Optical profusion: Convex mirrors play a trick


Q. You own a dress shop in Beverly Hills catering to wealthy customers, many of them overweight. What subtle optical flattery might you employ to thin down their wallets? –D. VonFurstenberg

A. Bring in cylindrical convex mirrors (shaped like a Roman soldier's shield) with a long focal length so as not to be obvious, says Keith Lockett in Physics in the Real World. The ladies will think they've lost 10 pounds– and oh, does your dress show this off splendidly!

Too bad you can't sell them a slimming mirror too, so they'll look just as stunning when they get their purchase home. (Would any shopkeeper really do this? Rumor says yes.)

Q. Hey, chatroom sweeties and e-males and females, are computer-based relationships apt to lead to love/marriage? –A. Alkon

 A. You can hit the delete button on this one. Building a romance is tough under any circumstances. Obviously, people first have to meet and see each other again and again for best results.

This is called propinquity, or "mere exposure" effect. There's no problem here online– people can meet in cyberspace and communicate often, even if thousands of miles apart. But then there's the stumbling block of "homogamy": A hundred studies have confirmed that relationships flourish best between similars, not opposites: Homogamy is so powerful that successful couples tend to match up in age (within 3-4 years), religion, race, attractiveness (10s marry 10s etc), outgoingness, argumentativeness, smoking habits, health, even height and political views.

The problem with online, says Elliot Aronson in Social Psychology, is that people can easily exaggerate or lie, and a flurry of e-mails can create high emotional intimacy– often too fast. Without real feedback, idealization can set in. Moreover, words alone do not predict attraction. Lacking nonverbal cues, it's hard to know if we're compatible with another person.

Little wonder then that in a Match.com report covering a six-year period that saw 5 million hopefuls reach out to find cybermates, there were only 1,100 confirmed marriages, or about 1 in 5,000, or 0.02%! S(he) e-loves you, she loves you not, not, not...

Q. You're 640 feet up atop a concrete dam in Siberia, readying to jump... Okay, now, airborne you go, accelerating to about 100 mph– when a sudden upward tug on your leg starts to slow you– slower, slower until no more downward motion, you've bottomed out. But just as the big elastic band around your leg prepares to sling you skyward for another cycle, you fire a piton gun into the concrete near the dam's bottom, holding you steady until you triumphantly release yourself. Who and where are you? –S. Connery

A. You're Pierce Brosnan, aka James Bond, in the classic movie GoldenEye, bungee jumping off the dam's top– or rather, your stand-in, stuntman Wayne Michael, is doing so, says physicist Barry Parker in Death Rays, Jet Packs, Stunts & Supercars: The Fantastic Physics of Film's Most Celebrated Secret Agent.

Bungee jumping had its origins in the island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, where young men demonstrated their courage by leaping off a high platform with a vine attached to their leg, aiming to come as close to the ground as possible without actually hitting. The sport was taken up by the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club in the early 1980s, and in the U.S. in the early '90s, with people diving off cranes, towers and hot air balloons.

Q. Wealthy eccentric scientist shows up at one of your parties and offers you $1000 for every magnet you can locate in the house. You know there's an old horseshoe magnet in the basement, plus the refrigerator door fastener. But can you get rich? –S. Hahnemann

A. Got a hack saw on hand? Then saw your basement magnet in half to have two full-fledged north-and-south poled magnets, says Paul Hewitt in Conceptual Physics. Then saw these halves in half to have four magnets, then eight magnets, 16, 32, 64... how long can you keep going? (In theory, you could continue down to single atoms, which are themselves magnets.)

Next, go to work on the fastener and– oh yeah– don't forget the magnets in your phone, TV, microwave... $$$! Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.