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The eighth book in the hugely popular series ...
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The eighth book in the hugely popular series about life's little mysteries--and their solutions. From the thousands of letters he receives each year from the ever-growing band of Feldman "Irregulars, " the author has chosen over 100 of the most intriguing questions, researched them to a fare-thee-well, and here presents his findings in the bright and breezy style that has made his books so addictive.
Why Are Hyenas Laughing?
So, what are hyenas laughing at, anyway.
A) At their prey before consuming them
B) That Whoopi Goldberg was chosen to dub the voices of hyenas in The Lion King
C) Jerry Lewis movies (French hyenas only)
D) None of the above
Trick question. The correct answer is D. For as far as we know, humans are the only animals that laugh. And laughing is about the last thing on the minds of hyenas when they emit the extremely loud, high-pitched series of "hee-hee-hee's" that are called "giggles" by zoologists. We've heard tape recordings of these giggles, and we can only echo the sentiments of Peter Hathaway Capstick, who in Outdoor Life compared the sound to "a mad woman slowly being sawed in half without anaesthetic."
Although there are four surviving species of hyenas (brown, striped, spotted, and aardwolf), Carmi Penny, curator of mammals at the San Diego Zoo, says that with rare exceptions, only the spotted hyena giggles. Far from expressing pleasure or humor, hyenas display giggling behavior when threatened, chased, or attacked.
We spoke to research zoologist Laurence Frank, a member of the Berkeley Project, who is part of a rare research study of hyenas in captivity (spotted hyenas are found in the wild only in Africa, south of the Sahara). Frank informed us that hyenas are the Bobby McFerrin of carnivores, possessing one of the widest ranges of vocalizations of any terrestrial mammal (Hans Kruuk, in his landmark 1972 book, The Spotted Hyena, cataloged twelve distinct hyena sounds). Their loud whoop, which can beheard more than five kilometers away, serves as an eerie mating call by hyenas when walking alone (as Frank puts it, it's the hyena's way of saying, "I'm here, I want a girlfriend")and an unwanted wake-up call for any unfortunate humans who happen to be trying to sleep during what can only be described as a cacophonous all-night whoop-fest.
In the wild, hyenas giggling can be heard most often when they are attacked by lions or other hyenas, or when squabbling over the fruits of a kill (hyenas are predators and carnivores). When hyenas are bickering, the aggressor will occasionally emit the call, but Frank says that it's usually the victim - the giggle is a sign of defensiveness or distress, not aggression. As ironic as it sounds, Frank concludes: "A laughing hyena is not a happy hyena."
Submitted by Teresa Johnson of New York, New York.
On the Kellogg's Rice Krispies Cereal Box, Snap! s Always Depicted as a Baker and Pop! as a Soldier. What Does Crackle! Do for a Living?
Funny. We've never been asked what Speedy does for a living (he hawks Alka-seltzer), or how Mr. Peanut makes ends meet (he implores you to buy Planters products). So we hope that read Sheila Ryan won't be disappointed to learn that as far as we can certain, Crackle's sole vocation is enticing you to buy the box of cereal on which he appears.
Rice Krispies was introduced in 1928, and its earliest advertising campaigns focused on the ruckus that the cereal makes when put in milk (if you want to know why, see When Do Fish Sleep?). Kellogg's chose "Snap! Crackle! Pop!" to describe the sounds. The three-word slogan first appeared on the front of the package in 1932.
But it wasn't until 1933 that the character Snap! appeared, on the box, solo, depicted as a tiny gnome. He wore then, as he does today, a baker's hat. Gnomes Crackle! and Pop! didn't join in the fun until the mid-1930s. Pop! donned military hats and Crackle!, although always seen adorned with a red or striped stocking cap, never wore a vocationally oriented uniform.
We spoke to our favorite Kellogg's source, Diane Dickey, a veritable Boswell of Crackle!, who told us that to her knowledge, the boys never changed these signature sartorial trademarks, except during World War II, when they posed "with guns, tanks, and ships that urged consumers to `Save time, save fuel, save energy.'"
The hats of our heroes were important not only to differentiate the three of them, but to reinforce the Rice Krispies slogan, as a corporate history explains:
"According to one agency legend, the three gnomes didn't have their names until a creative layout artist extended lines from the cereal bowl so that the words Snap! Crackle! and Pop! landed on their hats - where they've been ever since.
"In 1949, Snap! Crackle! and Pop! changed drastically from gnomes with huge noses and ears and oversized hats, to more human creatures with boyish haircuts, proportional features, and smaller hats. They continued to evolve as fashions changed, appearing with longer or shorter hair, rounder eyes, and different costumes. Their hats have changed least."
Indeed. We're afraid that poor Crackle! is stuck with the identity of being the dude with the red hat, forever flanked by Snap! and Pop!. As Dickey wryly put it, "Crackle! is the classic middle child." But it's not as if we see Snap! baking Rice Krispies or Pop! defending Kellogg's from attacks by Cap'n Crunch.
Submitted by Sheila Ryan of Nelson, British Columbia
Why Do Pharmacists Stand on Raised Platforms Behind High Counters in the Back of Most Drugstores?
We were tempted to say that if you were working with drugs all day, you'd be high, too. But then we resisted.
Many pharmacists were willing to help us explain why pharmacists stand on platforms now, but we weren't able to get a fix on earlier practice until we heard from Greg Higby, director of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin. Higby brings us up to speed on the history of the drugstore platform until World War II.
Before about 1870, prescription compounding areas were by necessity located in the front of the store, near the window - artificial illumination couldn't provide sufficient light for the pharmacist to work effectively. Soda fountains became a craze after 1870, and most drugstores found them to be important profit centers. These fountains, along with better artificial lighting, pushed prescription areas to the back of the store, which hastened other changes. According to Higby:
"From the 1870s through the 1930s, prescription departments were commonly hidden behind a screen or wall from public view. The goods in the stores were sold by clerks from cabinets (no self service).
"Self-service was introduced gradually after 1920. This encouraged pharmacists to open up their prescription departments a bit, sometimes with just a window or viewing hole, so that they could keep an eye on their stock.
"After 1940, many pharmacies remodeled and opened up their Rx departments more. Not only did they want to watch their stock, but they also wanted customers to see them in the back (as evidence of the store's professional owner). Prescription volume increased greatly after 1945, so pharmacists were in the back filling prescriptions more and more; therefore, they could not police the floor as well."
As Higby implies, typically many pharmacists were also the managers of their stores. According to RPh Marsha Holloman, of the American Pharmaceutical Association, one of the main reasons for the high platform was security:
"Traditionally, the pharmacy portion of the drugstore was located in the rear. The pharmacist stood on a raised platform in order to have an unobstructed view of the entire store [handy for spotting shoplifters]. The high prescription counters discouraged patients and customers from entering the area of the drugstore where prescription medications and poisons were kept. The high counters also made it difficult for would-be robbers to gain access to the pharmacy."
But platforms have been popular with pharmacists for a second reason: comfort. RPh Ron Cohen, of the Philadelphia Pharmacy, told Imponderables that after an eight- to twelve-hour shift, he appreciates the cushiony feel of a wooden platform rather than the cold, hard concrete floor. As Holloman puts it,
"A raised platform with a certain amount of give usually means the difference between a healthy, happy pharmacist and a lame, grouchy one!"
Jan Razek, of drugstore chain Revco, points out that a third advantage of a raised counter is greater recognition and prominence for the pharmacist, who is not only located far from the entrance to the store, but would be otherwise visually obscured by aisles of bandages, analgesics, and foot deodorizers.
But all of the pharmacists we spoke to said that the raised platform is increasingly going the way of the drugstore soda fountain. Razek reports that many chains are eliminating the high counters because "customers feel they are being talked down to." Accelerating the demise of the high counter is the increasing interaction among customers and pharmacists. Many pharmacies now feature areas where pharmacists can meet with patrons privately. With the deterioration, for many, of the family doctor-patient relationship, pharmacists have increasingly become the major source for information about medications. As Razek puts it,
"The traditional view of the pharmacist ensconced in the pharmacy behind a high counter and peering down from a raised platform is fast disappearing. I hope that the new view of the pharmacist is of the concerned medication expert who has permanently emerged from behind the pharmacy counter to talk with and educate patients on the proper management of their therapeutic regimens."
All well and good. But do we want to be counseled by a lame, grouchy, platformless pharmacist?
Submitted by Bruce W. Miller of Riverside, Connecticut. Thanks also to David E. Corley of Topeka, Kansas; Todd Lesko of Laguna Niguel, California; and Edward B. Litherland of Rock Island, Illinois.
Why Is Tuna the Only Variety of Cat Food That Doesn't Come in a Pull-Tab Can?
We admire persistence in our readers. Steve Thompson, a longtime contributor to Imponderables, wrote the following several years ago:
"When I send lists of Imponderables to you, I never ask my wife for suggestions, but she just came up with an excellent one. Tuna cat food has to be opened with a can opener. This is true with every brand of cat food. Tuna for human consumption comes in pull-tab cans, so why not tuna for cats? She also wonders what part of the tuna is in cat food, since it is so much darker in color than tuna for humans.
"This should definitely be in your next book, considering, how many cat owner there are."
Were not sure that every cat owner is waiting on tenterhooks for the answer to this Imponderable, but considering the number of dog Imponderables, we feel we owe owners of felines a sop (especially if each buys a copy or two of this book!).
Occasionally, Steve would issue updates on this crisis:
"My wife says that liver-and-tuna' and 'kidney'and-tuna' cat food comes in pull-tab cans, but just plain 'tuna' never does. The brands she knows for certain are: Alpo; Friskies; 9-Lives; Petuna; Ralphs; Springfield; Vons; and Whiskas."
And when Steve's helpful information didn't get him into the last book, he could even get a little testy:
"Since my question about tuna cat food never being available in pull-tab cans is not in the new book, I'm sure you're still doing highly ambitious research into the matter, and it will be discussed in next year's book."
OK Steve. It's right here! And Peggy's observations are correct: After contacting many different cat food manufacturers, we couldn't find one that sells plain" tuna with a pull-tab can.
"Why?" we asked. Typical was the response of Judy Lederich, of Friskies PetCare Company's office of consumer affairs:
"We use two different types of cans for Friskies canned cat food. Each type comes from a different can supplier and source. The cans for the tuna flavor are made of steel, and this flavor is manufactured and canned in Thailand. They do not have a pull tab. The cans for all other flavors are made of aluminum; these other flavors are manufactured and canned locally. The aluminum cans have a pull-tab. Both are recyclable.
"The tuna flavor is made in Thailand because of the availability of high-quality tuna in that part of the world. Packing the tuna in Thailand, immediately after it is caught, makes a higher-quality product than freezing the tuna and shipping it to the United States for packing. Cats have a keen sense of taste and smell, and they do notice the difference...."
Part of the price paid by cat food companies for the cheaper sources of tuna overseas is the relative primitiveness of available canning facilities. For example, food giant Heinz owns both Start and 9-Lives. Heinz utilizes tuna-canning facilities in such farflung localities as American Samoa and Ghana. In these plants, the light meat of the tuna would be used for Star-Kist and the red meat 9-Lives. According to Debbie Bolding, communications manager for Star-Kist, American consumers disdain the red meat of tuna, largely because they find the dark meat unsightly, but cats prefer it. But many of their canning facilities overseas are not fitted for manufacturing pull-tab cans.
So, Steve and Debbie, while you may be deprived of the convenience of pull-tabs for your tuna cat food, rest assured that human consumers of tuna from the same plants must also resort to the dreaded can opener.
Submitted by Steve and Peggy Thompson of La, Crescenta, California. Thanks also to Laurie follack of Upper Darky, Pennsylvania; Adam Goldman of Skaron, Massackusetts; and Paul Swinford of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Why Do Many Guitar Players Leave a Long Bit of String Hanging Off in the Air at the Tuning End of the Guitar?
Guitar strings are considerably longer than needed, largely to compensate for the varying lengths of different instruments. Rock stars hire roadies to take care of mundane activities such as clipping off excess string with wire cutters before the guitarist needs to play. Less successful pros and home players usually cut the strings themselves, usually with wire clippers.
Still, the picture of the guitar soloist with face contorted behind a mass of labyrinthine string ends (the tuning end of the guitar is known as the "headstock") is enough of a cliche to lead us to the inevitable: Why?" We received a charming letter from Mark W. Blythe, a guitar technician at renowned Fender Musical Instruments. Blythe offered the five theories below. We've supplemented his quotes with our correspondence with guitarists on both the Internet guitarists' Usenet group (rec.music.guitars) and Prodigy's music/musicians' board:
1. "The roadie did not have time to clip the string off the machine before the guitarist needed the instrument.
2. The roadie [or guitarist] lost his wire clippers."
3. "Some musicians are just lazy. "
Guitarist Joshua Bardwell says that if you can't find a wire cutter, then the safest way to cut the wire is to do the "bend-back-and-forthtil-it-breaks 'method," the ritual by which most of us break paperclips.
4. "The excess string is used in emergency stting repair situations. You can take the stn'ng off and retie the ball end to the end of the string. The extra amount ofstring is then used to compensatefor the amount ofstying that was lost when it was broken."
Amateur guitarist Rich Beerman not only saves himself from "emergencies" but saves money by using this method. When he breaks a string, he unlocks it from the tremolo, throws out the part of the string connected to the tremolo, and then takes the part attached to the tuner on the headstock and pulls it toward the tremolo. "Once the end of the string is back at the tremolo, you lock it back in place."
5. "Some musicians are eccentric and believe the removal of the extra string will result in lost tone."
Paul Bagley, who performs in several different bands, wrote us:
"I used to leave my strings at full length until a pro musician friend convinced me to run a simple test. After the strings are installed and at proper pitch, there was no difference in tone between the cut and uncut strings. Since then I've cut them off pretty close to the tuning machine."
Echoing this sentiment is guitarist Stephen Teter, who points out one disadvantage of extra-long strings:
"If you are recording, the hanging strings can be picked up slapping against each other, bleeding into the recording (usually in a 'silents' spot)."
Our cyberspace sources added three more possible explanations for the case of the dangling string:
6. Sometimes the "extra " string actually is a string. UK musician Jonathan Egre points out that some guitarists place string around the headstock in order to be able to hang the guitar on a peg in the wall, and in the case of some thrifty types, as a substitute for a proper guitar strap.
7. The Ouch Theory. Player Steve Cowell writes: "The guitarist may be tired of poking the ends of fingers on short cut-off wires - you bleed like a stuck pig."
8. The Cool Theory. Guitarist Tim Shelfer agrees: "There's a lot of prestige in loose wire on your headstock, for only who knows why."
"The Rickmeister," Rick Nedderman, knows why:
"I think it's some sort of artistic statement or trade secret that we uninitiated, uncool dweebs just haven't been made privy to. If you've seen photos of players with a tangle of excess strings at the headstock, it's obvious from the intense facial expression (you know the one: eyes closed, eyebrows lifted way up) that it makes one a much more creative player. After all, untangling your left hand (or right) from that mess after you just played the most awesome open E power chord of your entire life takes a lot of creative thinking."
Submitted by Michael Colvin of Lawrence, Texas.
Copyright © 1997 Tom Perrotta. All rights reserved.
|Why are Hyenas Laughing?||1|
|What Does Crackle! Do for a Living?||2|
|Why Do Pharmacists Stand on Raised Platforms?||3|
|Who or Where Was the Beverly Referred to in "Beverly Hills"?||16|
|Why Do Buildings Have Ledges?||18|
|Why Is Leather So Expensive?||21|
|Why Do Pilots Turn Off the interior Lights Before Taking Off?||24|
|Why Do Umpires Turn Around to Sweep Off Home Plate?||27|
|Why Is Gold Bullion Made in the Shape of Bricks?||32|
|Why Is Chianti Bottled in Straw-Covered Containers?||33|
|Why Is the U.S||Flag Painted Backward on Aircraft|
|and Space Shuttles?||36|
|Why Aren't Shoes Laced Up When You Try Them on in Stores?||40|
|Why Is the Treasurer of the United States Always a Woman?||45|
|Why Are Canned Peaches Often Packed in Pear Juice?||46|
|Who Was Absorbine Sr.? Why Is theLiniment Called "Absorbine Jr"?||47|
|Why Are There Three Dimples on Automobile Headlamps?||56|
|Why Do Many Linens Have An Unpleasant Smell When New?||57|
|Why Does Pepper Make Us Sneeze?||61|
|What's the Difference Between a Bun and a Roll?||65|
|Why Are the Ceilings of Train Stations So High?||66|
|Why Don't Male BalletDancers Dance "On Pointe"?||69|
|What's the Difference Between Low- and High-Altitude Tennis Balls?||80|
|Were Milk Duds Duds?||81|
|Who Was Baby Ruth Named After?||84|
|Why Are You Supposed to Take Penicillin on an Empty Stomach?||95|
|Do Pigs Have Hair? If So, Do Pigs Have Pink Hair?||98|
|How in the World Were Marshmallows Invented?||99|
|Why Do Some Baseball Bats Have a Black Stripe Around Them?||104|
|Why Do Dogs Walk on Crooked Back Legs?||126|
|Why Are There Always Holes in the Wafers of Ice Cream Sandwiches?||128|
|Why Do Saltines Have Holes?||129|
|Does Cutting Paper With Sewing Scissors Really Ruin Them?||131|
|What Are the Black Specks in Some Vanilla Ice Creams?||132|
|Why Do Many Irish Names have "O" in Front of Them?||135|
|Why Don't You Ever See Zebras Being Ridden?||139|
|Why Do Tuba Bells Face Up Rather Than Toward the Audience?||147|
|Why Does "Smoke" Escape From the Bottle just After Soda Is Opened?||148|
|Why Are Insects Attracted to Ultraviolet and Repelled by Yellow?||158|
|Why Are Dinner Plates Round?||162|
|What Causes the "Pop-Pop" Noise of Helicopters?||164|
|Why Do Elevator Doors Open and Close Before Changing Directions?||169|
|Why Do Mosquitoes Seem to Like Some People More Than Others?||177|
|The Frustables That Will Not Die||228|
|Special Call to Imponderables Readers||283|