Cork in a Wine Bottle Challenge

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If a cork falls into the bottom of a wine bottle (accidentally or on purpose), how can you get it out without ruining the cork, the bottle, or both? It’s a puzzle that seems challenging, but actually it can be solved with a simple science secret.


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Here's What You'll Need

  • Empty wine bottle
  • Cork
  • Rubber mallet
  • Small stick
  • Handkerchief or cloth napkin

Let's Try It

  1. If you have an empty wine bottle, a cork, and a handkerchief lying around the house, you have the basic materials you need to attempt this challenge.

  2. Put the cork back in the wine bottle. This can be a bit tricky, so push it into the top of the bottle and then use a rubber mallet to push it as far into the bottle as you can. You could also turn the bottle over and tap the cork lightly on the ground until the cork is even with the top of the bottle.

  3. Use a small stick to push the cork all the way into the bottom of the bottle. Now you have what some people call an “Impossible Bottle”—a bottle that contains something that appears to be too large to fit through the neck of the bottle and that won’t easily come out. Some Impossible Bottles feature ships, decks of cards, tennis balls, scissors, knotted ropes, and many other unusual items inside them.

  4. Call your friend over and present him with this challenge: “Can you pull the cork out of the bottle without destroying it or the bottle?” Remind him that he can’t set the cork on fire or put something down into the bottle that will break the cork up into small pieces or break the bottle. Let him ponder the challenge for a while. Maybe he’ll consider putting water and Alka-Seltzer down into the bottle, building up the pressure, and exploding the cork out of the bottle. Or maybe he’ll pour some liquid nitrogen down into the bottle and douse it with warm water, causing a huge cloud (and the cork) to erupt out of the bottle. (These techniques are not recommended and could cause damage to the cork, the bottle, or your friend!)

  5. When your friend gives up and begs you to explain how to get the cork out of the bottle, here is one solution you might share with him. Push the handkerchief down into the bottle, leaving about half of the handkerchief sticking out of the bottle so that you can grab onto it.

  6. Tip the bottle upside down and gently shake it until the cork is lodged between the handkerchief and the inside of the bottle near the neck of the bottle.

  7. Grab the dangling end of the handkerchief and slowly pull the handkerchief out of the bottle. The handkerchief is slippery and so doesn’t provide the normal friction between the cork and the bottle. If you continue to pull on the handkerchief, BAM!—the cork pops right out of the bottle.

How Does It Work

There’s really no fancy scientific explanation needed to describe how the cork comes out of the bottle. It boils down to just the simple science of friction. Wine manufacturers use corks in bottles because the friction between the cork and the glass forms a nice tight seal. If you remove the friction (by using the handkerchief or a plastic bag), you can very easily pull the cork back out of the bottle. How’s that for a science mind-bender?

Take It Further

See if you can remove a cork from an empty wine bottle using a produce bag from the grocery store instead of a napkin or handkerchief. What other items could you use to try to get the cork out of the bottle?

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