Sickening? Nose-pickers needn't worry

Q. Nose-pickers who eat their own exudate– couldn't they get sick from this? What's in the stuff to feed this bizarre habit? ­B. & P. Ferrelly

 A. Mucus secretions are loaded with antibodies for fighting off infections– the basic purpose of a runny nose. So pickers-and-eaters may– unconsciously, one must presume– be acting as go-between for the body served and the pharmacopeia it produces.

Yet while the dried starches and trapped dust of a booger are generally harmless, onlookers feel queasy. So why do it? This must go down as a powerful private habit spilling over into public, reinforced by tactile sensitivities, play-goo textures, and salty taste.

For even deeper possible roots, watch a National Geographic-type TV program, suggests Baylor College of Medicine otorhinolaryngologist Holly H. Birdsall: "You'll see non-human primates grooming each other, picking off who-knows-what from the hair and skin, and promptly putting it in their mouths. Why should we be so different?"

Q: Card counters are known to beat the house at blackjack. Can you do the same at a roulette wheel? ­E. Murdock

A. Possibly, if you've got time, patience and a fat bankroll. And you "clock" the wheel.

In a famous showdown, recounts Russell Barnhart in Beating the Wheel: Winning Strategies at Roulette, high roller Billy Walters went to the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City and placed a long series of $2,000 bets on each of five numbers: 7, 10, 20, 27, 26. After 18 hours of spin after spin, with Walters betting $10,000 each time, he walked out with an incredible $3,800,000 profit!

His secret? He had sent six "clockers" to Atlantic City beforehand to study the various wheels. Wear and tear can loosen frets between slots, deadening ball rebound and "biasing" a wheel toward certain numbers. But this bias is statistical, evident only over hundreds of spins.

In Probabilities in Everyday Life, physicist John D. McGervey sketched out the process: You watch, say, 3,800 spins of a particular wheel over a few days. Each of the 38 numbers (0, 00 and 1 through 36) should come up about 100 times, give or take 20. "If a number comes up more than 125 times on 3,800 spins, odds now are 25 to 1 that there's bias. Betting on this number will give you about a 20 percent edge over the house (give or take 10 percent), instead of the normal 5.26 percent in the house's favor."

Of course, there's no guarantee the first wheel you clock will show bias– or the second wheel, or the third. And the bias you read could be a fluke. So there's no way around needing a little good luck.

Q. Can you give us a one-minute power primer on getting to the top and staying there? I have my notepad ready. ­W. Chapman

A. Talk fluently, and look people squarely in the eye, advises James Vander Zanden in The Social Experience.

Stares make people uncomfortable, so don't "surrender."

"The staredown continues until one of you succumbs by averting the eyes. The matter thus settled, the yielder usually avoids further eye contact although the winner may occasionally glance at the loser as if to verify the victory."

Exude certainty and authority, like CEOs, powerful politicians, great generals: Move slowly, smoothly, purposefully, with strategic pauses along the way.

Gesture deliberately and appear charismatic. Keep posture erect (a modified West-Point cadet look will do), head steady while speaking, speech rate even and measured, sentences complete. By all means, interrupt others' talk: Movers and shakers steer conversations.

Spread out arms and legs, commandeering space; also "spread out" emotionally: smile, frown, joke, exclaim!

Take a lesson from the wolves: Subordinates lower their heads and tails, flatten their ears, roll over on their backs. Avoid these measures at all costs.

That ought to do it. See you at the top.

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