STRANGE BUT TRUE- A one, and a... Dance to enhance your lovelife


Q. How is dancing one of those "cheap psychological tricks for lovers"?  –A. Taylor

A. Cheap because it works, says Perry W. Buffington, in his book of the above title. As Arthur Murray well understood, it is possible to dance away the blues, strong exercise as mood enhancer, sharing primitive biology of pheromonal outpourings and sweat.

Plus you and your lover are "strengthening the bond that holds you together," locked in the same fun step, same act, same timing. Eyes meet, great because eye-to-eye gaze quickens amour, something couples often forget or ignore.

Lost in your thoughts, you feel worries drift away as a "flow state" engulfs you, like athletes on a performance high slipping "into the zone," time standing still. Maybe it's just a little two-step, but with luck, you'll both carry it over, "waltzing through life together."

Q. Dire things could befall you, they say, if you break a chain letter. On the other hand, imagine what might happen if nobody ever broke the chain? –A. Pontuso

 A. The letter's request is usually quite simple, "Make 5 copies and mail them to 5 friends." Sounds harmless enough so you send out the 5 letters, then these 5 people send to 25, and these to 125, then 625, 3125, 15625, 78125, etc. The number would snowball until after just 15 cycles of the chain, the total would be 6,103,515,625! Soon the number would top the population of the world (ignoring the actual myriad duplications and overlaps), meaning everyone on the planet would receive countless never-ending letters in an astronomical, mind-boggling spiral, says Don Voorhees in The Book of Totally Useless Information. The world's postal system would collapse, leading to the end of civilization and eventually humankind. "So the next time you get one of these letters, toss it in the garbage. You may suffer some personal misfortune, but it will be a small price to pay to save civilization."

Q. Sharp-shooting basketballer Shaq outshoots Kobe 40 percent to 25 percent for the first half of the game, then 75 percent to 70 percent for the second. Did Shaq necessarily have the better game? –M. Albert

A. You might think so unless you know about Simpson's paradox. Here are their stats, as described by Jeffrey Bennett in  Statistical Reasoning for Everyday Life:

 First half: Shaq 4 baskets in 10 attempts, for 40 percent

 First half: Kobe 1 basket in 4 attempts, for 25 percent

 Second half: Shaq 3 baskets in 4 attempts, for 75 percent

 Second half: Kobe 7 baskets in 10 attempts, for 70 percent

You can see that in spite of Shaq's better shooting percentage for each half, Kobe's overall shooting was 8 of 14 for 57 percent compared to Shaq's 7 of 14 for 50 percent. So by the paradox (Edward Simpson, 1951) one player can be better for each part of a game (or season), but worse overall. It's similar for batting averages in baseball and in many other realms, such as pharmaceutical testing and voting results.

The moral: Statistics may not lie but can be deceiving unless handled with great care.

Q: Think mishap, blunder, ironic serendipity. Then think gunpowder, phosphorus, Kevlar, superglue, cellophane, Post-it notes, photographs, the phonograph, penicillin, Teflon, LSD, those microwave echoes of the creation of the universe. Can you guess the common denominator to all of these? –A. Kekule

A: All resulted from laboratory accidents, of a sort, says Sean Markey in Discover magazine. In the 9th century, a team of Chinese alchemists trying to synthesize an "elixir of immortality" from saltpeter, sulfur, realgar, and dried honey instead invented gunpowder. When in 1675 German scientist Hennig Brand stored 50 buckets of urine in his cellar for months, hoping it would turn into gold, a waxy glowing goo formed that spontaneously burst into flame; he had discovered the element now known as "phosphorus." Similar blunder tales go with all of the above, such as Alexander Fleming sneezing onto a lab bacterial sample and noticing that his snot kept the microbes in check (antibiotic enzyme in nasal mucus; discovery of penicillin).

Finally, when Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson scrubbed pigeon droppings off their radio antenna to get rid of an annoying hiss, they came to realize the birds had nothing to do with the noise– now known to be emanations of the 3- degree background radiation left over from the Big Bang creation of the universe some 14 billion years ago!

Q. What tool do eagles use to crack open tough tortoise shells to get at the choice meat? –A. L. Tennyson 

A. Gravity. The birds fly high with a heavy victim and drop it onto a splattering boulder. Many species of birds use this foraging trick on hard-shelled prey or nuts, reports Behavioral Ecology journal, dropping repeatedly, flying higher for harder food or if the ground below is softer. Crows are famous for doing this with nuts, knowing enough to fly lower and lower after multiple drops as the shell grows presumably weaker.

Herring gulls will often drop clams onto parking lots along the seashore, so many in one case as to imperil the people and cars below, says Tom Erdman, curator of the Richter Museum in Wisconsin. "The remedy? Gull silhouettes painted on the pavement, making the airborne droppers think competing birds were already waiting below to cop the food."

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at,