STRANGE BUT TRUE- 007 legends: Culture shaped by Bond, James Bond


DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. It stands unique as quite likely the only movie in history to establish two urban legends that have remained part of our culture for more than 40 years.–Moneypenny

A. Ask baby-boomers what happens if you fire a gun in an airplane at 35,000 feet and blow out a window, and many will relate the gruesome story of the evil spy Auric Goldfinger trying to kill James Bond in the 1964 smash-hit movie Goldfinger, say Lois Gresh and Robert Weinberg in The Science of James Bond.

The sudden depressurization of the cabin sent passengers swimming about in a whirlwind until being sucked out through the window. But as one expert explains it: This is all urban myth.

With a window-sized hole, rapid depressurization of the cabin would occur, but the airflow would not be forceful enough to lift a person. Of course, a much bigger hole– as can tragically occur– might very well pull someone out. In one dramatic case of a Boeing 737 enroute to Hawaii, a front-roof section of the first-class cabin ripped off at 24,000 feet, opening an 18-foot hole and sucking out a standing flight attendant. Fortunately, the cockpit was undamaged, and the plane landed safely with no other casualties.

A more gilded legend concerns Goldfinger's beautiful secretary Jill Masterson, who suffocates when her body is completely covered with gold paint. Bond claims that professional dancers who paint themselves know to leave a small bare patch of skin for air. In 1964, many people might have believed this.

"We can only assume that none of them used a snorkel to swim under water, where their entire body was completely covered with water," say Gresh and Weinberg. So for Masterson, likely the only danger was her pores being clogged by the paint, causing overheating. Yet the painted golden girl of "Goldfinger" has become one of the most enduring urban legends of all times.

Q. Creativity is fine but beware the possible boomerang effect when naming your kids. For example, can you guess what pronunciation the woman had in mind when she named her daughter "La-a"?

A. When her friends started taking stabs at this one, "Lay-a" was the favorite though that wasn't even close. "La-dash-a," corrected Mom, disappointed and a bit perturbed. Naturally, it wouldn't have helped matters if the group had pointed out to her that the supposed dash looked a lot more like a hyphen. At the mention of "La-hyphen-a," Mom may well have bolted from the room.

Q. The first stage is odorless and often barely detectable. The second stage lasts but a few days, depending on environmental conditions. Soon a sulfur-dioxide skunk-like smell can be strong enough to be mistaken for a natural-gas leak, followed by liquefication and fermentation aromatic enough to attract butterflies and bees. By day six, amino-acid breakdown produces the chemicals putrescine and cadaverine (found in bad breath), and a superoffensive rot is replaced by an ammonia-like scent. Dry decay a week or so later ushers in a smell like "wet fur and old leather." The final stage is nearly as odorless as the first. What's behind this chronology of stench?–J.T. Ripper

A. A decaying human corpse, of course, says Avery Gilbert in What the Nose Knows. Its slow processing leads to the body-in-the-bed stories, such as motel room murders going undetected for days.

Urban legend has it that not until the fourth renter would a body under the bed be discovered. In my opinion, says Gilbert, the Edgar Allan Poe Award for macabre bodily decay goes to A.R, the young hiker whose arm got wedged under a boulder as he was climbing a rock face. Stuck out alone in the wilderness, A.R. could do nothing as his injured limb turned gangrenous and he smelled his own rotting flesh. Forced then to self- amputate his arm, he happily lived to tell the tale.

Q. What's it like to be involved in 846 car crashes, a world record? Wouldn't only a "dummy" do this on purpose?–C.T. Dummy

A. The human "crash test dummy" is Rusty Haight, a former California policeman who taught accident investigation before opting for some hands-on investigation of his own, says Justin Mullins in New Scientist magazine.

Artificial dummies are designed for high-speed crashes and are built to last, with stiff necks and other features to prevent breaking. But at lower speeds they are of limited use because they respond differently than a real person. Enter Haight.

In a typical low-speed crash, he is subjected to about 10 g's on average– 10 times the force of gravity– as if his 200-pound frame momentarily weighed 2,000 pounds! (That's why a car occupant can't really brace against a crash.)

On one day alone Haight did nine crashes before noon, making his ribs and shoulders sore and tiring him out, victim of what biomechanicists call the "third collision," where internal organs slam ahead into the ribs or inside of the skull.

The key variable here is not velocity but delta-v, or change in the car's velocity (slowing impact). A change of speed of 16-40 kilometers per hour (10-25 mph) is a moderate crash, 40-55 moderate to severe. Haight has personally taken it to 43 delta-v but has dodged injury by staying mostly with lower-speed crashes: 846 and counting!

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Send strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.

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