STRANGE BUT TRUE- Pushing tadpoles: This is not your father's trike


Q. A bicycle is of course a bike and a tricycle a trike. When does a trike become a "tadpole"?– K. Frog

A. "Tricycle" comes from the Greek "treia" for 3 and "kyklos" for a circle or wheel.

The word has been in use since the early 19th century, originally signifying a "three-wheeled horse-drawn carriage." The most common type today is the child's three-wheeled pedal toy, but early tricycles were mostly for adults. Adult pedal tricycles are known to have existed from 1868.

Most tricycles have two wheels at the back and one at the front, known as "deltas." Trikes with two front wheels and a wheel at the back are "tadpoles," so-called because the big end is at the front, like a tadpole.

The tadpole trike is a recumbent vehicle, which is rapidly becoming popular among middle-aged former bicyclists tired of the discomforts of upright bikes.

Q. If we don't exactly see with our eyes, what do we see with? For an unusual answer, consider Erik W., blind since age 13, who today is an amazing rock climber, plays soccer with his daughter as well as rock-paper-scissors and tic-tac-toe.–L. Braille

A. An early victim of retinoschisis, Erik now "sees" via light-triggered electrical pulses delivered to his tongue, using a tool called the BrainPort, says Buddy Levy in Discover magazine. "With more tactile nerve endings than any other part of the body except the lips," Levy explains, "the tongue can discriminate two points spaced less than a millimeter apart."

In 2001, Erik became the first– and, to date, the only– blind climber to summit Mount Everest. You have to learn to climb a whole new way, he says; it's like learning Braille or French for the first time.

The BrainPort gives Erik's tongue the world in two dimensions, which he then mentally converts to three dimensions. "Mentally" is the key: We all see fundamentally with our brains as much as with our eyes, and resourceful Erik is anything but brain-blind.

Q. What if a baseball team refined its sign-stealing so well it could tell its hitters exactly what pitch was on the way every time. Now would they all become Hall-of-Fame- type sluggers?–Y. Berra

A. Maybe not. In a bizarre 1961 test of this sort of set-up, Milwaukee catcher Sammy White and pitcher Lew Burdette agreed that, having tried everything to get Orlando Cepeda out without succeeding, it was time for a more unusual ploy.

When White crouched behind the plate, he announced to Cepeda what pitch was coming, says Peter Morris in A Game of Inches. Cepeda protested to the umpire but was told it was not illegal. From that point on, White told Cepeda every pitch he signaled to Burdette, yet despite the information, Cepeda was retired easily every time.

In another case, the Tigers got tired of Ted Williams hitting their pitchers so relentlessly. So they gave him the chance of calling his own pitches. The great Williams complied– yet was so unnerved he went 0-for-5.

Why? Answers Morris: Considering the old formulation that hitting is timing and pitching is disrupting timing, perhaps with some hitters the surprise of being told the pitch might disturb that delicate balance.

"While such sketchy anecdotal evidence doesn't prove anything," Morris says, "it at least suggests that knowing what pitch is coming is less of an advantage than might be expected." 

Send strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at