Switching sides

Q. If I'm right-handed, is there any way I could learn to use my left hand for writing so I can write with any hand I want? ­E. Scissorhands

 A. Sure, with practice you can learn to do this, says Dr. Diane F. Halpern, director of the Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children, Claremont McKenna College, California. After an injury to one's preferred hand, it is common to learn to use the nonpreferred hand for a wide range of tasks, including writing.

But people vary in the strength of their hand preference– there are righties or lefties who normally find it very difficult to write with the other hand (or brush their teeth or perform other tasks), and there are people who are more bilateral and find it easier to use the nonpreferred hand than do strong right- or left-handers.

It is also fairly common to write with one hand and bowl or throw a ball with the other, so the answer is really more complex than it might seem. Any strong righty or lefty will have a tough time writing opposite, but it is possible.

So good luck, hope you possess some natural

ambidextrousness, and remember the old joke "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice."

 

Q. You may have to wait a good while before seeing one in the sky. But witnesses have been known to take second jobs or mortgages to get to the next one. Next what? ­H. Bopp

 A. Total solar eclipse (TSE), which has to be no contest– the premier sky spectacle, says astronomer Bob Berman in Cosmic Adventure: Other Secrets Beyond the Night Sky. An eclipse is caused by the stunning coincidence that the sun, while being 400 times the moon's size, is 400 times farther away. So the small near disk can darken big far one.

But don't expect to see one soon from your back yard: The last TSE in mainland U.S. was 1979, and there won't be another one until August 21, 2017.

The syzygy of sun, moon, and Earth lining up in such fashion occurs just once every 360 years on average per Earth location. "And if it's cloudy, you have to wait another 360 years!"

But a TSE occurs somewhere almost every year, meaning "you have to travel to see one." Pilgrimage is more the word, as "half of those who witness totality groan, moan, shout, and behave strangely." The sun's glowing coronal radiance leaps across the sky, inner segments bright, outer ones faint and lacy, diminished by photo or TV.

And on Earth, "shadow bands"– shimmering streams of curvy black lines on beaches and other white surfaces the minute before and after totality "eerie enough to raise the hair on your neck."

But you've got to be there, says Berman, because astonishingly these don't show on film. Here's hoping you catch up with a live one sometime.

 

Q. At a palindrome party, the fun includes "Dr. Awkward" "Do geese see god?" "Man, Oprah's sharp on AM." "Go hang a salami. I'm a lasagna hog." Now try to expand the silliness by adding other palindrome types. ­ G. A. Life

 A. Easy. HAH and WOW are both "mirror palindromes," along with A TOYOTA, reversing not just letter order but the letters themselves, readable in a looking glass.

The "word unit palindrome" reverses not letter order but word order, as in "One for all and all for one!" "You can cage a swallow, can't you, but you can't swallow a cage, can you?" (From Asktherick.com)

An "auditory palindrome" sounds the same taped and played backward, such as "ominous cinema."

A "symmetrical palindrome" reads the same both left to

right and upside down: SWIMS or NO X IN NIXON. And don't forget the endless number of palindromic numbers, such as 0 or 12345677654321 or the year 2002.

 

Q. In a race between you, a lion, and a Porsche, who gets off the line fastest? Assume you're a top sprinter, the lion races toward prey, and the car goes from 0 to 60 in seven seconds. ­M. Andretti

 A. Surprise: A top human runner can accelerate initially at about 10 meters per second per second, matching the lion, says R. McNeill Alexander in The Human Machine. As for the car, M., it dogs along at about four meters per second per second. (The car's edge is that it maintains this acceleration much longer.)

Send strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at

StrangeTrue@Compuserve.com.