Gassed: No gators under Big Apple

Q. Are there really alligators living in the sewers of New York, flushed down as overgrown pets, or is this just a fanciful urban legend? ­E. S. Aller

 A. "I suppose they could live there for a time," says University of Wisconsin zoologist Jeffrey R. Baylis. Sewer water is warmer than groundwater, and that would help. Gators hunt at night, so darkness would not be a problem as long as they got some light. Rats and other small animals could provide food.

However, reproduction would be a virtual impossibility as alligators nest in mounds of decaying vegetation exposed to the sun, and the female would need both to regulate nest temperatures. Basking in the sun to regulate body temperature and control parasites would also be impossible. [More reasons why UVA's creek daylighting project, subject of this week's cover story, will benefit our area!–editor]

Adding to a sewer's inhospitality are the sewer gas, hydrogen sulfide, and volatile chemicals from industrial effluents, says University of Florida Prof. F. Wayne King, curator of herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History: "Unlike on Hollywood movie sets, alligators and even rats would have difficulty surviving in sanitary sewers. It's hard to fit them with gas masks."

The germ of truth in these stories has to do with alligators in the southern part of the country in storm sewers, not sanitary sewers. Young gators, under threat of attack by dominant males, will often take refuge in storm sewers. Generally more sanitary, these are rather like artificial caves for the animals.

"Then, maybe after a heavy rain, they'll come crawling on out and start walking right down main street," King says.

Q. Why are there so many statistics hounds following the game of baseball, compared with football, soccer, etc.? ­G. Bagby

 A. While most sports are freeform, baseball is discrete, analyzable into 25 well-defined states after each play, say Jim Albert and Jay Bennett in Curve Ball: Baseball, Statistics, and the Role of Chance in the Game. Consider the bases: There can be none on, runner on 1st, or 2nd, or 3rd, runners on 1st and 2nd, 1st and 3rd, 2nd and 3rd, or bases loaded. Each of these can be with 0, 1, or 2 outs, for 24 total situations (3 x 8), plus one more for 3 outs (inning ends). Batting averages and earned-run averages of pitchers can be calculated for each of the 24 situations, plus probabilities of the batting team scoring any runs.

Compare this to, say, football, where one team's possession is equivalent to an inning at bat. How many possible states are there at the end of each play? Simplifying, there are 100 different positions, one for each yard mark, plus 4 different downs, 10 different yard amounts to go (for a 1st). This yields 100 x 4 x 10 = 4000 states!

And this is understated, since scrimmage lines on the field are continuous, as are yards-to-go, which also can be more then 10, with fractional yards typical, making the number of possible states virtually infinite. And football is relatively discrete compared to basketball, soccer, and hockey, which have a continuous flow in both time and space.

So while a calculating fan might answer curiosities about baseball– e.g., Who are the best "clutch" hitters?– other sports can be so daunting that even the most avid numbers hound hardly knows where to sink a tooth in.

Q. You've been feeling peppier and happier lately, sleeping more soundly, stress under better control. At work, you're recalling names better, and organization seems less a chore. You'd swear you're more coordinated, even your eyes seem sharper. How to account for this? ­J. Fonda

A. Just might be that exercise program you began, after an OK from your doctor, says University of Louisville exercise scientist Kent Adams. Getting the blood flowing every day is a sweepingly salutary thing, even just for transporting more oxygen to the brain for keener vision.

How about your love life? Has your partner also been happier? "As a promoter of exercise, I would have to say of course it may help amour too," Adams says. Better moods will put you both in the mood more often. Plus love is a physical act, and blood flow from a healthy cardiovascular system is important in coping with any stress, and sex is a stressor.

So a hearty yes to exercise all around.

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