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  Topic: Slate's Unanswered Questions, Wherein we help The Explainer< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
stevestory



Posts: 10127
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 22 2007,22:26   

Quote
The Questions We Never Answered in 2007

Digging through the bottom of the Explainer mailbag.

By Daniel Engber
Posted Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007, at 3:36 PM ET

Another year of Explaining is drawing to a close. Over the last 12 months, regular readers of the column learned what to do when confronted by a gun-toting madman, how to fight off a band of bloodthirsty monkeys, whether a racehorse really pees like a racehorse, and why the camera adds 10 pounds.

But for every reader question we managed to answer, 50 more arrived in the Explainer inbox. By year's end, these numbered in the thousands. Today, the Explainer renews a holiday tradition and presents an assortment of inquiries culled from our voluminous backlog, which Slate felt ill-equipped or unwilling to answer in 2007.

Once again, we'd like you to let us know which of these unanswered questions is most deserving of an answer. The one receiving the most reader votes will be designated Explainer Question of the Year for 2007 and addressed in an upcoming column.


Some of these questions are interesting and/or funny, and we have a lot of smartypants here, so I thought I'd see if the After the Bar Closes crowd wanted to help The Explainer out, and answer some of them. The questions are:

Quote
The Explainer's Unanswered Questions From 2007

• Could you play sports in space, if you had a spacesuit?

• Can a baby get drunk off of nonalcoholic beer?

• Very rare to find a hotel room with a light on the ceiling, they're usually floor lamps or desk lamps. Is there some structural reason for that?

• Mitt Romney is running for president. His father, George Romney, a former governor of Michigan, ran for president in 1968. Is "Mitt" named for the mitten-shape of Michigan?

• How do surface-dwelling fish survive monster sea storms?

• If I drank a bunch of orange juice, which caused me to get heartburn, then ate a bunch of antacids, would it neutralize the vitamin C, thus providing no benefits from the ingested vitamin? If so, if you ate antacids continually, would you get scurvy?

• I've been looking for information on how the word "dick" became an insult, especially since people still go by the name Dick. Why would anyone choose that name, when it has other meanings?!?!

• Why do male ice skaters have routines that are so feminine in execution? After all these years, there should be some kind of movements on ice that would be more masculine-looking. The gymnastics shows have them.

• Why are some cats softer to the touch than others? Is it possible I have the softest cat in the world?

• In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, he says that Jason Bourne can pack with great economy of space, allowing him to pack much more in a small bag than it would seem. How would one do this, and is it even a real thing?

• Do you have any idea why sporting the moustache was so much more common in the military than in any other job in 19th-century Western countries, and to some extent present-day Western countries?

• If an unscrupulous bar owner was to mix diethylene to, say, whiskey, what would the effect be on the consumer?

• I am an Afro-American woman. I am in my youthful 50s. My hair is strong and a little past the shoulders. I wear it pressed (hot combed or flat iron). It is also a salt-and-pepper color; I get great compliments on it. The problem I have is static. Could you give me some tips on what to use to stop this?

• There was the most beautiful sunset here in Indiana last evening. Would the California fires have anything to do with that?

• I haven't seen this in the news, but perhaps you could explain it anyway. Why do people feel like destroying things when angry?

• Why do most reptiles go to sleep when you rub their bellies? I have done it myself with everything from domestic water dragons to wild alligators, but I heard recently that it is bad for them—and they only appear to be sleeping, when in fact they are having trouble breathing. Is this true?

• Would it be possible to "shoot" someone with "lightning"? Like, a Taser with no electrodes.

• Why do men almost never win on ABC's Wheel of Fortune?

• Are any of the scorpions in central Vietnam deadly? I was stung three times one night, and evacuated to a hospital where doctors said the one that stung me was the only lethal one in Vietnam. Truth or lie?

• Why don't we drop medical waste and nuclear waste into active volcanoes, the "ultimate high-temperature incinerators"?

• Hello. I am an editor and writer and I would like for everyone to change some letters that are now in lowercase to uppercase. An example would be the 18th century to the 18th Century. Where does one go about starting to do this?

• Is it "open sees me" or "open says me"?

• Can dogs be mentally retarded?

• Why don't they build into cars a secret button for police to use, and when these people are trying to get away from police down the freeway and city streets at 100 mph, the following police car could push the button, making the engine on the speeding car stop? Surely there must be some smart person who could make this.

• Why does having a foreign accent make a person seem more attractive?

• How often are presidents born, and how often do they die? Do they die in bunches, or on average every four years?

• When a fly lands on a ceiling, does it execute a barrel roll or an inside loop?

• Is there such a thing as "crazy eyes," where the whites go all the way around the corneas and makes the person look psycho, such as those of runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks and wife-dismemberer Stephen Grant?

• I've always wanted to know why bald heads shine!!!

• Who is Daniel Engbert? I'm sure that I'm spelling his name wrong, but he's one of a few guys that you regularly go to as a reliable source—and I want to know who he is and why he's qualified.

• What infections do viruses and microorganisms suffer from? My guess is none. They only suffer from random mutations and suffering caused (mostly by humans) by chemicals.

• I have been looking for an old movie from about the late '60s. I was born in 1960 and watched it as a little kid. It was a Santa movie and it had the Devil in it. It was like the Devil was trying to stop Christmas. I remember the Devil was wearing red PJs. Santa has a magic powder that would make people sleep. It was a cute movie. Please help.

• What do the SWAT teams do to keep their fitness? Like, do they run for half an hour, or do five pressups?

• If mountains are measured from sea level, then the 12,000-foot peaks in Colorado are only about 7,000 feet above Denver since they lie on a 5,000-foot-high plain. That being so, a one-foot rock lying on the ground becomes a 5,001-foot-high mountain. Do we need to address this differently, if it really matters at all?

• Is it possible in any way to prove that someone was on crack cocaine nine to 10 years ago?

• Why don't long-haired football players, many of them of Polynesian descent, get their tresses tugged during their gridiron clash?

• This may be a dumb question. Most people spell their names as first name, middle initial, and last name. But some people spell their name as initial, given name, and then last name. Is the initial before the given name their first name, and they go by their middle name? Or is the initial before the given name their middle initial? If it is their middle initial, why would you put it before your first name, because then it is not in the middle anymore? It seems like conservatives or Republicans are more likely to list their name starting with an initial.

• What would happen to the rest of the planets and the sun if Jupiter were to explode, or somehow leave our galaxy altogether?

• Which is the best hearing aid? Why are there so many different ones, and are the ones that allow you to hear others' conversations across the room legal?

• When a man lies to his lawyer to obtain a divorce from a wife of 47 years when she is ill and does not even know and cannot defend herself, is this legal, or perjury?


Please quote the particular question you are answering. Have fun!

   
stevestory



Posts: 10127
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 22 2007,22:26   

link to above: http://www.slate.com/id/2179944/pagenum/all/

   
stevestory



Posts: 10127
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 22 2007,22:31   

I'll answer one:

Quote


• Is it possible in any way to prove that someone was on crack cocaine nine to 10 years ago?


Nope. Here's what Wikipedia says about cocaine:

Quote
Metabolism and excretion

Cocaine is extensively metabolized, primarily in the liver, with only about 1% excreted unchanged in the urine.

...

Depending on liver and kidney function, cocaine metabolites are detectable in urine. Benzoylecgonine can be detected in urine within four hours after cocaine intake and remains detectable in concentrations greater than 150 ng/ml typically for up to eight days after cocaine is used. Detection of accumulation of cocaine metabolites in hair is possible in regular users until the sections of hair grown during use are cut or fall out.


So it would be detectable in someone's urine for a week, and hair for a few months. There's no chance of finding any after 10 years.

   
Lou FCD



Posts: 5402
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 22 2007,22:58   

OK, I'm game...

Quote
How often are presidents born, and how often do they die?


Once each, usually.

--------------
Lou FCD is still in school, so we should only count him as a baby biologist. -carlsonjok -deprecated
I think I might love you. Don't tell Deadman -Wolfhound

Work-friendly photography
NSFW photography

   
Arden Chatfield



Posts: 6657
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 22 2007,23:11   

Quote

• Can dogs be mentally retarded?


Yes:



--------------
"Rich is just mad because he thought all titties had fur on them until last week when a shorn transvestite ruined his childhood dreams by jumping out of a spider man cake and man boobing him in the face lips." - Erasmus

  
Annyday



Posts: 583
Joined: Nov. 2007

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 23 2007,07:25   

Quote
• Can a baby get drunk off of nonalcoholic beer?


Yes. There is often (I might even say usually) a trace of alcohol in 'nonalcoholic' beer. Certain factors - such as being under twenty pounds, or having a semi-developed liver- are likely to dispose certain individuals - such as babies - to being effected by it.

 
Quote
• In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, he says that Jason Bourne can pack with great economy of space, allowing him to pack much more in a small bag than it would seem. How would one do this, and is it even a real thing?


This is how. You could in fact learn to pack with greater-than-normal economy of space.

 
Quote
• Would it be possible to "shoot" someone with "lightning"? Like, a Taser with no electrodes.


This was in the works for a while, but I'm not sure if it's still being developed. Instead of using electrodes they wanted to ionize the air. You do in fact need some way to conduct electricity, however.

 
Quote
• What infections do viruses and microorganisms suffer from? My guess is none. They only suffer from random mutations and suffering caused (mostly by humans) by chemicals.


They suffer from each other. Humans aren't the biggest toxic chemical manufacturers around- that honor goes to microbes in general, and many of the chemicals are designed to help them wage war on each other. This isn't really what you'd call an "infection". However, viruses definitely infect bacteria - and everything else with cells - all the time.

 
Quote
• If mountains are measured from sea level, then the 12,000-foot peaks in Colorado are only about 7,000 feet above Denver since they lie on a 5,000-foot-high plain. That being so, a one-foot rock lying on the ground becomes a 5,001-foot-high mountain. Do we need to address this differently, if it really matters at all?


Well, it almost certainly matters to geologists and to mountain climbers, to name two groups of people. I know some climbers at least who talk about height from base to summit, compared with height above sea level. Then there's a (separate) height of the climb, which is the distance you actually have to travel to get from base to summit.

Also some of these questions are just pointless. Like, "why do people sometimes destroy things when they're angry"? Because they're ANGRY. If you want a more comprehensive answer, you have to start into a psychological, philosophical, or neurological explanation of what anger is. I guess you could do that, but it seems like a clumsy and crappy launching point.

--------------
"ALL eight of the "nature" miracles of Jesus could have been accomplished via the electroweak quantum tunneling mechanism. For example, walking on water could be accomplished by directing a neutrino beam created just below Jesus' feet downward." - Frank Tipler, ISCID fellow

  
Bob O'H



Posts: 2132
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 23 2007,08:05   

The definitive answers, part 1

 
Quote
• Could you play sports in space, if you had a spacesuit?

Yes, but only fencing and basketball.

 
Quote
• Can a baby get drunk off of nonalcoholic beer?

Yes, if they can find a toddler prepared to share their Baileys.

 
Quote
• Very rare to find a hotel room with a light on the ceiling, they're usually floor lamps or desk lamps. Is there some structural reason for that?

No.  They are on the ceiling.  You shouldn't go drinking with toddlers.

   
Quote
• Mitt Romney is running for president. His father, George Romney, a former governor of Michigan, ran for president in 1968. Is "Mitt" named for the mitten-shape of Michigan?

No, he's called that because he was the one who could handle the hot chicks.

   
Quote
• How do surface-dwelling fish survive monster sea storms?

They have water wings.

   
Quote
• If I drank a bunch of orange juice, which caused me to get heartburn, then ate a bunch of antacids, would it neutralize the vitamin C, thus providing no benefits from the ingested vitamin? If so, if you ate antacids continually, would you get scurvy?

Only if you drank a lot of vitamin C.  Otherwise it woulds not be possible for the antacid to neutralize it.

   
Quote
• I've been looking for information on how the word "dick" became an insult, especially since people still go by the name Dick. Why would anyone choose that name, when it has other meanings?!?!

I am not qualified to answer this question, but Mr. Hughes will be along in a moment.

 
Quote
• Why do male ice skaters have routines that are so feminine in execution? After all these years, there should be some kind of movements on ice that would be more masculine-looking. The gymnastics shows have them.

They do have more masculine moves, but can only perform them with 9 other men, two nets and an over-done hamburger.

 
Quote
• Why are some cats softer to the touch than others? Is it possible I have the softest cat in the world?

Possibly, but you should make care to put conditioner on his tongue before he grooms himself.

 
Quote
• In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, he says that Jason Bourne can pack with great economy of space, allowing him to pack much more in a small bag than it would seem. How would one do this, and is it even a real thing?

It is not possible, although a Bag of Many Things may give that appearance.

 
Quote
• Do you have any idea why sporting the moustache was so much more common in the military than in any other job in 19th-century Western countries, and to some extent present-day Western countries?

Yes.

 
Quote
• If an unscrupulous bar owner was to mix diethylene to, say, whiskey, what would the effect be on the consumer?

None.  The customer only drinks Bud.

 
Quote
• I am an Afro-American woman. I am in my youthful 50s. My hair is strong and a little past the shoulders. I wear it pressed (hot combed or flat iron). It is also a salt-and-pepper color; I get great compliments on it. The problem I have is static. Could you give me some tips on what to use to stop this?

Silly woman.  If your problem is static, it has already stopped.

 
Quote
• There was the most beautiful sunset here in Indiana last evening. Would the California fires have anything to do with that?

Only if they were caused by the heat of someone's romance.

 
Quote
• I haven't seen this in the news, but perhaps you could explain it anyway. Why do people feel like destroying things when angry?

It is because we are intelligently designed.

 
Quote
• Why do most reptiles go to sleep when you rub their bellies? I have done it myself with everything from domestic water dragons to wild alligators, but I heard recently that it is bad for them—and they only appear to be sleeping, when in fact they are having trouble breathing. Is this true?

It is true that they are having trouble breathing.  But that is because they suffer from asthma, and are stress because they are worried about being approached by a human and rubbed to sleep.

 
Quote
• Would it be possible to "shoot" someone with "lightning"? Like, a Taser with no electrodes.

Yes, but they need to be standing under a tree.  It is a little known fact that in reality MacBeth was prophesized to die by a lightning strike, a fact which lead to massive forestation of the Scottish moors.

In reality, again, he died after a hunting accident when he was struck in the face by a panicked grouse.

 
Quote
• Why do men almost never win on ABC's Wheel of Fortune?

This is clear from the femine Latin root - Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi.  Now clear Orff.

 
Quote
• Are any of the scorpions in central Vietnam deadly? I was stung three times one night, and evacuated to a hospital where doctors said the one that stung me was the only lethal one in Vietnam. Truth or lie?

True.  You should consider yourself honoured to have been worthy of attack by such a rare individual.

     
Quote
• Why don't we drop medical waste and nuclear waste into active volcanoes, the "ultimate high-temperature incinerators"?

Because we don't want to release more thetans.

--------------
It is fun to dip into the various threads to watch cluelessness at work in the hands of the confident exponent. - Soapy Sam (so say we all)

   
Bob O'H



Posts: 2132
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 23 2007,08:07   

The definitive answers, part 2
   
Quote
• Hello. I am an editor and writer and I would like for everyone to change some letters that are now in lowercase to uppercase. An example would be the 18th century to the 18th Century. Where does one go about starting to do this?

not HeRe.

   
Quote
• Is it "open sees me" or "open says me"?

Ask Big Bird, it's right up his street.

   
Quote
• Can dogs be mentally retarded?

No, but they can be fire retardant.

   
Quote
• Why don't they build into cars a secret button for police to use, and when these people are trying to get away from police down the freeway and city streets at 100 mph, the following police car could push the button, making the engine on the speeding car stop? Surely there must be some smart person who could make this.

They have done this.  Try driving up Pensylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. at 100 mph in an SUV with "Kill Bush" written on the side whilst wearing a towel on your head, and you will get a demonstration.  And a five year holiday in sunny Cuba!

   
Quote
• Why does having a foreign accent make a person seem more attractive?

Dunno.  Never worked for me.

   
Quote
• How often are presidents born, and how often do they die? Do they die in bunches, or on average every four years?

Presidents are never born.  They are manufactured in vats.

   
Quote
• When a fly lands on a ceiling, does it execute a barrel roll or an inside loop?

You've been drinking with toddlers again, haven't you?

   
Quote
• Is there such a thing as "crazy eyes," where the whites go all the way around the corneas and makes the person look psycho, such as those of runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks and wife-dismemberer Stephen Grant?

No, but there are such things as "crazy eyes" .

   
Quote
• I've always wanted to know why bald heads shine!!!

Me toooneoneone

   
Quote
• Who is Daniel Engbert? I'm sure that I'm spelling his name wrong, but he's one of a few guys that you regularly go to as a reliable source—and I want to know who he is and why he's qualified.

He has two PhDs, in quaternary geology and quaternion mathematics, so is therefore able to speak with expertise on art history and animal health.

   
Quote
• What infections do viruses and microorganisms suffer from? My guess is none. They only suffer from random mutations and suffering caused (mostly by humans) by chemicals.

They also suffer from bloat due to front-loading.

   
Quote
• I have been looking for an old movie from about the late '60s. I was born in 1960 and watched it as a little kid. It was a Santa movie and it had the Devil in it. It was like the Devil was trying to stop Christmas. I remember the Devil was wearing red PJs. Santa has a magic powder that would make people sleep. It was a cute movie. Please help.

No, I will not be a party to the corruption of the middle-aged.  Read some Jeffrey Archer instead.

   
Quote
• What do the SWAT teams do to keep their fitness? Like, do they run for half an hour, or do five pressups?

They chase and squash flies for half an hour.

   
Quote
• If mountains are measured from sea level, then the 12,000-foot peaks in Colorado are only about 7,000 feet above Denver since they lie on a 5,000-foot-high plain. That being so, a one-foot rock lying on the ground becomes a 5,001-foot-high mountain. Do we need to address this differently, if it really matters at all?

Yes, please.  Address this to anyone but me.

   
Quote
• Is it possible in any way to prove that someone was on crack cocaine nine to 10 years ago?

Yes, simply ask them if they knew Deigo Maradonna.

   
Quote
• Why don't long-haired football players, many of them of Polynesian descent, get their tresses tugged during their gridiron clash?

Because that's a girly thing to do.  Better to knee them in the balls.

   
Quote
• This may be a dumb question. Most people spell their names as first name, middle initial, and last name. But some people spell their name as initial, given name, and then last name. Is the initial before the given name their first name, and they go by their middle name? Or is the initial before the given name their middle initial? If it is their middle initial, why would you put it before your first name, because then it is not in the middle anymore? It seems like conservatives or Republicans are more likely to list their name starting with an initial.

Not so, although all elected Republican politicians have R. as their middle initial.

But you are right, it is a dumb question.

   
Quote
• What would happen to the rest of the planets and the sun if Jupiter were to explode, or somehow leave our galaxy altogether?

The whole suite would be about 8 minutes shorter, and not as jolly.

   
Quote
• Which is the best hearing aid? Why are there so many different ones, and are the ones that allow you to hear others' conversations across the room legal?

Your ears.

   
Quote
• When a man lies to his lawyer to obtain a divorce from a wife of 47 years when she is ill and does not even know and cannot defend herself, is this legal, or perjury?

This question has been passed on to the DHS.  You will be receiving a call shortly.

--------------
It is fun to dip into the various threads to watch cluelessness at work in the hands of the confident exponent. - Soapy Sam (so say we all)

   
Lou FCD



Posts: 5402
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Dec. 23 2007,08:25   

Y'know given the rarity of subjects on this board wherein I actually have the relevant expertise, I would be remiss not to address this burning question:

Quote
• Very rare to find a hotel room with a light on the ceiling, they're usually floor lamps or desk lamps. Is there some structural reason for that?


Two things at work here:

Style - Overhead lights go in and out of style, so surveying homes built in certain time frames one tends to find ubiquity or paucity of overhead lights.  They are currently out of style, so most homes built currently will not have them unless they are attached to ceiling fans (which also go in and out of style).  I personally hate overhead lights, as due to the geometry they cast a rather harsh downward shadow no matter where you are in the room (unless you face the light and get the nasty glare directly in your eyes), whereas lamps can be arranged to put light where you want it and soft shadows where they are convenient.

Practicality - For a hotel, replacing damaged fixtures and furniture is a Sisyphean ordeal.  It is much easier and cheaper to replace a lamp than to call in an electrician to replace an overhead light.

...and now you know the rest of the story.

--------------
Lou FCD is still in school, so we should only count him as a baby biologist. -carlsonjok -deprecated
I think I might love you. Don't tell Deadman -Wolfhound

Work-friendly photography
NSFW photography

   
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