Lemuel Gulliver, after being shipwrecked and abandoning the life boat, swims to the island of Lilliput, gets drunk by half a pint of brandy, and falls asleep in the grass. When he awakes his limbs and hair are bound to the ground, and he is surrounded by six inch tall people.

How did they do it? Let's assume they have the rope or chains that can't be broken easily by a normal human. But can the Lilliputs anchor those in the ground somehow so that this human can't free himself? If so, how? They don't have much time to build structures or massive foundations, let's grant them a few hours time for everything.

Let's assume that (as in the original story) the usual physics of our world apply, with the exception of the existence of six inch small people and plants and wildlife (and buildings, but none should not be around in this situation) scaled accordingly on this island.

  • $\begingroup$ These lilliputian are fisherman or at least they used to or would be one in future, some simply ties the hairs and anchor it to the ground. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Sep 29 '15 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ @user6760 that is the question. "They just do it" is not an answer to "how do they quickly make anchors?" $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Sep 29 '15 at 7:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz: oh I see if I'm the leader of the lilliputian I will order my men to continuously pour seawater into Gulliver's throat... if I can't drown him I could at least give him muscle cramps thereafter we can start introducing the ropes as per the OP requirement. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Sep 29 '15 at 7:48

If all the Lilliputans have it simple cotton thread with a broad enough net over Gulliver, they shouldn't have any trouble keeping him down.

Assuming a one inch peg and regular cotton thread, by affixing threads uniformly across Gulliver's body they prevent him from developing the one thing that thread can't tolerate, momentum. A man running at full speed can hit a firmly attached thread and not even know it. However, if he runs into a firmly affixed rope, or even a common bed sheet, the man stops or even bounces off.

Since the strength of rope increases with the square of the circumference, the effective circumference of a thousand threads is very large. Tying down Gulliver's hair, hands, fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, torso, pelvis, thighs, knees, ankles, and feet (though probably not toes) will effectively arrest his ability to gain momentum sufficient to pop the little one inch pegs. However, the Lilliputans will have a difficult time preventing Gulliver from twisting his body and wrenching the pegs free; especially if he starts rocking his hips back and forth.

Practically every single illustration I've seen of Gulliver's "arrest" shows many many stakes and threads at his wrists and arms.

Gulliver's Tie Down

Though I think the Lilliputans will be more cautious and place double or triple the number of threads shown in the above picture.

  • $\begingroup$ So as in a seam a huge amount of joining points is enough even if each single point is weak in itself (one inch pegs). But we can't estimate how many / what density of pegs we need? $\endgroup$ – his Sep 29 '15 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ @his, absolutely that kind of thing can be calculated it depends on a lot of different factors including, but not limited to: strength of the peg itself, energy required to pull the peg from the ground, measurements of the ground's ability to resist pullout, strength of the thread, diameter of the thread, tension on the thread after binding down Gulliver, humidity (in the case of natural fiber ropes) and so on and so on...So yes, it can but to get an accurate measure requires far more information than the question provides. $\endgroup$ – Green Sep 29 '15 at 17:00

Gulliver's Travels says that 500 carpenters were on hand to build the machines needed to take Gulliver to the capital, with 900 individuals needed to draw up the cords, and 1500 horses required to draw Gulliver. In addition, 500 guards were on each side of Gulliver when he was escorted to the capital. It may then be concluded that over 1000 individuals were on hand for the binding of Gulliver.

Let us assume that strength scales with area. Since it should be roughly proportional to the number of muscle fibers per area, this does not seem unreasonable. Supposing that the average male height was 5'6" (accounting for somewhat poorer nutrition), the area ratio is 1:121. So it seems plausible that the host assembled near Gulliver could move as much as at least 8 human beings. When the horses are taken into account, they could possibly move at least as much as eight humans and eight horse.

Now, the stated method of binding him to the ground was "pegs." I think that in sufficiently hard ground, hooked pegs slightly longer than tent pegs would be enough to hold down a person, especially one weakened by swimming. If machines were built to allow dozen of Lilliputians to distribute their strength in driving tent pints into the ground, this task could easily be managed in several hours (the Lilliputians are explicitly stated to be "most excellent mathematicians," as regards their building prowess). As to why they had pegs, that is another matter, but the story explicitly states that they do.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Typically strength squares with area, or the number of muscle fibers in a given cross-section (hence the square-cube law). This makes things a little more favorable for the Lilliputians. $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion Sep 29 '15 at 2:58
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, yes. My mistake there--corrected. Though this is more a case of "whence the square-cube law." $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Sep 29 '15 at 4:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.