Heavy duty: Grab barbell, then jump

Q. Your long-jumping buddies get tired of losing to you, so they decide on a handicap: You must jump while holding a three-kilogram weight in each hand. "That oughtta do it," they say. Do what? How much edge for them now? ­M. Lister

 A. Incredibly, they may soon be demanding you hand over the weights to them! Ancient vase paintings showed Greek Olympic jumpers holding weights, presumably to increase distance. Modern sports scientists know that a slightly loaded muscle springs better than an unloaded one, so the extra weight might be more than made up by added jumping force and power, reports Steven Blau in Physics Today ("A Little Extra Weight Goes a Long Way").

Analyses by Alberto Minetti and Luca Ardigo of Manchester Metropolitan University suggest the weights– called halteres by the Greeks, and made of stone or lead– might actually have added as much as six percent leap length when three kilograms (seven lbs) are held in each hand. It seems the weights were first extended backward, then swung up and out at takeoff, down and backward again at landing. The exact technique for this is unclear, but the secret lay in tricky shifting of the jumper's velocity and center of mass throughout the jump.

You can assume your buddies don't read Physics Today.

Q. Of all the amazing coincidences occurring around the world every day, what would be the weirdest of them all? ­R. Ripley

 A. A day when there was complete absence of all coincidences, answers mathematician John Allen Paulos.

When one woman won the New Jersey lottery twice, newspapers reported it as a 1-in-17-trillion feat. Then statisticians Stephen Samuels and George McCabe computed that given the millions of lottery ticket buyers daily, it was "practically a sure thing" that somebody someday would win a state jackpot twice.

Consider: Even an event that happens to but one in a billion people in a day happens 2000 times a year, says Hope College psychologist David G. Myers in The Power of Coincidence (davidmyers.org).

Take the random digits of the number pi, which are about as random as things get. Nevertheless, they contain some odd streaks, such as– Myers points out– his birth date of 9-20-42 beginning at the 131,564th decimal place. To find yours, visit www.angio.net/pi/piquery.

On the infamous date of 9-11, the New York State Lottery numbers game popped up the numbers 9-1-1. Then there were twins Lorraine and Levinia Christmas, who collided their cars one Christmas in Fitcham, England, when driving to deliver presents to each other. But my favorite, says Myers, is that Psalm 46 of the King James Bible, published in the year Shakespeare turned 46, has as its 46th word "shake" and 46th word from the end "spear."

Q. In the romance "market," just how picky a shopper are you? ­J. Casey

A. Without really thinking about it, most of us dutifully follow our culture's dictates: In effect, we run a quick "criteria check" on every potential partner who happens our way, say Elaine Hatfield and G. William Walster in A New Look at Love.

For most of us– if we're honest– this means ruling out anyone not close to our own age, of a different race, not sharing our educational level, etc. "The moment we get down to specifics, it becomes clear that the 'little' we ask is startlingly extensive. We want a good-looking person, a person with plenty of time to devote to us, a successful person, a sensitive person, a person with intelligence and a good sense of humor– the list goes on and on. Perfection is what we really want."

Over the next day or two, try an experiment: Keep a tally of the number of men or women you encounter– at the office, on the street, at the supermarket–and how many of them you would be willing to date. Be honest.

"You'll be startled to find out just how incredibly fussy you really are."

Q. Imagine being confined in prison for many years, then playing a round of golf on your first day free. You'd expect to be way off your game, wouldn't you? ­ B. Treakle

A. University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi recounts how a prisoner of war headed straight for a golf course upon returning home. Though weak and emaciated, he astonished his fellow officers by playing superbly.

His secret, he said, was that during every day of his long imprisonment he imagined playing 18 holes, choosing his clubs, driving off the tees, gauging the slope of the greens. He even varied the course from day to day, posing for himself fresh mental challenges.

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