Ford engineers use ping pong balls to measure unusually shaped storage areas (Photos: Ford Motor Company)

If you guessed exactly 56,778 you win. (There’s actually no prize, but feel free to use this for bar bets.)

How does Ford know how many ping pong balls you can cram into their all-new Escape? It wasn’t the result of some after hours office prank. And it wasn’t to impress girls. It’s because they found the best way to measure interior spaces isn’t with traditional tape measures… it’s with ping pong balls.

“It probably doesn’t seem like it, but ping pong balls are more accurate than using a tape measure to get the volume of odd shaped spaces like a glove compartment,” says Eric Jackson, Vehicle Architecture Supervisor.

Years ago, before the Ping Pong Ball Postulate, Ford would try to estimate the capacity of glove boxes, center consoles and other small areas using a measuring tape and taking their Length x Width x Height to get the volume. But, with all the angles, curves and other odd shapes, Ford found that this wasn’t accurate or consistent. According to Jackson, a Ford engineer came up with the idea of using ping pong balls to measure spaces and they tried it.

“It was just a quirky idea that came out of a team brainstorm,” said Jackson. “We then did some studies using the ping pong ball idea and found that capacities were more consistently measured.”

The precise way volume is measured with ping pong balls is fairly simple, according to Sejal Shreffler. Ford Accommodation and Usage Engineer. Ford engineers developed a cubic measurement for each ping pong ball that accounts for the open space in-between a stack of balls. They then use that measurement and account for the number of ping pong balls in the storage space to determine the total volume.

Then they stuff ping pong balls into these spaces, like the hidden storage bin under the second row, or the umbrella holders built in to the seat trim panels, count them, then come up with the volumes to list on the Escape’s spec sheet. Scans from dozens of consumer goods like iPads, mountain bikes and wheel chairs let them ensure that these objects will fit into the vehicles, and that there’s a proper place for them.

Good to know, should I ever need to transport 56,778 ping pong balls somewhere.