STRANGE BUT TRUE- Rich pour: Brain balances physics of the drink


DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. You don't ordinarily think of lifting a glass of beer to your lips as a triumphant human act. Think again. –S. Addams

A. Complex hand-eye coordination guides your hand's couple of dozen bones, muscles and nerves with a flexibility and finesse unmatched in the animal world, says Mark Denny in Froth! The Science of Beer. Fully a quarter of your brain's motor cortex is devoted to fulfilling this seemingly effortless articulation.

Muscles in your hand and forearm control your grip on the glass. Sensory feedback from your fingertips lets you make fine adjustments to the glass without tilting it, crushing it, or spilling any of the brew. Then you gently tip the liquid at just the right angular rate to pour it comfortably down your capacious gullet. 

This is tricky stuff: For one thing, the beer is quite close to your eyes, which you may even have closed in an ecstacy of appreciation. Yet all of this happens automatically.

"I once observed a student at an Edinburgh University bar drink a pint of beer while standing on his head– difficult to do even when sober, which this gentleman was not" writes Denny. "Not only did he need to balance using just one arm for support, he also had to carefully bring the beer to his lips without spilling it up his nose. After his success, the appreciative and inebriated audience applauded."

Q. At Boston's Public Gardens, caretakers puzzled over why the eggs of a much-loved swan couple never hatched. Then came the embarrassing answer... –R. M. Brown

A. Both swans turned out to be female, then dubbed Juliet and Juliet, says David G. Myers in Psychology in Everyday Life. At least occasional same-sex relations have been observed in hundreds of species, including grizzlies, gorillas, monkeys, flamingos, owls, and penguins (New York City's Central Park Zoo's Silo and Roy). Among rams, for example, some 6 to 10 percent (to sheep-breeders, the "duds") shun ewes and instead seek out other males. "Some degree of such behavior seems to be a natural part of the animal world," Meyers writes.

Q. "There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary numerals, and those who don't." What's wrong with the speaker's math here? –S. Hawking

A. Nothing at all, nor with his sense of whimsy either, as presented by Ian Stewart in Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities. The "10" here is a binary number as used internally in all modern computers (in base-2) whose numerals "translate" into (1 x 2) + (0 x 1) = 2. (Our everyday decimal system uses base-10). In other words, the missing eight kinds of people are for those who don't understand binary numerals, which of course isn't you, right?

Q. In recent baseball history, a triple play occurred in which no defensive player touched the ball. A player could have been struck by it, however. How was this accomplished? –G. Triandos

A. Major league records of all past triple plays show no such listing, according to the Society of American Baseball Research. However, in a 1987 issue of The National Pastime, an article entitled "Look Ma, No Hands" described the following stranger-than-fiction play from a girls' softball tournament: "With runners on first and second, the batter hit a high pop fly toward the shortstop, who had trouble finding the ball in the sun. The umpire called 'Infield Fly.' That's one out. The runner on first, seeing that the ball was going to drop, put her head down and ran, passing the runner on second. That's two out. The runner on second, hearing footsteps, advanced a few feet off the base, turned to remonstrate with her over-zealous teammate, and was hit by the ball as it descended. That's one-two-three, and the side was out." 

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

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