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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Can the Grandma Not Get Run Over By the Reindeer? (for the Week of Dec. 9, 2007)

November 29, 2007

Q. Dear Twig: There's that song, "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." How fast would the grandma have to run to not get run over by the reindeer?

A.: If the grandma is running straight away from the reindeer, as if racing it or being chased by it, the answer is: she just can't do it. The grandma can't run fast enough to not get run over by the reindeer. Aiee! So tell your own grandma if she happens to be in the path of a reindeer to not run away. Just sidestep out of the way. ¡Olé! Like a matador.

Scientists put a reindeer's top speed (on the ground, not in the air) at about 32 miles per hour. Some say it's even faster, like 50 miles per hour.

The world's fastest human, meanwhile, tops out at 27 miles per hour in a very short sprint and is not nor likely ever will be a grandma. Over long distances, fast-running runners, including grandmas, go 8-15 miles per hou.

Results will vary based on snow depth, tailwind and butter cookies. But reindeer run faster either way.



P.S. Q.: Why did the reindeer run across the road? A.: Ptarmigan's day off. Ha-HOOOOO-haaa!

Notes: Reindeer and caribou are in fact the same species, Rangifer tarandus. (Human grandmas? Homo sapiens.) Reindeer are domesticated caribou, herded by people, including, apparently, ones in red suits. (See "Smart Stuff," Dec. 21, 2003, Sources included Canadian Geographic magazine's "Caribou in Canada" Web site (oo, well done),, and the BBC Sport Academy (oo, ditto),

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College — is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at a 4th-grade reading level. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691,, (330) 263-3776. Online at

Kurt Knebusch