STRANGE BUT TRUE- Don't touch: Tiger poo spy gear tracks enemies


Q. If ever there were disguised radio transmitters it was these, looking quite harmless but with very serious logistical intent. Had a movie been made about them, it might have been titled "A-Poo-Calypse Now." Where in fact did these transmitters show up, and what was so singular about them? –F. F. Coppola

A. They were CIA-developed devices disguised as pieces of tiger poo during the Vietnam War, then air dropped onto the Ho Chi Minh trail for tracking nocturnal supply movements, with little likelihood of anyone ever picking them up, says Matt Pagett in A Pocket Guide to Poop Identity.

Q. When it comes to romance, what's your "marketplace" value? What might a crassly unsentimental economist say? –S. Rhoads

A. Though it differs somewhat from culture to culture, there's surprising overlap in what we all look for in lovers– large numbers of us prefer someone who's kind, compassionate, honest, loyal, healthy, intelligent, emotionally stable and physically attractive, says Robert Frank in The Economic Naturalist. Women generally admit to being attracted to men who are financially successful, and lately men too have been mentioning this one more in surveys. 

If you add up your 1-10 ratings for all these characteristics and then average them, this would be your "desirability index," and obviously the higher the better. Now an "assortative mating" pattern develops in which 10s pair with other 10s, 9s with other 9s, etc., providing at least a rough guide to the dating/mating scene.

The notion of deal-swinging in the world of love helps clear up another old mystery: why it's easier to find a partner if you already have one. Frank reports on a guy whose dating life had gone stale until a wise female friend invited him to a bar one night. There, she fawned all over him, rubbing his arm and gazing into his eyes in full view of other patrons. Then she abruptly left. In no time, several other young women approached the guy. "I knew perfectly well this would happen," his friend later said.

Attractive women are obviously in demand, and the fact that she, attractive herself, was paying such close attention to him signaled to other women that he was okay. His market value soared.

Q. Few things can match the g-load of a wicked football hit. How much g-load is that, and in the everyday scale of things, where does a bone-crunching, brain-jarring tackle fit in? –R. Staubach

A. The "force" of gravity = 1 g, or about what a person experiences while walking, says Matt Higgins in Popular Mechanics magazine. A sneeze ranks as 2.9 g's, a shuttle launch for astronauts 3.0, coughing 3.5, a roller coaster ride 5.0, jumping off a step 8.1, and an F-16 fighter pilot on a roll 9.0 g's.

That's life, but it isn't football. According to one Virginia Tech study, there are tackles that cause the head to accelerate inside the helmet at 30-60 g's (based on wireless transmitters in helmets).

"We see 100-g's impacts all the time, and several were over 150 g's," said the director of the university's Center for Injury Biomechanics. About 100 times per game in the National Football League, players get slammed to the turf, with more than 100 concussions recorded each year, says Higgins. There would be even more– given today's bigger and bigger players, with over 500 topping 300 pounds– except for the high-tech protective gear that distributes the massive incoming energy, lessening its severity.

Q. There are many pathways to experiencing the divine. Can an epileptic seizure be one of them? –M. Charles

A. Bizarrely, yes. Fits and falling to the ground mark the "grand mal seizure," most common type, where neuronal misfirings spread like wildfire, says V.S. Ramachandran in Phantoms in the Brain. But if the affected brain region stays localized in the limbic system, an emotional orgy can break loose. Patients may report their "feelings are on fire," bringing on sudden ecstacy or despair, terror or rage, or sense of impending doom. Some women experience sexual orgasm, though oddly, men never do.

But most remarkable of all are those patients who have deeply moving spiritual experiences, sensing a divine presence, or nearness of God. "I finally understand what it's all about," they may say afterward.

If you could treat this with medication, would you want to? poses Ramachandran. "I find it ironic that this sense of enlightenment... should derive from limbic structures concerned with emotions rather than from the thinking rational parts of the brain that take so much pride in their ability to discern truth and falsehood."

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at