Wednesday, 20th June 2012
Q. From a young reader: "Do planes get wet flying through clouds?"
A. Clouds and fog both contain small water droplets. Just as driving through a thick fog can get a car noticeably wet, airplanes also get wet flying through clouds, though if the cloud is wispy (like a very light fog), the amount of water adhering to the plane may be unnoticeable. And since planes fly fast, what water they accumulate tends to evaporate quickly.
In a dense cloud, however, the moisture may be quite noticeable, especially on the windshield of the cockpit. And if the outside of the plane is very cold (as is often true at high altitudes), water can freeze onto its surfaces, even a rotating propeller a very dangerous development since it degrades lift and makes the plane heavy. Even worse would be ice breaking free and being sucked into a jet engine. To combat ice, planes have heated wings and propellers, or inflatable "boots" which break ice from the leading edges of the wings.
Adds one of this column's co-authors, "I have flown in small planes during rainstorms, and the noise of the raindrops hitting the cockpit window can be deafening imagine a car going several hundred miles per hour in a rainstorm!"
Q. At a palindrome party, the fun includes "Dr. Awkward" "Do geese see god?" "Man, Oprah's sharp on AM." "Go hang a salami. I'm a lasagna hog." Now try to expand the silliness by adding other palindrome types.
A. Easy. HAH and WOW are both "mirror palindromes," along with A TOYOTA, reversing not just letter order but the letters themselves, readable in a looking glass.
The "word unit palindrome" reverses not letter order but word order, as in "One for all and all for one!" "You can cage a swallow, can't you, but you can't swallow a cage, can you?" (From Asktherick.com)
An "auditory palindrome" sounds the same taped and played backward, such as "ominous cinema."
A "symmetrical palindrome" reads the same both left to right and upside down: SWIMS or NO X IN NIXON
And don't forget the endless number of palindromic numbers, such as 1001 or 12345677654321 or 0.
Q. Reader of "Gulf News," United Arab Emirates, asks, "If I'm right-handed, is there any way I could learn to use my left hand for writing so I can write with any hand I want?"
A. Sure, with practice you can learn to do this, says Dr. Diane F. Halpern, director of the Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children, Claremont McKenna College, California. After an injury to one's preferred hand, it is common to learn to use the nonpreferred hand for a wide range of tasks, including writing.
But people vary in the strength of their hand preference there are righties or lefties who normally find it very difficult to write with the other hand (or brush their teeth or perform other tasks), and there are people who are more bilateral and find it easier to use the non-preferred hand than do strong right- or left-handers.
It is also fairly common to write with one hand and throw a ball or bowl with the other, so the answer is really more complex than it might seem. Any strong righty or lefty will have a tough time writing opposite, but it is possible.
So good luck, hope you possess some natural ambidextrousness, and remember the old joke about "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? practice, practice, practice."
Q. Dreams reportedly played a role in the invention of the sewing machine, discovery of the benzene molecule, the formulation of the plot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and many others. More prosaically, might "sleeping on it" help solve a brainteaser like "What two words start and end with H-E?"
A. Yes, says Harvard's Deirdre Barrett in "The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists and Athletes Use Dreams for Creative Problem Solving and How You Can Too." Check out this charming example of how one doctor cracked the puzzle in his sleep.
His dream: He's doing gardenwork and gets an intense chestpain. Woman he lives with starts laughing a squeaky "hee... hee... hee." Her laughter puzzles him, but she calls an ambulance, he's taken but the road is blocked by a brain that's fallen out. At the hospital, all are laughing "hee... hee... hee." "Take the pain away," he asks the Dr., but the Dr. says "No, first tell me precisely what's wrong."
"I've had a coronary," he says. "Jargon won't do, you must tell me in plain language," the Dr. replies, all the while going "hee... hee... hee." He gets angry, saying "Why do you keep laughing? I could have my pain forever, you could call it anything, even heartache."
The Dr. stops laughing, saying, "You can go home." "But I still feel pain, I'm only halfway better," he says. "Then you must see another Dr., a word specialist."
He leaves the hospital and the real-life doctor who posed the teaser appears in the dream, saying he hears his colleague is not quite well. "I just want to go to sleep and not think about it," he says. "Not before you learn to juggle words and pains," says the word Dr. "Riddles give me headaches." At this, his pain goes away and he awakens.
So, did this one give you HEartacHE and HEadacHE too?
Q. Why do women's clothing have buttons on the left side, whereas men's buttons are on the right?
A. The most widely accepted explanation points to the fact that women have traditionally worn more restrictive clothing than men, such as a corset with garments fitted tightly over it, making it difficult for a woman to dress herself, says University of North Carolina costume historian Nancy J. Nelson. Hence she would employ a dresser.
"The buttons are therefore on the right side for the dresser, and the left for the dressee. Over time, women became so accustomed to this that even the advent of mass production and the availability of more comfortable clothing styles have done little to change the tradition."
Q. Going up, up the "kinetic energy" ladder, how many NATO SS 109 bullets would it take to rival the energy of one hard-charging football linebacker, how many linebackers to rival the meteor that formed Meteor Crater 20,000 years ago?
A. Calculated at 1/2 mass times velocity squared, it takes 2.5 such bullets going 3,000 feet/second to equal the energy of motion of a 250-pound linebacker at 20 mph, say David Halliday, et al. in "Fundamentals of Physics, 4th Edition."
Next it takes 500 linebackers to muster the energy of an 18-wheeler trailer truck going 60 mph; 1,350 rigs to equal one 220-pound satellite orbiting at 187 miles up; three satellites to rival the 91,400-ton aircraft carrier Nimitz going at 30 knots.
One more step now up to the colossal energy of the Meteor Crater meteor, 110 billion pounds and hurtling 16,000 mph the equivalent of 130 million floating Nimitzes.
Multiply these together, and to look into Meteor Crater is to peer into a hole gouged out by the equivalent of roughly 300 trillion simultaneous on-charging linebackers.
Letters to the Editor
- A Government Successread more »
Once in a blue moon. As rare as hen's teeth. A Government success. Each of those three sentences are as unusual and as rare as each other. But the last one seems to be about to take place. The Government has announced that it plans to give each child in the State a second year of free pre-school. It might not sound like earth shattering news but if it does happen then it could be one of the most significant things that this Government has done since it took office. Any money that is given over to education is a …
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