Fried ants?: Hiding out saves a few


Q. If ants march into the microwave, will their goose be cooked? ­D. Matthews

 A. Another way to ask this, At a concert hall, can you hear equally well from all the seats? Certainly not, because wave interference patterns create dead spots in the hall. Hold that thought.

A woman wrote in to The Guardian of England to say that when removing some well-cooked food from her microwave, she noticed ants crawling around inside the oven. With all the warnings about radiation leaks from ovens that are not well shielded, how did totally unshielded ants manage to survive?

One thing working in the ants' favor is that they don't have much liquid in their bodies, so the microwaves– which cook meats by heating their water content– would act more slowly on ants than on people. That could buy the poor ants some time to save themselves. But how?

By seeking out the dead spots, naturally. Microwave ovens have them just like concert halls, creating those annoying cold pockets in cooked foods. The ants probably are quite uncomfortable when they are bathed in microwave radiation, so they try to get away. If they find a dead spot they feel better, so they stay there and survive.

Q. When one's marriage goes up in smoke, what else likely goes up with it? ­Hana Lohr

A. Some 40 percent of married adults say they are very happy compared to only 23 percent of never-marrieds and even smaller proportions of the divorced and separated, says Hope College's David G. Myers in Intuition: Its Power and Perils. The married are also healthier and have a better chance of living longer. And more: Marriage predicts economic thriving and lower risk of child poverty. Marriage matters, but we're increasingly unlikely to marry and live happily ever after. For once the giddy euphoria goes, if steadier "companionate love" does not take its place, a "cold, loveless truce" may follow, or worse.

Yet none of this stops marriage license applicants from assessing, when asked, their own chance of divorce as 0 percent. "When in love it's hard to imagine being otherwise," says Myers. But that's intuition speaking.

Better to follow statistical guidelines, upping your odds of marital success by dating someone of similar age, background and beliefs, dating for a while first, only marrying after age 20, getting educated, and having a stable income, etc.

The ways of the heart wedded to those of the head.

Q. Frequently curious flyers, do you know what airport runway 9 signifies, 9L alongside 9R, whether a plane generally takes off with or into any wind, how the cabin is heated to compensate for the frigid air at 6 miles altitude, what the colored lights mean alongside runways, the desired angle of the plane's glide path to touchdown, and the color of the "little black box" recording data in case of a crash? ­C. Lindberg

A. Answers Ira Flatow in Rainbows, Curve Balls and Other Wonders of the Natural World Explained: Runway 9 goes off at 90 degrees from North compass direction, or East; runway 27 goes off at 270 degrees, or West; 9L and 9R both go East left and right of each other; takeoff is into the wind to reduce required groundspeed and runway distance; no cabin heating is required but cooling via air conditioners certainly is or the pressurizing air coming off the engine would cook the interior; runways are outlined in white lights, taxiways have blue lights, red lights signal end of runway; 3 degrees is the typical glide path coming in, with the pilot watching the lights at runway's end which will appear white over white at too-steep an approach, red over red if too shallow, and red over white just right; and the little black box is really orange for ready visibility amid tragic rubble.

So now you know and know and know...

Q. Cruel practical joke: Several boys in a class singled out an "unattractive" girl, then one after another took turns asking her out. They figured this unexpected attention would blow the girl's mind. Did it? –Sluggo

A. By the fifth or sixth mock date, they found the girl had changed. She started wearing her hair differently, carrying herself with more poise, and talking more directly and assuredly. She had begun, in short, to live up to the billing the boys pretended was true of her, who now found themselves competing for her attentions.

This is the classic "self-fulfilling prophecy," say John M. Darley et al. in Psychology, the tendency of people to live up to others' expectations (or presumed expectations) of them, not only in the area of looks but in learning ability and classroom performance as well.

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at