Why doesn't the ink pour out of a ballpoint pen?

Everybody knows at least one nerd whose ballpoint pen “exploded” in his shirt pocket leaving a Rorschach test on the shirt. That stuff does indeed flow under the right conditions.

It must be asked. Why didn’t you stop after one?

Sometimes a dead ballpoint with plenty of ink can be coaxed to life by holding the tip over a lit match briefly. I don’t know why. But the cheap ones are under $0.10 so it’s probably not worth any effort at all.

When I was in the fifth grade in 1968 we were required to use fountain pens; my teacher called ballpoints “glorified pencils.” I still have a fountain pen but I’m so computerized now that the only time I write is on yellow sticky notes, or checks, and can’t be bothered to fetch a fountain pen for that. I do use a calligraphy pen to write a couple of letters a year to friends overseas. I bought one of those dip-it-in-the-inkwell pens at a specialty store in Italy this summer and when I got home and tried to use it I found it just horrible.

Biro is a brand name owned by Bic. Here’s the whole story.

These ones specifically. See CookingWithGas’ post on branding/trademarks.

Apparently the name Biro is the inventor, and a product name for a pen made by BIC. Story here. I had no idea, but it’s an interesting tale apparently.

I was once a YOUNG male. As a young male, I did far more stupid things than I do as a nearly 40 male. I still do plenty of stupid things, even knowing the outcome at 40. At 10, exponentially more. I still bite my fingernails too, though I shouldn’t, and have the cuticle (side) injuries to prove it, disuade me, and encourage me next time.

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The viscosity of the ink can hardly be the reason - viscosity creates forces proportional to flow rate, and so can only slow the movement. The ink is able to run out rapidly enough for writing, and yet left in a drawer for years will not drain out.

You’re right that viscosity isn’t the whole issue. Ink is more viscous than water, but this can be done with water and a straw. Put straw in water. Place thumb over top end. Lift straw out of water. Water doesn’t flow out. A small enough tube, sealed at one end, might as well be sealed at both. Surface tension keeps the air from getting in. And if the air can’t get in, the liquid won’t flow out. Release the seal and it flows normally again.

Thank you. I must have got confused by the common usage when I was young of “Biro” as the generic term for a ballpoint. (NZ, 1960s)

Consider that if the non-ball end is perfectly sealed, then you have a pressure problem in delivering the ink to the ball end. In that, the ink won’t flow towards the ball, either.

Ballpoint pens do not work in free fall, right? The astronaut pen is not just a Seinfeld invention?

Those astronaut pens are real. I’ve had a couple. No idea how they work, though.

Pressurized tubes. I have some mid-range pens that write in any orientation. They all have sealed tubes. One day I hope to own a really high-end pen and see how it works.

I’ve had one, too. Like Balthisar said it’s a pressurized tube.

But, I just looked up the story that Americans spent millions on it and the Russians used a pencil. Turns out it’s an urban legend…
the real story.

::::checks user name::::
::::scratches head::::

You don’t appear to be me (unless I’ve started going into fugue states, and creating sock puppets and posting to message boards while “out of myself”… I think someone would have mentioned this to me by now, however).

so I must only conclude that this sort of experimental endeavor is a sign of a highly developed intelligence and sense of curiosity.

I was 9 when I did this, how old were you?

Well, I know I was about 12 when the Red Ink Incident* occurred, and by the time we got all that cleaned up, including soaking the light blue jacket in a bowl of milk for several days, I felt my research was complete. So, yes, 9 sounds about right for a starting point.
*Red ink pen in my pocket + school assembly that failed to hold my attention
I also experimented with the effect of hot candle wax on plastic containers and with playing Truth Or Dare with my 2nd best friend’s older brother. Does any of this ring a bell for you?

Hmmm… I did rather like playing with candles, it’s a wonder I never burned the house down. I don’t recall any Truth or Dare sessions with older brothers, though we did a fair bit of it at school in 7th grade.

So you chose to anoint a blue jacket with red ink. I used blue ink but was wearing a red (well, pink) jumper. I guess we complement each other well :slight_smile: