I’m too lazy and cheap to send out Christmas cards. Instead, I steal Daniel Engber’s year end column from Slate each year, and answer all the questions he has left over for his annual remainder bin of The Explainer. Remember: these are from real people. Who can vote, drive and procreate.
1. Of all the things in the world that humans produce in multiples, what thing has been replicated more time than any other? It’s probably some nut or bolt or something, but I just thought I would ask.
Because you bring up nuts, I’m going to have to go with Octomom.
2. Why is it that there are so many different types of cancer and tumors? What exactly is cancer? A lot of my family has died from some form of cancer, and why is it that there’s so many different types of cancer? They grow and they can spread, you can go through chemo or have surgery and hope it’s gone, but then—BAM—it comes back. Last year I had a tumor removed and I pray that it doesn’t grow back! It was a miracle that I graduated on time, the only reason I did was because I had awesome friends and teachers.
First, congrats on your miracle! Most doctors will tell you that cancer is like snowflakes; no two are alike, though snowflakes are kind of pretty and cancer is not. But actually, I think if you’re deciding your miracle was because of friends and teachers, if you go to ask your doctor a question, he or she will pretty much tell you to piss off and go cure it with a text book and a cup of tea.
3. A friend and I have noticed that people’s little sisters are prettier! The little sister (in most cases we observe) seems to have softer features and they just seem generally more attractive than their older sisters. I’m not saying that this is ALWAYS the case, but is there any statistically significant observable phenomenon going on here?
You’ve discovered a biological fact. A woman’s womb needs to be heated up, like a griddle, before it starts producing perfect children. This means that the first one out is usually a throw away, like when you make pancakes. Wait. I have a little sister. Forget it. Bad science you’ve stumbled upon there.
4. What is the greatest number of books that a person has ever read?
This is a tough one, but I’m going to have to use my son as the closest to an actual number I can imagine. He has read all the Arthur chapter books as well as the whole Goosebumps series. So, 57.
5. What is it called when you break a firecracker in half, light the powder, then stamp on it with your foot to make it explode?
6. When and how did humankind figure out that sex is what causes babies? It’s not exactly the most obvious correlation: Sex doesn’t always lead to babies, and there’s a long lead time between the act and the consequence—weeks before there are even symptoms, usually. So roughly where do we think we were as we a species when it clicked?
Didn’t you see The Blue Lagoon? When Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins finally figured out that all that poking business led to Brooke getting all fat? I’m going to guess that if Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins (who is now starring on some edition of Where Are They Now They’re Not Poking Brooke Shields on a Desert Island) can figure out the baby thing in 90 minutes, it didn’t take the first cavewoman too long to scream “go kill me a pickle”.
*You get bonus points for calling it “lead time”. I like that. My pregnancies were lead time.
7. I would like to know why is Disneyland the happiest place on Earth to some people, but not others?
You are actually one of the few people to have noticed what is a true phenomenon. The issue here is that not everyone has seen a Disneyland ad on TV before they go, and they are therefore unaware that they are visiting the happiest place on earth. You can tell who these people are when you’re at Disneyland, because they forget to go pee before they get in one of those eternal lineups. They are then forced to pretend that Goofy is real as he dances with them, when really they just want to pee. If they’d only seen the ad, they would have known they are actually having the time of their life. As they spend their children’s college fund on Mickey Mountain or whatever it’s called.
8. Where did people store their papers before filing cabinets? Especially back in the days of letter writing. People must have had so many letters that they accumulated; where would they keep them all? Hat boxes?
Before I had a filing cabinet, I kept my papers all over the dining room table. What’s a hat box?
9. Why do people hate the sound of their own voice when they hear it in a recording?
Because most people believe they sound like James Earle Jones when they really sound like Steve Urkel.
10. What is it with what I like to call “the pee-pee dance?” When one has a strong urge to urinate, one tends to bounce from one foot to the other. This is especially noticeable in children who love to wait until the last minute. I have found myself doing it occasionally when the button on my pants is especially hard to undo. Does the dance actually help? It must serve some function as it seems to be universal.
Was that you at Disneyland? Oh, and I highly suggest that while you’re at Disneyland, you don’t undo the top button on your pants. Goofy may look innocent, but he’s packing.
11. Has anyone ever actually used a falling chandelier to take someone out?
Though I’m partial to “would you like to go to dinner sometime”, I guess someone giving me a chandelier might get them to first base. Maybe even second.
12. I’m a very nice guy, but I’m concerned that my sunglasses make me look like a badass when that’s not what I want to project. Why do black sunglasses tend to make people look that way?
The only thing I doubt more than a guy telling me he is very nice, is one who tells me he looks badass in sunglasses.
13. Why do novels and even chapters in novels always begin with a quote (usually from a well-known and acclaimed piece of fiction)?
Writer’s would love to start each chapter or novel with a quote from their own lives, but “if you don’t finish that stupid book you’re going to have to get a real job” doesn’t sound as nice.
14. Why can someone who has trouble seeing things up close go into any drugstore and pay $15 for a pair of glasses, while someone who has trouble seeing things far away has to go through the trouble and expense of getting an eye exam and buying prescription glasses? Why is the presbyopic public deemed competent to decide whether their lens prescription is a +1.25 or a +1.50 while their myopic brethren are thought to be unable to discern between a -1.25 and a -1.50 lens without the help of a medical professional?
Sorry. I just had to get my glasses to read ‘myopic brethen’ to see if you really said that.Anyway. It is totally legal for you to fashion your own eyeglasses. Nobody said you have to go the doctor. The only thing I would caution you about is that you will probably end up looking like Bubbles from the Trailer Park Boys, which means you will never have sex again. Then again, anyone who says things like ‘presbyopic public’ probably isn’t getting much, anyway.
15. How many assassinations with high-powered rifles occur in a typical year? It seems like the number is slightly smaller than what the movies would have you believe.
Remember when your English teacher assigned The Shining, and you just watched the movie because the book had too many pages? And on the exam, you finally found out that Stanley Kubrick changed the ending, and you failed? Yeah, that’s the problem with getting your facts from movies. Or FOX news. They change the endings to fit their script.
16. Why do the rich and famous always sunbathe topless?
To do otherwise would be like getting a nose job and wearing a balaclava. Don’t hide your light under a bushel, as my mother used to say.
17. My question would have to be, what do hats have to do with wars, and political leaders?
Without the warring sides wearing black and white hats, respectively, political leaders would forget who was who, and might accidentally end up having their military leader mess up a major battle. Either that, or sleep with his biographer.
18. Why do so many Arab men seem to wear track suits, at least those who are not in traditional garb? I was watching the atrocities in Syria and just about all men were wearing them.
Why do you think they’re fighting? There aren’t enough track suits to go around.
19. Why is the Titanic such a big deal compared to other shipwrecks?
Because when they finally get it tugged to the surface, everyone will be holding their breath to see if Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are still alive. Oh, and if you were Canadian, I’d sing you a few bars from the our national anthem, The Edmund Fitzgerald, but you’re not, so you just wouldn’t get it.
20. What is the deal with Bob Dylan and trains?
Dylan is a poet. You don’t ask a poet stuff like this. If you hadn’t flunked grade 8, you’d know this was called ‘imagery’. A better question, by far, would be for someone to get Leonard Cohen to remind people what the words to ‘Hallelujah‘ really mean, so people would stop singing a song about sex at funerals and elementary school talent shows.
21. Hello. If someone has an idea for a mixed drink complete with a catchy, cool name, could you make money off it? If yes, how?
I’m so glad I read your entire question. When I saw ‘idea for a mixed drink’ I thought, oh jeez, not you too. Everybody has invented a drink by the time they’re 15, usually inspired by what they could steal from their parents liquor cabinet, and it ends up being called That’s What I Had For Dinner. You, at least, understand the importance of a catchy cool name! To profit: you really need to make it something you can capture in a bottle, like those noxious mud slides they sell to underagers at the liquor store. Things that are a party-in-a-bottle, ready to go. A good idea is to steal a name that people already associate with something they love and use all the time. You could call your drink Cheerios or Irish Spring or Bridgestone. That’d definitely give you a head start in the marketplace. And in court.
22. Can an identical twin who died at birth be his brother’s guardian angel?
Only if he heard a bell ring.
23. I’m 50 and realize I haven’t had the hiccups in a very long time. When I was a kid, I would get them frequently. Is there something about hiccups that makes only young people get them?
You need a job to get the hiccups.
24. How long could a lactating woman survive drinking her own breast milk?
She could live until she breaks her neck.
25. I’ve always wondered how other animals can safely clean their anuses with their tongues. Though I have not thoroughly experimented myself, my understanding is that fecal matter is poisonous to humans. Is there some fundamental misconception here, or is there a difference between humans and other animals in this way? Perhaps humans have become intolerant to fecal matter over long timescales.
First, I do not want to know what you mean by ‘thoroughly’. Perhaps you should conduct your own experiments, and Youtube it. Please. But I strongly suggest you start small. I have 2 cats, one of whom is impeccably clean, the other who, well, not so much. I’ll send you Not So Much.
26. When did the last name McGee become such a common insult? And why? You can take most words and add “McGee” and it becomes a pretty good, stupid insult. For example, in Anchorman, Veronica Corningstone is introduced as “Tits McGee.”
You might be onto something here. My boss’s name is McGee. His first name is Woody, but I’m definitely going to try out Tits the next time I see him.
27. This is driving me crazy. In the vast majority of commercials for smartphones, the device displays the time 10:08. What gives? Is the number symbolic of something? Did they try to choose a time that has positive associations whether it is a.m. or p.m.? (10:08 is neither too early nor too late.)
Back in olden times, clocks had something called ‘hands’. To tell the time, you had to understand difficult concepts like ‘big hand’ and ‘little hand’. Timex made all the watches in the world, and they used to put the hands at 10:08 (or 10 to two; that used to be our idea of a conspiracy theory) to display the name, like a woman with a push up bra showing off. Smartphones are simply paying homage to large breasts. I mean old fashioned timepieces.
28. Why do I smell peanut butter when I rub my eyes vigorously?
Stop picking your nose when you’re tired.
29. Is there any protection against someone with a stun gun? We know that it isn’t just good people that have them. Your help is much appreciated.
How will anyone know if you’ve been stunned?
30. Why is it crazy people only ever hear voices telling them to do bad things, like kill people? Why don’t the voices ever tell them to do good things, like volunteer? Or does this happen, and we just assume said crazy people are normal, socially-conscious people?
Actually, all those people you see volunteering and helping little old ladies cross the street are crazy. But when you go up to them and accuse them of being crazy, they kill you.
31. What happened to the two straight lines through the S on the $? Why is it now just one?
32. Why do marmots drink anti-freeze? Someone told my wife they’ve been destroying cars to drink the anti-freeze in national park parking lots.
Marmots reportedly fell hard for the advertising campaign for a drink called the Irish Spring.
33. I haven’t sleep for two days if I keep going will I die. Sent from my iPad
You’ve been playing the mouse game, haven’t you?
34. Why do people consider bears as adorable animals, while everyone knows that they can attack humans severely?
This is Disney’s fault. When you insist on calling a bear Winnie the Pooh or Gentle Ben, it’s not surprising people will want to cuddle them. Then again, this is the company who decided it was totally cool to have a duck wearing no pants live with his three nephews.
35. What’s the story behind the bleep sound that blocks out profanity on TV? Why not just make it silent, or a different sound?
What is your problem?