Height right: To stand under your man


  DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. Romantics say that "Love is blind." How about height-blind? –K. Bryant A. The short answer is No. Tall teenage girls still worry over standing head and shoulders above the boys, who no doubt dream of being tall, dark, and handsome. Even if they haven't heard the old story about Alan Ladd standing on a box so his lips would meet Sophia Loren's in more manly fashion on the silver screen, they live by it in spirit. So strong is society's male-taller norm that in one sampling of 720 married couples, researchers John Gillis and Walter Avis found only one couple daring to flout the rule. Men average 4 inches taller but still, assuming random matches, the sample should have included more like 20 woman-taller couples. One theory is that if men and women paired off at roughly equal heights, this would leave many very short women and very tall men unmatched. So by having males stand taller than their mates by about the average height difference between the sexes, society ensures fewer will get left out biologically. Obviously, in a totally height-blind society, there'd be no need for the norm in the first place. Another theory points to the male desire for dominance: "Taller is bigger, better, more powerful." This ancient sentiment, evident in business and politics, may rear its head in romance as well. Q. Got any bright ideas on how to make a fast million? Here's one: Just prove you've got ESP. What's the deal? –J. Quigley A. Contact the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) at randi.org and arrange to do a demo for them "of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event" of any kind under "proper observing conditions." The guy's for real. A professional magician and well- known author and skeptic, he doubts you can fill the bill. But if you can, he's got $1,000,000 (US) to make it worth your while. So far, many have tried, none has collected. Noting that several claimants have "suffered great personal embarrassment," Randi cautions: "I strongly advise you to conduct proper double-blind tests of any ability you believe you can demonstrate, before undergoing a testing for this prize." Q. Legend has it the King of Persia asked the inventor of the game of chess what he wanted as a reward. "A grain of wheat on the 1st board square, 2 grains on the 2nd square, 4 grains on the 3rd, 8 on the 4th, etc." was his answer. Did the king comply? –B. Spasky A. Sounds reasonable. But if you run 2 to the 63rd power through a calculator, you'll see the 64th square alone would have needed 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains– more than the world's annual wheat production, says Richard Phillips in Numbers: Facts, Figures & Fictions. This is like trying to fold a sheet of paper in half 63 times, thus doubling the thickness with each fold. The betting is you won't make it to 10. Q. A fantasy wrestling match pits Neanderthals of 50,000 years ago against contemporary humans with our modern diets, body building, etc. And the winner is...? –J. Irving A. Human populations back then were less homogeneous globally, so the outcome might depend on where you did your sampling, says Washington State University anthropologist Tim Kohler. Let's assume you matched up two male Europeans, both young and healthy. "I'd put my money and as much of anyone else's as I could find on the Neanderthal. They were incredibly strong in their upper bodies and heavily built." But if you changed the contest from a one-on-one to a situation calling for cooperation and teamwork rather than brute strength, then the betting would have to go with modern populations. That's probably the factor where moderns had a slight advantage over the Neanderthals, so we're here today to wrestle with life and they're not. Send strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com. #