Top - Characteristics


The motion of a top is produced in the most simple forms by twirling the stem using the fingers. More sophisticated tops are spun by holding the axis firmly while pulling a string or twisting a stick or pushing an auger. In the kinds with an auger, an internal weight rotates, producing an overall circular motion.

The top is one of the oldest recognizable toys found on archaeological sites. Spinning tops originated independently in cultures all over the world. Besides toys, tops have also historically been used for gambling and prophecy. Some role-playing games use tops to augment dice in generating randomized results; it is in this case referred to as a spinner. A thumbtack may also be made to spin on the same principles.

The action of a top relies on the gyroscopic effect for its operation. Typically the top will at first wobble until the shape of the tip and its interaction with the surface force it upright. After spinning upright for an extended period, the angular momentum, and therefore the gyroscopic effect will gradually lessen, leading to ever increasing precession, finally causing the top to topple in a frequently violent last thrash.

There have been many developments within the technology of the top. Bearing tops, with a tip that spins, have been one of the biggest changes. In addition, plastic and metal have largely supplanted the use of wood in tops. Fixed tip tops are featured in National Championships in Chico, California and in the World Championships in Orlando, Florida.

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