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Aerodynamic beer mat takes off.

TO MOST it is merely something drinkers put their pints on to soak up spilled beer.

But engineers have now turned their attention to the humble beer mat in order to improve on a traditional pub game. A series of experiments has resulted in what they claim is the ideal solution for beer- mat flipping.

The revolutionary design gives anyone playing Smash and Grab - flipping the mat up from the edge of a table and catching it mid air - an added advantage, they say.

Ian Johnston, an aerodynamics expert at the Open University, and Hazel Lucas, who is doing a masters in engineering at Oxford University, spent two months working on the project.

To help them, they constructed a machine designed to simulate the action of a person flipping a mat from below.

'The first part of the research, which was particularly enjoyable, involved going to a canal-side pub and experimenting with the different beer mats,' said Mr Johnston.

'We found the mats behaved differently, mainly according to their shape but also their size and how you balance them on the table.'

Further tests found the key to the perfect flip was to have as much as possible of the mat over the table's edge, to be able to strike it near the centre.

Mr Johnston and Ms Lucas experimented with 35 designs before settling on one they considered the best.

The final design, called the Aeromat, looks much like any square drip mat but uses an arched-shape piece of cardboard, two-thirds of its length.

The last third is made from foam, lighter than the cardboard, allowing more than half the mat to balance over the table's edge.

It also has a plastic V-shaped wing on either side designed to keep it level in flight and close to the flipper, making it easier to catch.

'When I first looked at the project I thought it was a bit of a joke, but it soon became fascinating from an engineering point of view,' said Mr Johnston.

'With the demise of Concorde, our mat is perhaps the most aerodynamically advanced object now in the air.'

The Red Lion Pub in Llanafan Fawr near Builth Wells is the venue for the world championships of another traditional pub game, Tippit, where two teams of three compete in a game to decide in which of the opponent's hands a coin is being hidden.

Landlady Lorna Foster said, 'Tippit is our major competition. Every year we get around 30 teams here for the world championships, and people take it very seriously.

'I haven't seen very many customers flipping beer mats in the pub, and I can't believe that someone's spent so long on designing the perfect beer mat for flipping.

'But if the company wanted to send us some of these aerodynamic beer mats, I'm sure we'd have a go with them, and consider introducing it as another pub game.

David Hodge, marketing manager at Strongbow, which commissioned the beer-mat research, said, 'This is a breakthrough for the legion of pub sportsmen who have been flipping with equipment unchanged in decades.'
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 3, 2003
Words:515
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