STRANGE BUT TRUE- Dry mouth: What happens with your peanut butter


DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. "Arachibutyrophobia" is a mouthful of a word and a sticky one at that. What kind of fear does it signify? –M. Esselman

A. It's related to eating peanut butter, but it's not the fear of peanut butter per se– that delectably sticky food. According to the Peanut Advisory Board, a St. Louis doctor first developed peanut butter as a nutritious, high-protein food for his patients with bad teeth, say Richard Hartel and Annakate Hartel in Food Bites: The Science of the Foods We Eat. Thus peanut butter may be the "original geriatric food."

Its ultra-stickiness, according to one source, is that its high-protein content pulls the moisture out of the mouth. Maybe, but a dry turkey sandwich sticks to the roof of the mouth even worse, and a cheese sandwich worse still.

If you haven't guessed by now, arachibutyrophobia is a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one's mouth. But with so many different complements to peanut butter, from grape jelly to bacon to bananas, there's no need to fear the sandwich itself. U.S. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was said to relish a toasted version with added bologna, cheddar cheese, lettuce, mayonnaise and a catsup chaser.

Q. If golf is your game, take a swing at this: "What are the odds against getting a hole-in-one?" –J. Frost

A. They depend, of course, on the player's ability and the length of the hole, says John Wesson in The Science of Golf. Other factors are the protection of the hole by bunkers and the slope of the green.

The following numbers come from experiments to find the typical spread in the balls' landing positions and rolling distances; probabilities obtained from individual players; and published estimates of the odds. Averaged over holes of different types and under different conditions of play, estimates are for 10,000-to-1 odds against a hole-in-one for most players most of the time.

Given this, how many have been hit over the years?

Let's assume 40 million golfers worldwide. If we take the average number of rounds as 400, with four par-3s per round, that makes a total of about 64 billion opportunities for a hole-in-one. Based on the 10,000-to-1 odds, this converts to an estimated 6.4 million holes-in-one (64 billion/10,000). "This is only a rough calculation but it seems quite likely that there have been more than a million successful cases," Wesson says.

Q. What if scientists built a ladder for climbing to the sky– like Jack's beanstalk– so high you could ascend to a space colony, stay a while, then climb back down to home? –J. Swift

A. Russian scientist Yuri Artsutanov first dreamed up his wonderful notion in 1960, and theorists have run with t, says Jay Ingram in The Barmaid's Brain. 

You begin with the idea of a "geosynchronous" satellite orbiting over he equator at 22,000 miles up, so as to go at the same peed as the turning Earth and appear from below to be hovering. Communications satellites do just that.

Key engineering realization: If you tried to build from the bottom up, the ladder (tower) would collapse under is own weight. So you set your factory in orbit and "hang" he ladder on down. But get this– second strand of ladder must be built out toward space, as a counterweight: Now its centrifugal force offsets the colossal growing weight below.

Never mind that no known materials come close to being strong enough for the job, or that the upper strand must be 66,000 miles long (in lessened gravity), for a total ladder of more than 80,000 miles! Of course you wouldn't climb this like a normal "ladder"– more an elevator with cars moving up and down in some sort of open framework.

In all likelihood, it'll never be done— roughly equivalent to building a bridge around the world– but who knows, says Ingram. Unlike Star Trek's holodecks or warp drive, at least the ladder may be feasible. Going up?

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Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com.

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