Eyes have it: Follow the stare to...?



Q. If you were to draw a centerline down Leonardo daVinci's painting of the Mona Lisa, what eye-catching body part would it pass through? See where this might be heading? –D. Brown

 A. When vision researcher Christopher Tyler did this with face-on portraits from 265 artists spanning six centuries, he was looking to find subtle differences in the two facial halves, due to right-brain/left-brain differences in each artist. He found something totally surprising instead: In drawing the dividing centerlines, he noticed how often these ran right through one of the eyes of the subject, as with the Mona Lisa's left eye at horizontal dead center! (American Psychological Association Monitor)

In two-thirds of the portraits (not profiles) an eye lay either on the centerline or within 5 percent picture-width of it, forcing the other eye toward the edge and often a slight turning of the face, as with the Mona Lisa.

One more surprise was in store for Tyler: Art schools he consulted knew nothing about this, so it may just be an unconscious tendency with artists. Neither noses nor mouths are consistently centered, meaning "the eyes have it."

Q. A woman has four children conceived naturally with her husband, but a reliable genetics lab test concludes she could not be their biological mother. How is this possible? –M. Sanger

A. She is one of some 30 documented cases of a human "tetragametic chimera," where two non-identical twins combine in the womb at an early stage to form a single organism, says online Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Here the embryo is formed of four gametes– two eggs and two sperm–with two genetically distinct populations of cells. The resulting chimera can possess organs with different sets of chromosomes, such as a liver composed of cells with one set of chromosomes and a kidney of cells with another set.

It's hard to pin down just how many human chimeras there are since they can only be detected with DNA testing, which is rare, says New Scientist magazine. In one case, when patient Jane needed a kidney transplant, her family underwent blood tests to find a suitable tissue donor. Back came the news that two of her three presumed sons couldn't be hers! After lengthy investigation it was concluded that Jane is a chimera, a mixture of two non-identical-twin sisters that had fused in the womb.

Bizarrely, some researchers now believe we're all chimeras of a sort, not pure-bred individuals but "teeming with cells from our mothers, maybe even from grandparents and siblings," says New Scientist. During pregnancy, the blood of mother and fetus are kept separate, but some cells manage to slip through. "So a single person can be a veritable menagerie of different cell types from different generations."

Q. Pitch this one to your baseball friends: Is it possible for a player to steal first base? –G. Triandos

A. It certainly was possible, last done by Herman "Germany" Schaefer with Detroit against Cleveland, and this was not just a batter running safely to first after the catcher dropped the ball on the third strike, which is done all the time.

It was September 4, 1908, recounts Bob Dolgan in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Schaefer stood on first with speedy teammate Davy Jones on third. Suddenly Schaefer bolted for second, hoping to draw a throw from catcher "Nig" Clarke that would permit Jones to score. But Clarke just held the ball. Stolen base for Schaefer. Runners now on second and third, but then astonishingly on the next pitch Schaefer stole in reverse, going back to first. Moments later Schaefer lit out to steal second again, but this time Clarke threw the ball and Jones scored. Schaefer had snookered his opponents, but never again because the bizarre tactic was then outlawed.

Q. A water strider can walk on water because its six feet are big around for its weight. How big around would your feet need to be to allow you to walk on water? –J. Christ

A. Surface tension holds up the strider, whose feet are like little lunar lander pads that dimple the water but don't break through the top-layer of stretchy "skin." For you to water-walk, at human bulk you'd need feet more than a mile long and 1/3 mile wide, says Steven Vogel in Cats' Paws and Catapults.

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