Posted in History & Literature


In 305 BC, Demetrius I of Macedon waged war with the island of Rhodes, now known as the siege of Rhodes. During this siege, Demetrius utilised a superweapon that is, to this day, the largest siege tower ever built – the Helepolis. Helepolis loosely translates to “destroyer of cities”, which is interesting as Demetrius’ nickname was Poliorcetes, or “The Besieger” in ancient Greek. In short, Demetrius was set to raze Rhodes or wipe it off the map.

The Helepolis lived up to its name: designed by Polyidus of Thessaly, it was 40m high (about 13 stories), 20m wide, weighed 160 tons and had a crew of 3400 people. It had eight wheels, each 3.7m high, and had compound wheels that allowed it to move side-to-side. The 3400 men both pushed the tower and worked a belt system that moved the wheels forward. The entire structure was clad in iron plates, making it completely arrowproof and fireproof. 

Its armament was just as impressive. One face of the tower was covered in windows, with each concealing a catapult that could hurl heavy objects at the target. The first floor had a pair of catapults that could hurl 80kg projectiles (about the weight of a refrigerator) and one that launched 30kg projectiles. The second floor had three 30kg catapults and the third to eighth floor had ten 15kg catapults in total. Lastly, the roof had four dart throwers which could clear any defenders on the top of castle walls. Essentially, the tower had both the ultimate defensive and offensive capabilities.

Of course, there was no chance the Rhodians could stand a face-off with such a behemoth. So instead, they came up with a cunning plan that exploited the huge size of the Helepolis. The night before the siege began, the Rhodians channelled the water and sewage coming out of the city into the area they expected the attack to come from to create a vast area of mud and bog. When the Helepolis stormed in for the offensive, it immediately started sinking in the mire. Knowing that no amount of horses and men could pull the structure out of the mud, the soldiers abandoned the superweapon without even using it once. 

Ultimately, the siege of Rhodes failed (largely due to the failure of Helepolis) and the Rhodians took apart the Helepolis, melted the iron plates and used it to build the Colossus of Rhodes (one of the Seven Ancient Wonders).

Posted in Science & Nature

Badass Weapons Of Nature: Mantis Shrimp

In April 1998, a shrimp by the name of Tyson punched through the quarter-inch-thick glass of his cell and attempted an escape. He was promptly caught and had to be sent to a more secure facility. Unlike his boxing counterpart, Tyson was merely 10 centimetres in length.
Mantis shrimp are well-known for their “fists of fury” – officially the fastest punch in the natural world.

Their weapons of choice are their clubs that can be retracted and folded under their head. Using a remarkable energy-storage system – much like the cocking mechanism of a gun combined with a spring – the mantis shrimp can unleash its rounded, stubby claws at a speed of 80km/h to hit its target in 0.003 seconds. This is an amazing feat given that it happens underwater, where the water puts up a significantly higher resistance compared to air. The acceleration needed to produce this awesome punch is 10,000 times the force of gravity (similar to a bullet). In simpler words, researchers could not film using high-speed cameras and needed to borrow a super high-speed camera just to see the punch happen. 

However, the surprises do not end here. Researchers soon found that each strike by the mantis shrimp not only inflicted heavy physical damage, but the sheer speed of the punch created cavitation (implosion of bubbles). Much like the pistol shrimp, this cavitation releases massive amounts of light and heat energy. This shockwave happens immediately after the punch, essentially resulting in the target receiving a deadly one-two hit combo which instantly knocks it out (or disintegrated). 

The force of the mantis shrimp’s punch can easily penetrate the hard shell of most crustaceans in the ocean, meaning no creature is safe. Mantis shrimps have also been observed beating up fish and octopi – and succeeding.

Not only does the mantis shrimp have the most powerful strike, it also has one of the most sophisticated eyes in nature and is extremely agile. This, combined with the shrimp’s cunning nature makes it the perfect hunter. It tends to ambush prey and swiftly knocks it out before it knows what hit it. If the one-hit KO fails, the mantis shrimp uses its agility to hit the foe and quickly swim away, then hit again from the other side until the foe is crushed.

Lastly, the shrimp described above is actually one type of mantis shrimp called a smasher. There is another subtype called spearer with claws modified into sharp spears that can be thrusted with the same force as the smasher’s clubs.

The only adequate metaphor to describe this awesome creature would be a Mike Tyson punching as hard as he can, in his prime, while his fist is attached to a meteor entering the atmosphere.

(Image source:

Posted in Science & Nature

Badass Weapons Of Nature: Pistol Shrimp

A gun is, without a doubt, a manmade object. It is an invention that has existed less than a thousand years in history. However, there is an animal that has been using firearms to hunt prey for a significantly longer period of time than mankind has.
The pistol shrimp is well known for its disproportionately large claw, with the other claw being much smaller like a normal shrimp. The massive claw is what is called the “pistol” and it is the weapon of choice for the shrimp.

When a pistol shrimp identifies a target, it swiftly takes aim with the claw and snaps it shut with enough force to create a bubble jet reaching a speed of almost 100km/h. Not only are bubbles produced, but the pressure wave created by the cavitation (the effect of a bubble imploding and generating energy) reaches a sound level of 218dB – which is about 100,000,000 times larger than a gunshot, or 10,000 times larger than a rocket launch. Furthermore, the energy is also released as light and heat, generating a temperature as hot as 4700°C (for comparison, the surface temperature of the sun is 5500°C).
The combination of the bubble jet, pressure wave and heat energy instantly stuns the target and the pistol shrimp proceeds to devour its prey.

Yes, the pistol shrimp has mastered a skill that humans can only dream of in comics such as the Incredible Hulk’s Thunderclap, or in games such as Guile’s Sonic Boom (from Street Fighter). It has also mastered the skill to the level of an effective ultimate move that is reliable as a hunting tool. In fact, it is quite possibly the closest any animal on Earth has gotten to an actual beam weapon.