Back in 2008, Honda wanted to be cute and destroy a stretch of California road with grooves spaced out to play “The William Tell Overture” in tire noise as you drove across it. Well they got the grooves wrong and it sounded terrible. Not just the first time—the road workers got it wrong again when they had to relocate it.
In the latest video from Tom Scott’s Amazing Places series on YouTube, Tom visits the stretch of road near Lancaster, California that is a cringe-worthy reminder of why you should always be careful with your measurements:
As Tom points out in the video, based on research from David Simmons Duffin from the California Institute of Technology, the mishap is not just an issue of speeding up or slowing down. The reason you don’t hear an accurate rendition of “The William Tell Overture” is inherent in the inaccurate spacing of the grooves.
Duffin determined that the issue was likely just a miscommunication. See, calculations prove that there should be a groove every four inches in the groupings. When the work crew set out to grind the grooves in the road, they put one every four inches, as specified. The problem is that nobody thought to account for the width of the grooves themselves, starting each groove four inches from the border of the last groove, meaning that the spacing of the “notes” wasn’t just off-key, it was all completely wrong.
You’ll notice in the following Honda ad that the road was originally grooved for, it seems to be just fine! Everything went fine!
Listen to that! Irrefutable evidence that the road is fine and that the sound you’re hearing was definitely not edited for the ad at all. Except it probably was, because no matter how quickly you actually drive over the grooves on the real road in the real world, you’ll never really hear “The William Tell Overture”.
What’s even worse is that the measurements were done exactly the same, which is, incorrectly, a second time when they were forced to move the grooves after a noise complaint. Incredible.