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As Archimedes famously observed, if you put an object on a lever arm, it will exert a twisting force around the lever's fulcrum. This twisting is called torque and is equal to the object's weight multiplied by its distance from the fulcrum (the angle of the lever also comes in, but that does not concern us here). If the object is to the left of the fulcrum, the direction of the torque is counterclockwise; if the object is to the right, the direction is clockwise. To compute the torque around a support, simply sum all the torques of the individual objects on the lever.
The challenge is to keep the lever balanced while adjusting the objects on it. First, let's try a warm-up problem: Assume you have a straight, evenly weighted board, 20 meters long and weighing three kilograms. The middle of the board is the center of mass, and we will call that position 0. So the possible positions on the board range from -10 (the left end) to +10 (the right end). The board is supported at positions -1.5 and +1.5 by two equal fulcrums, both two meters tall and standing on a flat floor. On the board are six packages, at positions -8, -4, -3, 2, 5 and 8, having weights of 4, 10, 10, 4, 7 and 8 kilograms, respectively [see illustration A below].
This article was originally published with the title No Tipping.