Experimental: Kid + magnet = no TV


Q. Your daughter brings home a fat magnet from school to do some "experiments" around the house. The next day something's wrong with the TV picture. Got a suspect? ­B. Eubanks

 A. Maybe your budding Marie Curie– "Dad, I never laid a finger on the TV!"– brought magnet and tube into close proximity. This can disrupt the electron stream toward the screen, says Paul Peter Urone in College Physics, distorting the picture and permanently magnetizing and ruining the set. (Don't try this!)

Q. Did the famous Two-Headed Boy of Bengal (1783) really have two heads? ­I. Gandhi

 A. So terrified of his appearance was the midwife in the village of Mundal Gait that she threw the baby into the fire, says Jan Bondeson in A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities. He survived with burns, and his parents later put him on exhibition for money, drawing large crowds all over India.

The two heads were of the same size, joined at the crown, the upper inverted and ending in a necklike stump. When the boy cried or smiled, the upper head would not always join in; a pinch to the cheek produced a grimace; when given a breast, the "parasitic" head would try to suck.

Though his lower head and body were normal, the upper head bore many anomalies: no corneal reflexes and weak reaction to light, no pulsations in the temporal arteries, small tongue, ears malformed. Only one jaw worked, tears and saliva were plentiful.

"When the child slept, the eyes of the parasitic head could be observed to be open and moving," Bondeson writes.

Though emaciated, the boy was in general good health. Alas, his short life ended when he was bitten by a cobra. An autopsy revealed two distinct brains, much like certain conjoined twins (craniopagus).

"Had the Two-Headed Boy lived today, it would have been relatively easy to resect the parasite and enable the boy to lead a near-normal life, at least if the legal status of the second head, showing independent life, could be resolved," the author concludes.

Q. Why does it always seem to rain on weekends? Just selective perception, or is Mother Nature perverse? ­L. Tropea

A. Figures show it really does tend to rain on Sundays, at least along the East Coast of the U.S. 22 percent more than on Mondays, going all the way back to 1946, says David S. Moore in Statistics: Concepts and Controversies. The likely reason? Heavy pollution from the week seeds clouds, leading to rainfall a few days later on Sunday. At least the rain might help clear the air, so you breathe a little easier come sunny Tuesday or Wednesday.

Q. On football kickoffs, opposing players fly at each other madly, at speeds around 30 mph between them. What keeps them from getting injured (usually)? ­D. Vick

A. Two things basically: (1) collisions that are generally more glancing than head on, and (2) the modern football helmet, with rubber foam cushioning inside a plastic shell made of stuff used in bulletproof shields, says Edward Becker, executive director of the Snell Memorial Foundation, which develops helmet safety standards. (No, the helmets are not themselves bulletproof.)

Head-on-head collisions can impart upwards of 1000 g's (decelerations) to a player's helmet, with maybe 80-100 g's getting through to the head even after the helmet braking forces. It's as if the 10-pound head weighed half a ton!

Such forces would be lethal except they're applied for mere thousandths of a second. (By comparison, a test pilot might experience 6-8 g's.) Still, some hits are real "bell- ringers": The player's skull is rapidly decelerated, and his brain– in cushioning fluid–suffers bruising or whiplash!

More of the force could be absorbed for safety if the helmet liner collapsed, but that's not the way with football or ice hockey helmets, designed to take repeated hits, says Jasper Shealy of the Rochester Institute of Technology. For skiing, biking, and motor sports, "sacrificial" single-hit helmets have liners that crush or fragment on impact, damping the force of a severe blow.

But if the latter were used in football, you'd see players replacing their helmets after almost every hit.

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