Blue hue: The azure stream of conciousness

Q. At a posh art show, color was the theme: All the canvasses were white, the gallery walls were white, white wine was served. So why was the exhibition titled "Blue"? ­J. Johns

 A. That's what the guests wondered until they got home and passed blue urine. Presumably the wine had been spiked. Food coloring wouldn't have worked, because the wine would have appeared blue. A likely suspect, says University of Washington laboratory medicine specialist Wayne Chandler, is methylene blue, used as a drug to treat methemoglobinemia– a rare blood disorder that can turn a person's skin blue– and in the past as a urinary antiseptic. Methylene blue is relatively harmless and has been popular for years as a somewhat unwise party joke. A clear metachromatic dye, it turns blue in urine.

Various other drugs or food dyes may turn urine blue, orange or green. Food pigments in carrots can lend an orange-yellow coloration; beets, rhubarb or blackberries may impart a reddish or brownish hue (often mistaken for blood). Certain B vitamin supplements containing riboflavin are spilled off beyond what the body can use, turning urine bright yellow-orange, almost florescent– a spectacular pee!


Q. Imagine you're a famous 18th century Italian opera star, wowing packed houses, performing the works of Mozart, Handel, Monteverdi. What body part might you be missing? ­C. Jorgensen

 A. Your testes. Castration of young boys was done for the purpose of preserving their beautiful high voices, say Carol H. McFadden and William T. Keeton in Biology: An Exploration of Life. Boys so altered formed the "castrati," for whom special roles were written into operas– sung by women today.

For those who survived the crude (and dangerous) procedure, done well before puberty, vocal cord growth was stunted while the rest of the body continued to develop, report Nigel Bunce and Jim Hunt of the College of Physical Science, University of Guelph. Lacking the hormone triggers that in other boys halt the growth of the long bones in the arms and legs, the castrati grew gangly and disproportionate, with long limbs on short torsos, and fatty buttocks and breasts– a eunuchoid appearance. Musically, the character of the voice changed as the sinuses and other cavities of the head enlarged, "and it was this combination of short vocal cords and richer resonance that produced the famous voices that Goethe described as 'beautiful and caressing.'"


Q. Planning on a baby? Theoretically speaking, how many genetically different babies are conceivable between you and your partner? ­G. Mendel

 A. Each of you has 23 pairs of chromosomes, with one of each pair going to your offspring, meaning the genetic possibilities from just you alone are two to the 23rd power (like flipping a coin 23 times in a row), or 8,388,608.

Factoring in your partner's 8,388,608, you get about 70 trillion different kids possible between the two of you, or 10,000 times the population of Earth! (Actually, chromosomal "crossing over" pushes these numbers even higher, right through the nursery roof.)


Q. Quick: If given the choice, would you take a new Ferrari or a stack of pennies that doubles every day for a month (a penny on day one, two pennies on day two, four on day three, eight on day four, etc.)? ­J.D. Rockefeller

 A. Take the pennies. Using a calculator, you'll see that by the 31st of the month, you'd have over a billion pennies worth more than $10 million ($5 million for a 30-day month). The stack– if it didn't topple– would reach nearly 1,000 miles into the sky, having surpassed the value of the Ferrari on day 25 and made you a millionaire on day 28.


Send strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at