Puffed up: Less pressure, bigger bosom



Q. Maybe you slept through chemistry, but you remember Boyle's law, right? "Reduce the pressure on a gas and it will expand." For extra credit, apply this principle to inflatable bras in airplanes, dignitaries guzzling champagne underwater, and fliers eating beans. ­R. Russell

A. The Associated Press reported about a flight where a sudden depressurization in the cabin caused a bosomy stewardess's inflatable bra to begin expanding to, oh, about size 46, and climbing. Then a female passenger, seeing the stewardess's plight, handed her a hairpin that she used to stab herself repeatedly in the chest. A male passenger, mistaking the action for attempted hara-kiri, rushed forth and wrestled the stewardess to the floor.

It took a while to restore order on the plane.

As for the dignitaries, they had gathered to celebrate the completion of a tunnel under the Thames River by imbibing a little bubbly on location. No matter that the champagne seemed lifeless and flat: They drank their fillm anyway.

But upon their return aboveground to reduced atmospheric pressure, the drink began to release its gas– fast.

"The wine popped in their stomachs, distended their vests, and all but frothed from their ears," said the Journal of Chemical Education.

"One dignitary had to be rushed back into the depths to undergo champagne recompression."

Finally, when World War II pilots began complaining of severe bouts of intestinal gas, it became clear that a few beans eaten on the ground can feel like a lot more in the relative depressurized environment of high-altitude flight. Rx? A bean-lean diet for the grateful airmen.

Q. It has been reported that the wealthy don't play state lotteries unless the jackpot grows enormous, at which point probability theory says the game may become a good bet. How good? What's the theory here? ­J. Kluge

A. A fair bet is one where the "expected winnings" exceed the ticket price, says Williams College economist Victor Matheson. For example, a recent Powerball jackpot reached $260 million with odds of winning at roughly 1 in 120 million. So multiply the $260 million by 1/120 million and you get at least $2 expected winnings for the $1 ticket.

But, but, but... Powerball, Mega Millions, and most others pay out over 20 to 30 years, devaluing the winnings. For the recent Powerball drawing, for example, this reduces the jackpot from $260 million to just under $150 million. Now the expected value of a ticket is $150 million x 1/120 million +.25 (for lower tier prizes) = $1.50, which still exceeds the price of the ticket.

But there's more: Taxes take about 1/3 of winnings, reducing the above return to around $1, or right at the break-even point, and multiple winners force sharing of the pot, common with big jackpots and "lotto fever." In fact, none of the big lotteries like Mega Millions or Powerball has ever produced a fair bet, but some states have.

As for the wealthy playing, concludes Matheson, there have been cases where the expected return was high enough that an investment consortium tried to corner the jackpot by buying every combination. In 1992, an Australian group attempted to corner a $27 million Virginia Lotto jackpot and managed to buy 2.4 million of the 7.1 million possible combinations before time ran out. They didn't win.


Q. How much longer do we men have to wait to achieve longevity equality with women? ­N. Gingrich

A. No wait at all. As recently as 1920, men and women in the U.S. enjoyed virtually equal life expectancy at birth– around 55 years. Then over the last century, while men increased their life expectancy to around 73 years, women advanced to 79 years, opening a six-year gender gap.

Why the disparity? Lots of theories, but with changes of this sort, you would expect the causes to be cultural, not biological, says anthropologist Marvin Harris in Our Kind. "People today seem to think that being the biologically stronger sex, women naturally live longer," Harris says. But that ignores the hidden cost of machismo: Males smoke more cigarettes, eat more fatty meat, drink more, and take more hard drugs, drive faster, are exposed to more on-the-job industrial poisons, use more deadly weapons, and often acquire hard-driving, competitive personalities.

Tough guys, and tough for our docs to keep healthy.

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at StrangeTrue@Compuserve.com.