Flatus impossible: Whoever denied it supplied it

Q. Are there people who don't "pass wind"? One woman swears she never has, and her husband confirms this very strange admission. ­J. Carrey

 A. "I don't believe this is possible," says Australian gastroenterologist Terry Bolin, author of Wind Breaks. He had 60 men and 60 women record their emissions over a three-day period, and three/day was the low (38 the high). "The peculiar lady in question may pass gas unconsciously during sleep."

Other G.I. docs are less diplomatic: "Has she had her sinuses checked? How about her hearing?"

As for her husband's assertion, says UCLA professor of medicine David Diehl, "I can only say that he can't monitor her flatus 24 hours a day! Despite how good sphincter control one might have, the gas must eventually pass."

Showing just how good such control can get, the Frenchman Joseph Pujol became a popular Moulin Rouge act in the 1890s by mastering withholding his gas, then releasing it on cue to imitate the sounds of creaking doors, amorous bullfrogs, hooting owls, ripping cloth, machine guns, cannons, and a lot more. The elite doctors of the day examined Pujol, all amazed he could sit in a tub of water, draw in several liters, then expel a liquid jet that traveled five meters across the room.

Q. If King Henry VIII of England had been trained in modern molecular genetics, might Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard have kept their heads and a more informed royal statement regarding male heirs been issued for posterity? ­C.P.A. Windsor

 A. Then he'd have known that while parents generally both contribute characteristics, a notable exception is in determination of sex of the child, says David Bodanis in The Body Book. At the point on the mother's DNA that codes for which type of sex organs and hormones to make, the default setting is feminine: All mothers code only for daughters. Not so for the father's sperm, some of which bear boy instructions, some girl.

It follows, says Bodanis, that a wised-up Henry, aware that he himself was responsible, might have restrained his notorious temper when five of his six wives did not produce the desired male heir, and have instead said something like: "Darn (or darne)! My insufficient male-coded spermatic DNA seems to guarantee me only daughters."

Q. Imagine an amusement park where they excavated an 8000-mile tunnel all the way down through the center of the Earth and out the other side, then had "riders" jump in. Detail this novel thrill. ­E.Knievel

A. Get ready for the most amazing ride, says University of Calgary Earth scientist Brian Moorman. You'll need a space suit because air must be evacuated or friction would stop you and trap you inside. You'll need your own cooling system too, to ward off core temperatures of over 6000 degrees Celsius. So between the heat and the 15-tons-per-square-meter pressure, some incredible new material is required for constructing the tunnel walls.

In you go now, accelerating under gravity to hundreds, then thousands of miles per hour– 18,000 mph by the Earth's center, Mach 23– only to reverse this on the other side as the majority of the mass is now behind, slowing you gradually to a stop 42 minutes later at the opposite end.

But since no vacuum is total, you'd stop a little shy of the surface, and unless some precaution were taken to grab riders, they'd drop back into the hole.

Due to Earth's rotation, density variations, and even the shifting positions of the sun, moon and planets, bends in the tunnel would be required. "If one little error occurred, you'd get pulled too far to one side and hit the wall. At 18,000 mph, you'd make a really long smear!"

Q. A hospital orderly must wheel a dead body through corridors crowded with patients and their visitors. How to do this without causing alarm? ­Dr. Kildare

A. Employ the "Kulechov effect," suggests psychologist David G. Myers, who used this trick himself while working in Seattle's county hospital. Soviet film director Lew Kulechov once demonstrated that the same facial expression on camera might be interpreted as sad, thoughtful, or happy depending on the scene or context in which it occurs.

So Myers manipulated the hospital context by pulling down the sheet to expose the face, as if the deceased were merely sedated or sleeping, then rolled along without anyone suspecting.

Send strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.