STRANGEBUTTRUE- On eggshells: What we say makes no sense



DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. Which would you say is riskier, "walking on eggs" or "walking on eggshells"? –H. Penny

A. For five centuries, people have been using the phrase "walking on eggs" to express the idea of "proceeding with extreme caution," as if tiptoeing on eggs to avoid cracking them, says Mark Davidson in Right, Wrong, and Risky. The modern mindless switch of the phrase to "walking on eggshells" connotes no literal risk whatsoever since the already cracked shells long ago surrendered their protected cargo.

Q. When dedicated researchers start "horsing around" with genomics, what might they turn up? –E. Arcaro

A. Thoroughbred horse-owners now have a new tool for predicting how their nags will do on the track, if they're willing to pony up 1000 pounds ($1,500) for a DNA analysis by Irish company Equinome, says Constance Holden in Science magazine. It tests for a "muscle factor" derived from the Horse Genome Project (HGP), to see if the animal has compact muscles attuned to rapid sprints or a leaner body more suited for endurance. Genetics researchers at University College Dublin reported that horses with two copies of a particular gene variant were more likely to win short races up to 6.5 furlongs (1.3 kilometers), whereas horses with other variants of the gene did better in races up to 13.5 furlongs (2.7 km).

According to the HGP, breeders have already adopted genetic tags for paternity, coat color and diseases, but performance prediction is new ground. Equinome co-founder Emmeline Hill reports breeders are now asking about genes for temperament, but that's not in the offing. "However, we are investigating gene associations for other parameters such as aerobic capacity," he says.

Q. Baseball brainteaser: When a starting pitcher pitches a complete 9-inning game, what's the minimum number of pitches he must throw? –R. Clemens

A. Assume he's with the visiting team and allows only one runner to reach base– on a home run– and loses 1-0, poses Wayne L. Winston in Mathletics: How Mathematics Is Used in Baseball, Basketball, and Football. Since he doesn't need to complete the ninth inning, he throws only 8 x 3 (outs per inning) + 1 (the home run) = 25 total pitches. That's plenty good for his weary arm and ERA but not for his W-L record or the home team's batting averages.

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

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