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Pop Culture

TikTok's kid-friendly 'water cup challenge' is a fascinating science lesson in disguise

Behold, the new Jenga.

water cup challenge tiktok

Jenga took that Bruce Lee quote seriously.

Many are likening TikTok’s new “water cup challenge” to a game of liquid Jenga, only trading in the wooden blocks for rounds of pours. But that’s not entirely accurate.

For one thing, it’s even more intense.

As a Jenga aficionado (I have my own giant set at home and have yet to lose), this was hard to believe. But it’s true.



With Jenga, each round gets more and more difficult. As the tower—and the anxiety—gets higher, even breathing ceases to be an option. But the game at least has the built-in mercy of the really big wobble that signals “mayday, we’re going down!”

Such is not the case with the water cup challenge. There is no warning. Just … splash. Game over.

But that’s the really great thing about it too. You see, the water cup challenge might appear to be a game of chance, but there’s way more to it than that.

To really understand, one must know the principles of surface tension.


Surface tension happens when water molecules on the surface don’t have other water molecules on all sides of them. There are simply fewer of them swimming around up there. As a result, they will connect even more strongly to the other water molecules directly next to them.

You see, water molecules like to stick together, thanks to a natural property called cohesion—Mother Nature’s version of clinginess, if you will. Cohesion is what makes a water droplet stay a droplet, or what helps objects to float despite being heavy or dense.

It’s also what keeps the water cup challenge so riveting.

@gracemagerz Yikesss 😬 @holar_dipo #watercup#challenge#african#nigerian#kenyan#gracemagerz♬ Dior Her - Seabee Ferarri

The game, like Jenga, is simple: Take turns pouring small amounts of water into a clear cup that’s already mostly filled. Whoever causes the inevitable spill is the loser. The end.

But man, you can pour an insane amount of water onto the top. And as that bubble gets bigger and bigger, the suspense increases. Though one trick is to pour slowly, that’s easier said than done once the hands start shaking. Either way, it’s incredibly fun to play and fun to watch.

Compared to Jenga, losing is a bit less painful, as there are no bricks to pick up. Although some people like to raise the stakes by soaking the loser with ice cold water.

William Hof must be so proud.

And in a way, the water cup challenge is even more kid-friendly than its brick counterpart.

There’s not just the cool surface tension lesson. It can be great hands-on practice for developing motor skills. Montessori schools will often introduce children as young as two-and-a-half years old to the practical life lesson of pouring as it can “help build a child’s concentration, control of body movement, and fine motor control.”

But clearly this is not just a game for children. Just ask NFL player JuJu Smith-Schuster (above), who really helped the trend make a splash.

All in all, the water cup challenge is a safe, engaging and all around wholesome form of H2O entertainment, no matter what age.

Good luck. And remember, pour slowly!

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