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Dusting Off: Intimidating Executive Desk Toys

Back in the ’80s, interspersed amongst various raised-seal accolades from Ivy League universities, stacks of (TPS?) reports and expensively framed photographs of family vacations to Gstaad and St. Barts (aka “the happier times”) were a series of curious adult toys and trinkets, more often than not mail-ordered from Sharper Image catalogs and the like.

Pictured here is the most ubiquitous of the bunch: Newton’s cradle (aka “Newton’s Balls”), named, of course, for Sir Isaac Newton’s conservation of momentum and energy law. By now, of course, the physics behind the executive ball clicker is no mystery. But in Gordon Gecko’s day, the contraption served as a vehicle to demonstrate intellectual superiority over potential clients or job applicants seated across the desk.

Click, click, click, click...

“You see,” Mr. Gecko would say, “The conservation of momentum—mass times velocity—and kinetic energy—0.5 times mass times velocity, squared—can be used to find the resulting velocities for two colliding elastic balls. It’s almost too simple, wouldn’t you say, Bob? Now, what you ya say we look at those fourth-quarter numbers you have for me?”

Advantage: Gecko.