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June 24, 2002
Why are tennis balls fuzzy?
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Mark Young, historian, International Tennis Hall of Fame: I don't know that. No idea? No.

Lizz Marascilu, United States Tennis Association: I don't know. Fine. Onward!

Laura Kurzu, director of communications, Penn Racquet Sports: The fuzz controls the speed of the ball through the air. It also allows a player to control the ball. How? It has to do with torque. Actually, I don't know if "torque" is the right word ... Sounds good to me. Torque. Hmmm.

Answer Guy

Yes. It's used in beer bottles. What is? Torque. It's used to twist off the cap. I'm sure your readers know all about torque. I'm sure they do.

So what's the fuzz made out of? Wool. Wool? Why wool? Why not cotton? Terry cloth? Polyester? Well, you need the fuzz that wool has. The fuzz gives you the grip. And wool is the only material that fluffs.

Fluffs? It's like when you put a sweater in the dryer, and when it comes out, it's tighter, but fluffy. That's like what happens with animals. In the dryer? Right. Smaller, but very, very fluffy.

So, while I have you, why are the balls packaged like they are, all vacuumed up? To retain the pressure at the core of the balls. It helps them last longer. Kind of like Pringles. Right! Like Pringles. Laura, do you like Pringles? No. I do.

But back to the wool. Is it specially engineered wool? Well, it's from New Zealand. Is that why it smells the way it does? Yeah, sure. But you should talk to Steve Judge at the felt plant.

Steve Judge, vice president and general manager, Tex Tech Industries, Tempe, Ariz.: Sheep are abundant in New Zealand. We need a lot of wool. About how much? About a million yards a year.

And is it true the sheep of New Zealand smell like tennis balls? Who said that? Laura from Penn. No, they don't. But they don't smell that great, either ...


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