For years I have wondered exactly how badminton (the racquet game, not the horse trials) works, specifically with regards to the shuttlecock. That is…how do you hit the thing?

Tennis is simpler – there’s a ball, which by nature of its ballness, is spherical, and when it hits a surface (like a racquet) it stops in that direction and goes back in the opposite one (spin etc. notwithstanding).

But badminton is different; the shuttlecock is a different beast with fewer symmetries. What happens when you hit it dead-on? If the force of the strike is perfectly evenly distributed, the feathers/skirt perfectly symmetrical, how does that thing turn around for the return? Does it turn inside out? (…but those things are pretty rigid)

I could say that these thoughts were what distracted me in school when I came a miserable 10th out of 11 in a tourney in PE…but I just sucked at PE (wasn’t much better at Physics either*).

However, my schooldays were prior to the Golden Age of YouTube.

The interesting bit (in terms of this question) starts at about 1:00, when we see a series of ‘head-on’ shots. Those at about 1:30 and 1:40 are even clearer. The show the head being pushed back into the body of the shuttlecock, which (I guess because of non-symmetries in the fabric of the skirt?) at a certain point must give in and flip.

But what would happen if the axis of a flawless shuttlecock were exactly normal to the racquet? INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW.

Also I probably need help in overcoming some high school demons. Thanks.

* Physics is simply Maths made unnecessarily a) difficult, and b) applied. And because it’s quagmired in this need to describe the universe and stuff, it’s going to inevitably come a poor second to Maths, which is second only to the Queen of Sciences herself (which is Theology if you don’t read Aquinas, shame on you). This is the main reason I would be an outsider nerd even on The Big Bang Threory.


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