Speed of sound

On Sunday I went to the Magic – Mystics netball game at Mystery Creek in Hamilton. It was a game that both teams did their very best to lose, in the end the Magic were more dedicated to this cause than the Mystics, and cunningly let them sneak a winning goal in the last few seconds.  

Halfway through the game the rather lacklustre and bored crowd decided to get some chanting going on.  "Magic, Magic…"  (or was it "Tragic, Tragic" ? – hard to tell). If you’ve attended sports events at large arenas you’ll probably have experienced how difficult it is to get a decent chant going. I reckon that part of the reason is that in a big arena it takes a significant fraction of a second for sound to travel from one end to the other. So for people at the back of the two stands at either end of the court, maybe 60 metres from each other, it’s going to be about a fifth of a second before they hear each other.  That’s about 330 metres a second, the speed of sound in air, divided by 60 metres.

At a rugby or football game, with over a hundred metres separating the crowds at either end of the stadium, it’s more like a third of a second delay. Try singing in time when you keep hearing a delayed copy of what you’ve just sung.  It’s why a crowd singing a national anthem, if they’re unguided by a heavily miked singer, is just going to get into a real mess. Rather like the Magic mid-courters.

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