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Physics Of Beer Pong

Ping Pong Shot
A ping pong ball is thrown from one end of a table into a solo cup at the other
The ball is tossed from a height h with a speed Vo at an angle of Θo. The ball
lands in a cup at the other end of a table of length L. There is a clearance of C
between the release height and the ceiling. The ball travels on a trajectory until it
lands in the cup at time T at an angle of Θf with respect to the horizontal.



1. The ball is tossed towards the cup exclusively in the xy-plane; there is no side
to side deviation.
2. Air resistance is neglected for simplicity. Prior versions of the model
attempted to include air resistance but became needlessly complicated very
rapidly. Due to lack of air resistance, wind and ball spin have no effect.
3. The ball is thrown directly into the cup; bounce shots are not included.
4. The player releases the ball from the edge of the table and is targeting a cup
at the other edge. To accommodate release points above the table and/or
cups not at table edge, simply redefine L as the horizontal distance from
release to the cup.
5. The ping pong ball can be considered a particle concentrated at its center of
mass for the mathematical analysis.

1. The human body cannot throw a ball at specified velocity with the exact
precision and perfect accuracy. Knowledge of the best shot provides only a
target value from which there will be certainly be deviations.
a. There will be deviations from the xy-plane which are not considered in
the model.
b. As Θ0 goes to 90° a deviation ΔΘ has a larger and larger impact on the
trajectory deviation. Distractions will increase deviations.
c. This limits the applicability of any model and the deviations must be
minimized when applying.
2. The model is only valid so long as air resistance can be neglected. Air
resistance has a more significant affect as speed approaches terminal speed
and hang time increases.
a. As speeds near terminal, the model becomes less applicable.
b. As hang time increases the model becomes less applicable.
3. The model will only be applied to shots which keep the above criteria
3. The model must be applied indoors where wind and drafts are negligible. This
introduces a further constraint on the trajectory, limiting the maximum height
to the ceiling height.
4. Bounce shots are not included.
5. Spin is not included.

Qualitative Analysis:
When a ping pong ball is thrown, it has a horizontal and vertical velocity,
depending on the initial angle that the ball is thrown at.

Variables and Equations:

L = length of table = 2.44 m
h = initial height of ball above cup = .82
d = diameter of a cup = .09 m
g = force due to gravity = 9.8 m/s2
T = Time when Ball enters cup

Quantitative Analysis:
1. Vo may be expressed in terms of components VXo and VYo.
VXo = VocosΘo and VYo= VosinΘo and tanΘo = VYo/VXo


2. The ball is in free fall after release after release at t = 0.

When t = 0, x = 0, y = h, VX = VXo, and VY = VYo

x(t) = VXot y(t) = h + VYot – ½gt2.

dx/dt = VX = VXo dy/dt = VY = VYo – gt

3. No forces act on the ball in the x so V X is constant and equal to VXo.

The ball starts at h, gaining height initially for positive V Yo while being
uniformly accelerated downward by gravity.

4. The angle of the ball at any time t is given by

Θ(t) = Arctan[VY(t)/VX(t)]

VY(t) and VX(t) can be substituted into the expression from step 2. V Xo and
VYo can be replaced by Vo and Θo using equations from step 1 to obtain Θ(t,
Vo, Θo).

5. The ball will land in the cup if x(t) = L and y(t) = 0 where t is an arbitrary
time. Therefore, t is the hang time of the ball.
- x(t) = L may be solved for t then used in y(t) = 0
- y(t) = 0 can be solved for Vo(Θo)
- Vo can then be substituted into the expression for t to obtain t(Θ o)

6. Plug t(Θo) and Vo(Θo) into Θ(t, Vo, Θo) from step 4 to obtain Θf(Θo)

7. Apply appropriate physical constraints to obtain a proper domain which the

model is appropriate over.

8. Analyze.

Main Equations (functions of θ0)

θF = The final angle of decent
θ0 = The initial release angle
h = The initial height - measured from the top of the cup to release point
L = The horizontal distance from release point to the cup
V0 = The initial launch speed
g = The acceleration due to gravity
T - The hang time of a ball with the target trajectory

1. -90°< θF < 0°
• The ball must have positive x component of velocity therefore -90°< θF < 0°. Also
the ball must have negative y component velocity on decent therefore
• θF < 0 => -90°< θF < 0°.
2. -tan-1(h/L) < θ0 < 90°
• The ball must be thrown towards the cup so -90°< θF < 90°. The minimum angle
must be -tan-1(h/L). Near this angle an initial speed approaching infinity is required.
3. T > 0
• The ball must be airborne for some finite positive time.


• Where ‘c’ is the distance from the release point to ceiling, this is so the ball doesn’t
hit the ceiling.
5. V0 ≤ 5.17 m/s to neglect air resistance

Standard Values
g = 9.8 m/s2
L = 2.44 m (Regulation Pong Table Length)
h = 0.82 m (Average human shoulder height minus the table height)
c = 1 m (Indoors average ceiling height minus average shoulder height)
Standard Constraints
Applying above values to previously listed constraints.
1. -90°< θF < 0°
2. -16.7° < θ0 < 90°
3. T > 0
4. θ0 ≤ 62.2°
5. 3.5° < θ0 < 69.5°

Consolidation of Constraints
3.5° < θ0 < 69.5° h ≈ 0.82 m
-90°< θF < 0° L ≈ 2.44 m
T>0 c ≈ 1.07 m

Range of each Function (over domain 3.5° < θ0 < 62.2° )

-68.2° ≤ θF < -33.4°
4.22 m/s ≤ V0 < 5.77 m/s
0.42 sec< T < 1.05 sec

Angle with minimum V0: V0(36.7°) = 4.22 m/s

Angle with maximum V0: V0(3.5°) = 5.77 m/s
Angle with minimum T: T(3.5°) = 0.42 sec
Angle with maximum T: T(62.2°) = 1.05 sec

Treatment of Air Resistance

Terminal Velocity VT = 9.11 m/s
Assuming drag can be linerarly approximated: FDrag = -bv
At speeds near VT air resistance may no longer be neglected.
Arbitrarily limit initial velocity to 63% V T = 5.74 m/s

V0 ≤ 5.74 m/s

For average parameters: θmax ≈ 69.5° θmin ≈ 3.5°