, like watching our favorite shows or building a home gym. Others have attempted to quell their boredom and angst by trying new things, like making Quarantinis or producing some of the finest amateur quarantine porn.

Everyone handles hardships in their own unique way, though, as is especially evident by the growing group of people who are filming themselves using paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls as straws, and posting the subsequent gags and gasps to TikTok. Check out the #strawchallenge.

Seems… unpleasant!

As you can see, the idea is simple: Drink your beverage of choice as fast as humanly possible by employing an enormous straw, most often in the form of a paper towel roll or toilet paper roll (which some people have plenty of right now). As you can also see, just about everyone who attempts this challenge ends up choking and coughing up the liquid they were trying to drink.

Clearly, these make-do massive straws are allowing the liquid to travel at a very, very high, unexpected speed, hence the gagging. I asked Alex Klotz, an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy at California State University, Long Beach, to shed some light on why the challenge is so, well, challenging. 

From solving the equations governing fluid mechanics (specifically, the Navier-Stokes equation), we can figure out how the flow of liquid through a tube depends on the pressure difference between each end and the geometry of the tube,” he explains. “In each case, the pressure is the same — the amount of pressure below atmospheric level someone can maintain in their lungs — and the flow is inversely proportional to the length, and depends on either the cube or fourth power of the radius, depending on whether the flow is turbulent or laminar (when your faucet flows clear water, it’s laminar; white water, and it’s turbulent). Based on that video, I’m going to say it’s turbulent, so the flow rate depends on the cube of the tube radius. Toilet paper rolls are about 1.5 inches in diameter, compared to a straw, which is about a quarter of an inch. They’re six times as wide, which means they’d have 216 (6x6x6) times the flow rate if they were the same length, but they’re about half as long, so it’s more like 432 times the flow rate.”

Put simply, liquid is able to travel way, way faster through a toilet paper roll — and even faster though a longer paper towel roll — than it does through a mere straw.

As you can imagine, then, this challenge is, well, at least sort of dangerous. “This is kind of a poor man’s beer bong, another totally stupid idea, with the goal, I guess, to see if you can drown yourself with a beverage in your own kitchen,” says primary care physician Marc Leavey. “Trying to suck a drink through a tube this large allows the beverage to reach the back of your throat before the path to the lungs can close and the esophagus can open, with the result being a large quantity of liquid going into your lungs, where it doesn’t belong.” Furthermore, using a toilet paper roll that was hanging near your throne could result in you basically putting a bunch of shit in your mouth when you go to do your mega-suck.


But as the world has seen before, even if a challenge proves reckless, dangerous and scary, people will do it for the views, the likes and perhaps just to momentarily take their minds off of the demonic hellhole we live in right now. “Feeling the water move toward the back of my throat was very frightening,” says Scoota, who has a YouTube channel and filmed himself doing the challenge. “It was like drowning in a sense (but standing up). Once the water reached my windpipe, I guess my lungs couldn’t handle it.” Still, he enthusiastically adds, “I’d definitely try it again with my wife.”

Encouraged by the promise of escape — perhaps just a single laugh in these times of trepidation and concern — and armed with a deep, scientific understanding of what I was getting myself into, I decided to buy into the hype and give it a try. I stripped a paper towel roll of its remaining paper towels — which are now just folded in a tall pile on my kitchen counter — because I refuse to drink through a rancid toilet paper roll. I also opted for water, because the thought of gagging on soy milk or orange juice, the other liquids currently in my fridge, was just too much to bear.

Anyway, here I go:

As you can see, even though I knew what was coming, the water still torpedoed straight to the back of my throat, resulting in a minor coughing fit. I also spilled water everywhere, and the cardboard left an awful, almost chemical aftertaste in my mouth, which is lame. 

My overall impression: Not great. Did not laugh. My thirst was not quenched. And the looming coronavirus-inspired doom remains top of mind.

0 out of 10: There are better ways to pass the time during quarantine.