Hey there, welcome to Play Noggin, I’m Julian, your brain’s player two. Nintendo’s little Switch console has been a game changer, literally, but when it launched in March of 2017 the lineup of games was rather small. But it didn’t matter, because one game in particular was such a powerhouse that it single-handedly made the Switch a must-have piece of hardware. A game that opened up an entire kingdom and told you it was yours to explore as you pleased. A game that overachieved even the loftiest of expectations. A game that will make your parents confusedly call the main character by the wrong name. Yes, today we cover the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The Zelda brand is right up there with the Super Mario franchise in the pantheon of classic Nintendo titles. Since its launch on the NES in 1986, the basic ingredients haven’t changed much. There’s a bad guy named Ganon, a princess in need of rescuing named Zelda, and a green-capped, pointy-eared hero who will cut you to ribbons named Link. Got that, mom and dad? This is Zelda. Link is this guy.
All clear? Ok, moving on. Three decades is a long time to use the same three ingredients over and over, so like throwing spicy peppers in a stew, each new installment adds some new spices to give it a little kick. Breath of the Wild’s single biggest new toy was a 100 year old artifact gifted to the Link right at the start of the game. The Sheikah Slate is what I imagine the ipad will be like 10,000 years in the future, and along with helping Link navigate this vast iteration of Hyrule, it also imbues him with 5 abilities to help him on his quest: The ever-familiar bombs, and the new powers of Magnesis, Stasis, Cryonis, and Camera… -is. These new powers also give us new things to think about, like how can we freeze water in a flash, why would pausing time multiply force, and f*cking magnets, how do they work? Let’s talk Cryonis.
There are actually a couple of different ways to flash freeze water. One of them, amazingly, actually uses boiling water. You can try this out if you’re living in some frozen hellscape that God has forsaken, like Canada. Put a pot of water on to boil, take it outside and toss into the cold air. Instantly the water will go from piping hot to misty snow. Just be sure not to dump boiling water on your friends. Friends don’t appreciate being disfigured. Why hot water would freeze so quickly can be a bit baffling, even for scientists.
In fact there’s still considerable debate about whether hot water freezes faster than cold water, and why. It would defy logic, but in certain cases it appears to be exactly what’s happening. The strange phenomenon is called the Mpemba effect, after the Tanzanian student who noticed his hot ice cream mix became a delicious frozen treat faster than a cold mix in his cooking class. But when you toss boiling water into cold air, it doesn’t flash freeze because of the Mpemba effect.
In this case it’s all about surface area. When objects have a large volume and a small surface area, they exchange heat with their environment slowly. Conversely when objects have a large surface area and a small volume, they exchange heat very quickly. This is why smaller organisms get cold more quickly; they have more area for the cold air to press against and sap away heat. Likewise boiling water is on the verge of becoming steam, and water molecules in their gaseous state have a very high surface area to volume ratio. The result when they’re tossed out into the cold? Presto change-o, instant snow. But Link isn’t using boiling water to make his ice blocks; these pillars rise instantly from natural bodies of water he can comfortably wade in. Link’s ice towers are more like what you’d get from instantly freezing water that’s been supercooled. In most circumstances fresh water turns to ice at 0 degrees celsius. But if the water is purified, it can stay in its liquid form even longer than that, up to -40 degrees. Celsius, and fahrenheit. That’s where the two temperature measurement systems match up.
BONUS FACT! Purified water can stay in a liquid state at such cold temperatures because there are no impurities in the water that ice crystals can begin forming around. But if an ice cube is introduced to the chilled liquid it can kick off the crystallization process and in a blink, water will turn to ice. Sometimes just a disturbance can jolt some water molecules into a crystal nucleus, and the rest of the cold water will latch on and freeze. You can try it at home yourself with a bottle of purified water.
Put it in the freezer, wait a few hours, pull it out and give it a good thump. If you’re lucky, you’ll watch water turn to ice before your eyes. Or you can slowly pour it onto an ice cube and look at that, a little ice pillar just like Link’s! Well, not just like Link’s. The ice formed this way is slushy, and wouldn’t make a great platform. Plus walking ankle deep in sub-zero H2O is a great way to lose your toes to frostbite. Unfortunately the only other way to make ice is to chill water and wait. And wait. And wait. Unless of course your handy Sheikah Slate can manipulate time. It can? Oh, well then I guess we don’t need any of the other explanations. We’ve covered how to bend time in past episodes, so rather than dwell on that let’s look at how Breath of the Wild cleverly leverages that to the player’s advantage.
Time based puzzles aren’t uncommon in games, but usually they involve bringing something from the future to the past, or pausing time to get the player out of a deadly situation. Breath of the Wild bends time to multiply force in a clever way that would make physicists proud. The formula for force is Mass times Acceleration. Increase either of those two values and force goes up. If you hit a ball with a sledge hammer you’re going to apply more force than if you used a wooden boko club. Unless you swung that boko club much, much faster than you swung the sledgehammer. This is where pausing time comes in. Acceleration depends a lot on time. If your horse takes a long time to get up to full speed, its hooves are not applying much force on the ground to push it forward.
If your horse gets up to a gallop quickly, it’s because it’s applying a lot of force to accelerate at a faster rate. So let’s say we have an object that’s paused in time independently to the rest of the world around it. That means if we hit it with a sledge hammer, instead of feeling the blow spread out over time the object experiences it in an instant. That is extreme acceleration, which means extreme force. What would have normally been a bunt transforms into an out of the park home run. Finally the Sheikah Slate endows us with command over magnetic forces and gives me the chance to finally explain to the philosopher Shaggy 2 Dope of the Insane Clown Posse how magnets work. Magnetism and electricity are related, when you run a current through a wire, it moves electrons and creates a field around it that attracts other magnetic materials. The strongest electromagnet in the world uses 32 megawatts of power to generate a field with the strength of teslas, more than 800,000 times more powerful than the earth’s magnetic field.
Link’s Sheikah slate is probably an electromagnet, since he can turn the magnetic field on and off. Of course, if you held a magnet that strong and tried to attract a big metal cube, you’d just get sucked over to the magnet and stuck there. But obviously there are plenty of magnets that don’t require electricity to affect objects around them, like permanent magnets. These permanent magnets generate magnetic fields because of the electrons whizzing around their atoms. Electrons are basically teeny-tiny magnets, it’s a fundamental property they have like mass or charge. In most materials, these electrons don’t generate a magnetic fields because the electrons are oriented in opposite directions, meaning their magnetic fields cancel out. But some elements have electrons that point the same direction, meaning the tiny magnetic fields they generate add up and the atoms are magnetic.
If a material is made up of these magnetic atoms and the atoms are all oriented in the same direction, then those small magnetic fields add up until they’re noticeable on a large scale. Some materials like iron aren’t permanent magnets, but can still respond to magnetic fields. That’s because a piece of iron is broken up into smaller domains, each with a magnetic field pointing in a different direction. Normally they cancel each other out, but when they’re brought near a magnet the domains can be coaxed to point the same way and the iron will act like a magnet too. So when you pick up a paperclip with a magnet or move a giant metal block with the Sheikah Slate, you’re witnessing a quantum phenomenon on a human scale. Or I guess in Link’s case a Hylian scale. That’s even more amazing than Breath of the Wild. Ok maybe not, this game is incredible.
Hey thanks for watching! If you’re a Nintendo fan, check out our video on Super Mario Odyssey to learn why Cappy terrifies me. Be sure to like and subscribe to learn more science through video games, and don’t forget to keep on playing!.
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