Scientific American spoke to biomechanical engineers to figure out the best wishbone breaking strategies.
Credit: George Marks/Getty Images

Among all the pointless holiday-related superstitions, the breaking of the wishbone ranks up with the best of the bunch. While the idea that whoever ends up with the larger piece of a dead bird’s furcula will be granted a wish is inherently ridiculous, everyone knows this battle for the larger half of bone is about far more than any unlikely wish fulfillment. It’s about family pride and stored up family holiday anger and being able to turn to your cousin and say, “Ha! I won this round! Why don’t you suck on that until Christmas!”

Of course, to achieve the opportunity for such pomposity, everyone seems to have their own wishbone breaking strategy: grab the bone here, look for a little bit of extra thickness there. But do any of these strategies actually work? For 2017, you have a new ally on your side: science.

The good people over at Scientific American spoke to biomechanical engineers to determine some of the “tips and dirty tricks” to winning the wishbone battle – and then the magazine put the results into convenient 100-second YouTube video form for all to see… But hopefully only you will see it and not whoever you break the wishbone with this year.

So what is the best trick? Well, if you’re not above a little cheating, Scientific American suggests the way to a guaranteed win is to use a knife to secretly weaken your opponent’s side of the bone. But hey, this is likely family we’re talking about here, so you probably don’t want to sink that low.

Instead, here’s a tactic you’ve probably seen before that actually works: the choke up. By grabbing higher up on the bone, “the shorter distance lowers torque and the potential for stress on your side.” Stress is what inevitably causes the bone to break, meaning whichever side gets more stress will break off to become the loser.

So speaking of stress, Scientific American’s best piece of advice might actually be this counterintuitive tidbit: just relax a bit. Typically, you might think a big ripping motion will help snap off more bone than your opponent, but the damage is likely happening on your end instead. “When your enemy starts to pull, keep a firm grip and hold still,” the video suggests. “The stress will concentrate on their side and bend the bone in your favor.” So there you go: firm but calm. It’s actually a solid strategy for any family battles this holiday.