STRANGE BUT TRUE- Dim doggies? Who's smarter, puss or Fido?


Q. In a "Pet IQ Challenge," would your dog or cat come out ahead? –Garfield

A. Intelligence tests for animals– the speed at which an animal can learn to perform a task– have been around since early last century, says Nicholas Dodman of the Tufts- Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Require a cat to figure out that it must pull a string to receive a reward, and it will do so in time; a dog, not being so dexterous, will take much longer to do the same task. That is, the test you use (e.g. the Ellis Island experience for would-be immigrants) will to some extent determine the animal's performance.

This is true even within breeds. Tracking dogs excel when asked to locate something rapidly using sense of smell. Dogs bred to work with humans (as opposed to "for humans") will follow directions better.

And your dog learning quickly to come when called– while your cat just sits and looks at you as if you're crazy– might seem to indicate the dog is more intelligent.

"Or is it the cat who's more intelligent because she's nobody's fool? On balance, I think dogs and cats are equally smart and each performs well in its particular biological niche. But ask a cat to do dog work, or vice versa, and you can prove whatever you like," Dodman says.

Q. What's that $1 lottery ticket you just purchased really worth to you– its "expected value"– before the drawing, of course, when you still might win? –Q. Dao

A. You can figure this, and in so doing gain a way of comparing one lottery against another. Imagine a lottery where your $1 ticket buys you a 1-in-5 chance of getting another free ticket (worth $1), plus 1 in 100 to win $5, 1 in 100,000 to win $1,000, and 1 in 10 million to win $1 million, say Jeffrey Bennett and William Briggs in Using and Understanding Mathematics: A Quantitative Reasoning Approach. The expected value of any gamble equals the size of the prize times your probability of winning it. So what is the total expected value of your lottery ticket?

Figure it this way: The free ticket has an expected value of $.20, because $1 x 1/5 = $.20; next, $5 x 1/100 = $.05; then $1000 x 1/100,000 = $.01; and finally $1,000,000 x 1/10,000,000 = $.10. Adding all four of these together yields $.36, your ticket's total expected value. But since you paid $1, on average you can expect to lose $.64 for each ticket you buy.

Of course you knew it would be a losing proposition.

Expectation shopping from lottery to lottery can at least help you find the "best" buy, such as when a multi-state lottery rolls over again and again, with no big winners, until finally you may be shooting at a $500 million jackpot with a 1-in-250-million chance of winning, say Bennett and Briggs. Here your expectation ($2) exceeds the ticket cost, provided you can pick an odd enough set of numbers (dodging ever-popular birthdays, lucky numbers, etc.) to minimize your chances of having to share the prize if you should win.

Q. It was a souped-up Aston Martin DB5, with a 4-liter engine that produced 282 hp at 5750 rpm, a five-speed transmission, and a top speed of 150 mph. And that was just for starters: It also had revolving license plates valid in Britain, France, and Switzerland, a high-pressure oil jet, an onboard radar unit for tracking vehicles, plus a device for dispensing nails, a rear smoke screen, a weapons tray under the driver's seat, and a revolving tire slasher that emerged from the hubcaps. Whose car was it, when and where?–P. Brosnan

A. Oh, you forgot to mention the front-mounted machine guns concealed behind the indicator lights, the bulletproof shield that emerged over the back window, and the ejection seat for removing unwanted passengers like the hapless guard of that sinister Auric Goldfinger, says physicist Barry Parker in Death Rays, Jet Packs, Stunts & Supercars: The Fantastic Physics of Film's Most Celebrated Agent. Not until James Bond's third film in 1964 did he get a car worthy of him. "It soon became the most famous car in the world."

This particular Goldfinger DB5 was snapped up by a collector in 1986, exhibited for a time, then stolen in 1997, never to be recovered.

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com, coauthors of "Can a Guy Get Pregnant? Scientific Answers to Everyday (and Not-So-Everyday) Questions," from Pi Press.

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