If you dropped a penny off the top of the Empire State Building, would it leave a hole in the sidewalk?

We’ve all heard the story of the penny falling from the top of the Empire State Building and slicing its way through a parked car (or a pedestrian) below.

It never happened, no matter what Jimmy Doofus in the fifth grade may have told you. Have you ever dropped a coin into a wishing well or fountain?

You’ll notice that it doesn’t drop straight down to the bottom, but zigs, zags, and flutters all over the place, often landing quite a distance from where you thought you were dropping it.

The same thing happens in air. Because of air resistance and the penny’s not-very-aerodynamic shape, a dropped coin flips, dips, and spins during a free fall, slowing the speed of its fall substantially. In fact, pennies fall slowly enough, —just under 80 mph—, that people standing below could potentially catch them, though doing so would likely hurt their hands.

And as for the person who dropped the penny, their clean criminal records would be pretty banged up as well (since dropping anything from the Empire State Building is highly illegal).

A penny would only reach a high enough speed to cause damage below if it were falling in a vacuum, or staying perfectly on edge all the way down—a virtual impossibility, unless you customize your coin by adding weight and stabilizing fins.