December 20, 2007

Fresh Slate - The Explainer!

My favourite column of the year, from my favourite column on Slate. Ask the Explainer answers dozens of great, interesting questions all year. Daniel then does a year end round up of questions he didn't get to, or is simply still shaking his head over. I have helpfully, for the second year in a row (here's last year), provided my own answers.

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

It Depends.

2. Can a baby get drunk off of nonalcoholic beer?

You know when you go to the video store on a Saturday night, and all the new releases are out? And you can't remember which season you were up to in Punk'd or Survivor? That is when you test this out. Until you hear Child Protective Services knocking on your door.

3. 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?

If you've been lying around staring at hotel room ceilings, you need to discover Pay-Per-View, or bring a better guest.

4. 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?

Wow. That's something the press haven't picked up on yet. But you know, that makes sense. Mitt's face even looks a little mitten-like. I am shaped like the province of Ontario, hence my parents named me Lorraine.

5. How do surface-dwelling fish survive monster sea storms?

Those fish were designed by a guy named Darwin to be the kamikaze members of the fish world. They instinctively know when it is time to forfeit their own lives as an early warning system to everyone else in the ocean. That is why you see them flopping about on the beach just ahead of the huge storms, in order to let the camera crews move into position to report back to places where this weather isn't happening. If Darwin had been just a little kinder, he would have given them hands so they too could hold onto lightposts like the announcers.

6. 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?

Oh, and I thought you'd just been riding horses all your life.

7. 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?!?!

You realize when they seize your hard drive what all the searches are gonna come up as, right?

8. 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.

The gymnastic 'shows' feature strong men that don't wear sequins. Ice skaters long ago learned if it quacks like a duck, you put feathers on it and glide.

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

They are covered in cat spit, a well known emollient. And no, that is not possible. I have the softest cat in the world.

10. 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?

Don't tell anyone, but Jason Bourne is actually a magician. If you look closely, you will see that his bag is always sitting on top of a magic table that has a secret compartment in it. You can buy one on eBay.

11. 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?

I'm not sure about the days gone by, but for today's men, they all want to look like Sam Elliot. And I would like them to look like Sam Elliot.

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

It's funny. You say 'unscrupulous bar owner', and yet, I hear 'disgruntled business partner' or 'non-custodial ex'. Someone's at your door. I'll wait while you go get it.

13. 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?

To reduce static, just turn each of your ears a little. Watch in the mirror until the static goes away.

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

No, I've heard the wildfires will have nothing to do with sunsets. They just plain don't like 'em.

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

Sometimes it's because their daddy didn't get to finish a job he started, and the son feels the need to avenge the bad guys on his behalf. The problems start when children are not taught that they must pay for things they break.

16. 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?

Uhm, where do you live? I'd like to come and rub your belly for good luck.

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

Oh, it's totally possible. The hardest part is finding the right kind of gloves to hold onto your end of the lightning bolt. Canadian Tire is almost always sold out.

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

They have a hard time looking at the clue, and admitting that they're on Wheel of Fortune.

19. 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?

You found it?

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

It's one thing to find a fine coating of volcanic ash on your house and car. But think how disturbing it would be for the children to find body parts on their trikes. Oh, and one other word for you to try out: Chernobyl.

21. 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?

Please get to work on all examples you are proposing. List them in alphabetical order, categorize by subject and don't leave any out. You then take it to the World Academy of New Writing Rules, which is chaired by e. e. cummings.

22. Is it "open sees me" or "open says me"?

I'm not entirely sure, but I would like to watch you standing in front of a cave yelling these two options until you figure it out.

23. Can dogs be mentally retarded?

Of course. It was a dog that sent in question number 22.

24. 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 actually did discover how to do this years ago. The problem has been in coming up with windshields strong enough to stop shattering when the bad guys go from 100 mph to a full stop in 1.3 seconds.

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

Oh? Zu you rilly tink zo?

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

Presidents are actually like Canadian trilliums. They are born every year, but you only notice them when they bloom every seven years. And then they die quietly in the forest, and there is a parade.

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

Are you the guy from the hotel light fixture question?

28. 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?

The only way to test your theory is for these two to get married and have kids.

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


30. 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.

Oh, everyone has their secret 'reliable source'. Daniel Engber (who writes this column) uses Daniel Engbert. For my column, I use Lorraine Sommerfeldt.

31. 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.

In the virus post office, there is a picture of Purell posted.

32. 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.

That would be Rosemary's Baby. And that magic powder was from your mother trying to get you away from the TV. If you remember that movie as 'cute', please ask your mother what that powder was. I would like some.

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

They pack Jason Bourne's suitcase for him, and drop medical waste into volcanos.

34. 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?


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

Oh, honey, if you have to ask, just leave his sorry ass now. You know it's only going to be years of heartbreak.

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

Would you tug on a 6'5" 250 pound Polynesian man's hair?

37. 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.

I'm so glad you asked this. You are absolutely right. It is a dumb question.

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

Looks like we found a way to test for the crack cocaine addiction from ten years ago...

39. 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?

Only if you're Jaime Sommers.

40. 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?

It would only be illegal if a tree fell in the forest and landed on the lawyer. And everyone knows the best defence is a piece of fence.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see you took an extra sarcasm pill today.

Been a bit battered at the mall?

You know, you could write a book with this stuff...

Happy Holidays


December 20, 2007 10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've been spiking the egg nog again, Lorraine. Thanks for sharing!

December 20, 2007 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think these are even better than last years', Lorraine!


December 20, 2007 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Up all night again OR the vodka and ice tea mixture or a bit of both??? Sneaky devil, consume while everyone else is sleeping...I call it relaxation time, I am just jealous...

December 20, 2007 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, extra points for mentioning Canadian Tire in there!

December 20, 2007 2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DJ leave Lorraine alone! I like her best when she takes the extra pill....

December 20, 2007 4:01 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

Everyone does...

December 20, 2007 4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stan's impressed.

December 20, 2007 6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pill you say??? Lorraine, you are that alright, a pill but sweet one under all the cover of the sourness. I have you figued out, you fireball...just a compliment BTW!!!

December 21, 2007 7:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL, LOL, LOL. Too bad your comments on Slate's list of dumb questions only happens once a year. 25 and 31 are my favourites.

December 21, 2007 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

25 of 31 our your favourites???...list them!!!...It will give Lorraine somemore time to work on that book rather than blogging... Lorraine??? Hello!!!, read this... regardless of the teasing, of which, you deserve, hehehe...please and if I maybe politically correct, at least in my upbringing, have a Merry Christmas and too all a Good night...being an insomniac, is that not a laugh??? I am one also!!!

December 21, 2007 1:00 PM  

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