Supersize: Modern Goliath in Ireland




Q. Who was the "Irish Giant" Charles Byrne, and how does his story cast modern light on the defeat of huge Goliath by diminutive David? –Y. Ming

A. Born in 1761 of normal parents, he "grew like a cornstalk" in youth, which village gossipers attributed to his being born atop a high haystack, says Jan Bondeson in A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities. He grew to roughly 7 feet, 10 inches, a "modern Living Colossus." Tall men walk considerably under his arm, it was written, but he stoops, is not well shaped, and his appearance is far from wholesome. When he died, his body fell into the hands of a museum schemer, and the skeleton was put on display.

The question of the etiology of the Irish Giant's growth was not resolved until 1909, when radiographic examination of the skeleton confirmed a pituitary adenoma producing the growth hormone. Typical of this condition, he was weak and sickly in spite of his great stature. "Some have speculated that Goliath also was a sufferer and that the weakness associated with the disease accounts for his ignominious defeat at the hands of David," the authors write.

Had Byrne lived today, says Bondeson, surgery could have been performed at an early age. "He might never have been a celebrity or gained immortality in a museum. Instead, he might have led a longer and happier life."

Q. Are you afflicted with "aibohphobia"? Then better stop reading this and skip to the next question. –Mom and Dad

A. Since you're still reading, you obviously aren't afraid of palindromes, words that are spelled the same backwards as forwards, like aibohphobia, meaning "fear of palindromes." This phobic word is an artificially constructed one since "aiboh" is not an existing or meaningful root, says the online encyclopedia "Wikipedia." Some genuine word palindromes: noon, madam, radar, deified, racecar.

The longest palindrome in the Oxford English Dictionary is the 12-letter "tattarrattat," a nonce word by James Joyce in Ulysses. Guinness World Records lists the longest known palindrome in any language as the Finnish 19- letter word "saippuakivikauppias," meaning "a dealer in lye" (or a seller of soapstone). That one's enough to throw a little aibohphobia into just about anybody.

Q. Bring a TV to a football game or other televised sports event and how much delay will you notice between real-time and TV-time? –C. Madden

A. Satellite transmission delays are about 0.25 second for each up and down link, plus time for video compression, says Mark Fischetti in Scientific American. For a football game, add in another 0.1 second processing for "the yellow line" that marks off for viewers where the offensive team must advance to gain a first down, and TV-time will lag by about 1.5 seconds.

This popular golden apparition, appearing out of nowhere on the screen, is a techno tour-de-force by Sportvision of Chicago. The line seems painted on the field, widening or narrowing as the camera pans in or out, and disappearing in the proper spots as players run over it. None of this of course is visible to fans at the stadium.

Before each game, the gridiron must be digitally mapped, and the three main game cameras calibrated at the 25, 50 and 25 yard lines. A half-rack of computers and a single operator working out of the network's regular broadcast truck suffice. The line is keyed to the physical first-down marker that officials stake at the sideline.

This system, say the authors, also makes possible the outlined baseball strike zone and the transient corporate logos appearing on walls and fields.

Q. Try this brain-stumper from Clifford Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage: What's the next number in the series 1, 11, 21, 1211, 111221... Hint: No math calculations are necessary. –M. VosSavant

A. This one's tough. After the 1, the second number states that there is one 1 (11) in the previous number. The third number states that there are two 1's (21) in the number before; then one 2 and one 1 (1211); then one 1 and one 2 and two 1's (111221). So the stumper answer is 312211, since the number before had three 1's and two 2's and one 1. Get it?

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at