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AskMe vs Slate's Explainer?
December 21, 2006 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Slate's Explainer is generally a pretty entertaining and interesting read. Now, they've posted a list of the questions they couldn't answer this year. I was wondering whether some of the AskMe crowd might just be able to knock a few off the list.
posted by nevercalm (52 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I went back and forth about whether this should be in the blue, grey, green, or what. Feel free to kill it if it's in the wrong spot.
posted by nevercalm at 7:41 PM on December 21, 2006


What comes after 999 trillion?

999 trillion and 1.
posted by vacapinta at 7:47 PM on December 21, 2006 [2 favorites]


Well, I can answer one of them.

• When we are approaching another person, like in a hallway, why do we step to our left? That is, try and pass right-shoulder-to-right-shoulder.

We do this because the majority of folks have a dominant right hand. Passing on the left keeps this free and handy for defence, hand-shaking, whatever, with the person you are passing.
posted by unSane at 7:47 PM on December 21, 2006


Its a joke column. Answering a joke question with a serious answer is lame.
posted by Osmanthus at 7:50 PM on December 21, 2006


How is the question I answered funny?
posted by unSane at 7:51 PM on December 21, 2006


999.1 trillion.
posted by odinsdream at 7:52 PM on December 21, 2006


Lasers are now powerful and small (at least I think they are), so why don't our troops carry laser guns?

because batteries still aren't
posted by waxboy at 7:54 PM on December 21, 2006


most of these questions don't meet the stringent askme guidelines. Too much chatfilter and hypotheticals.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:59 PM on December 21, 2006


When we are approaching another person, like in a hallway, why do we step to our left? That is, try and pass right-shoulder-to-right-shoulder

Actually, it's usually the opposite in my everyday life. You're supposed to walk/step to the RIGHT, not the left. It's like driving in traffic. Possibly the person who asked the question is from a country where they drive on the left...?
posted by davidmsc at 8:01 PM on December 21, 2006


It's probably a joke question, but yes, you can bake the cookie dough from at least some brands of cookie dough ice cream. It doesn't always taste as good as regular cookie dough cookies, though. You can also chew the bubble gum in bubble gum ice cream, since I'm positive that's going to be the next question on everyone's mind. No, seriously, I'm a mind-reader.
posted by smashingstars at 8:02 PM on December 21, 2006


Why did Zidane head-butt his opponent in the World Cup final? Do the French not fight with their fists?

Because you can't use your hands in soccer?
posted by mattoxic at 8:04 PM on December 21, 2006


Is it a joke column? I can't really tell for sure, but having this question unanswered - Is chicken considered meat? - made me think that they're trying to be funny.
posted by bunglin jones at 8:05 PM on December 21, 2006


"When we are approaching another person, like in a hallway, why do we step to our left? That is, try and pass right-shoulder-to-right-shoulder."

I always pass on the right just like driving and that seems the norm.

Why do humans die so young? In biblical times, people lived for several hundred years; now living to 100 is considered a long life. What happened?

Reality.

Do dolphins actually save people? If so, why do they do this?
Yes. We don't know, makes you wonder about the humanity of some people though doesn't it.

Is chicken considered meat?
Yes.
posted by Mitheral at 8:09 PM on December 21, 2006


1000 trillions make one quadrillion. ("Quad," of course, is short for "quadricep;" all numbers starting from 10^15 take their names from muscle groups).
posted by Iridic at 8:09 PM on December 21, 2006 [3 favorites]


I'll answer this one:

Q: "Why do humans die so young? In biblical times, people lived for several hundred years; now living to 100 is considered a long life. What happened?"

A: There are two possible answers. Those of us in the real world answer by saying: "The Bible is not a history, and people did not once live that long. We live quite a bit longer than most people back in the old days do because of modern medicine and diet."

For those who can't accept reality, here's a nice fairy tale: "Everything decays with time, the same goes for the human race. We don't live as long because we're further from the first, best, man. Look at a photocopy, of a photocopy, of a photocopy, etc. Same thing. Probably people in Bible times were taller, smarter, better muscled, and better looking as well as longer lived."

Q: "What comes after 999 trillion?"

A: One quadrillion. If we're talking latin prefixes (ie: kilo, mega, giga, terra) the anser is "peta-" , after you get a 999 terabyte hard drive you'll be wanting a 1 petabyte hard drive.

After that you get quintillions (or exa-), sexillions (or zetta-), and finally septillions (yotta-). See the trend? If you gussed that the next step would be octillions, give yourself a prize (no corresponding prefix for that, I don't know what comes after yottabytes).

I learned that back in first grade and I since I really liked the names for big numbers I've remembered it ever since. I'd like a yottabyte hard drive....
posted by sotonohito at 8:20 PM on December 21, 2006


They're not sharing those questions because they're hard, they're showing them because they're stupid. They're unanswered by choice, not necessity.
posted by mendel at 8:23 PM on December 21, 2006


When we are approaching another person, like in a hallway, why do we step to our left? That is, try and pass right-shoulder-to-right-shoulder.

Huh? Who does this?
posted by dobbs at 8:31 PM on December 21, 2006


When we are approaching another person, like in a hallway, why do we step to our left? That is, try and pass right-shoulder-to-right-shoulder.

Huh? Who does this?


I think it depends if they mean pass as in overtake, like passing on the left on the highway. Or pass as in walk by someone walking at you, which personally I would do on the right sticking with the driving theme.

Again, another US perspective here.
posted by paxton at 8:43 PM on December 21, 2006


A: One quadrillion

Nope. Ninehundredandninetyninetrillionandone.

You're off by 1 trillion minus 1.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:49 PM on December 21, 2006


With regard to the '999 trillion' question, I have this to say: where's the love for continuity? Why the obsession with integers?

I'll tell you what comes after 999 trillion. 999 trillion + some infinitesimally small and probably irrational real number. This is much, much less than 999 trillion and one.
posted by noahpoah at 9:04 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


How clean is bar soap in a public bathroom? Is it self-cleaning, "since it's soap? It seems like a health hazard to me.

This is a good one. I was in a DC hostel once and my buddy shared our bar of soap with an anonymous traveler in the shower next to his. I refused to use it afterwards, claiming it was dirty, but the sheer simplicity of his answer changed my mind.

"It's soap, dude. How do you clean soap?"
posted by trinarian at 9:08 PM on December 21, 2006


Can someone be forced to masturbate?

Reports describing evidence from Abu Ghraib suggest that Yankee ingenuity has regrettably supplied the answer.
posted by rob511 at 9:15 PM on December 21, 2006


You clean soap by washing it. duh.
posted by oddman at 9:15 PM on December 21, 2006


"When we are approaching another person, like in a hallway, why do we step to our left? That is, try and pass right-shoulder-to-right-shoulder."

I always pass on the right just like driving and that seems the norm.


Whereas I pass on the left, just like driving. And that also seems the norm. As davidmsc mentioned it's probably a wuestion from those of us driving on the correct (not-right) side of the road.

I actually found this rather challanging when I went to Canada at the start of the year, I kept walking into people. Fortunately, being Canadian, they just apologised to me.
posted by shelleycat at 10:06 PM on December 21, 2006


Why is grilled chicken tasting increasingly rubbery and odd?

Methinks you're cooking with old, rubber chickens. Try a fresher chicken next time. Bonus points if you pluck it yourself.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:17 PM on December 21, 2006


The AskMe Crowd: How/when/where/still in existence/do we mate with them?
posted by trinarian at 10:25 PM on December 21, 2006


i_am_joe's_spleen Curses, you are right of course.... To be outwitted by a mere spleen, I don't know if I can face the dishonor, time to commit seppuku.
posted by sotonohito at 10:27 PM on December 21, 2006


Working in my yard yesterday, I killed a gnat in my ear canal, where it had flown. I couldn't remove the body as my finger was too fat. What happens to it now?

It burrows into your brain and lays eggs. You are going to die.

Why do humans die so young? In biblical times, people lived for several hundred years; now living to 100 is considered a long life. What happened?

Gnats.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:30 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Ok, some of those questions are pretty hilarious. Particularly the one about the stripper girlfriend. Priceless. But on the off chance that some of those questions needed actual answering, I'll give it my best shot.

How clean is bar soap in a public bathroom? Is it "self-cleaning," since it's soap? It seems like a health hazard to me.
If you dont' rinse it so that the layer of scum/dirt/oil/epithelial cells are washed away, it's dirty.

Why did Zidane head-butt his opponent in the World Cup final? Do the French not fight with their fists?
Probably because a headbutting motion doesn't draw as much attention as a swinging right hook. IMHO. It could also be because whatever that Italian player said to him was so offensive he just reacted instinctively, being a professional soccer player, that'd be either headbutting or kicking.

When we are approaching another person, like in a hallway, why do we step to our left? That is, try and pass right-shoulder-to-right-shoulder.
I think, in my limited experience, people are being overpolite. That is, it would be usual to bear right (have the person go to your left shoulder), but as wrongthinking as it may be, the over polite person is letting the approaching person have his right of way (assuming this situation is happening in a "Drive on the right side of the road" country).

If a group of passengers on a hijacked plane wanted to, could they bring a plane down by all of them using their cell phones at the same time?
It's only posited, AFAIK, that cell phones will interrupt the electrical equipment. In that case, a plane would have mechanical backup (again, this is just my guess, backups for failures and such). So assuming that the cell phones did interrupt the electrical equipment, then one would have to assume it would interrupt it significantly enough to bring the plane down, then one woul dhave to further assume that the plane has no sort of mechanical backup to all that electrical wizardry.


How can I tell if I was the first person to use the term "K-fed-up" in relation to Britney's divorce?
You cannot. Unless we live in a world where everyone tells the truth. And even then.


PYGMIES: How/when/where/still in existence/do we mate with them?
They do still exist. In africa. And yes we can mate with them, since they are of the same species.

Do dolphins actually save people? If so, why do they do this?
They do. It's posited that it's part of their birthing behaviour. When a new calf is born, the mother has 'midwives' who get under the new born and push it up to the surface for its first breath. Some biologists think they can recognize when a fellow mammal is drowning and just do what they would do with a newborn.
posted by eurasian at 10:34 PM on December 21, 2006


Given the exchange and dispersion of matter, how likely is it/how often do we inhale/consume and/or incorporate into our own protein structure molecules that were once in some historical figure, say Abraham Lincoln?

It is almost 100% certain that you share some atoms that used to be part of Abraham Lincoln.
posted by afu at 10:54 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


If a group of passengers on a hijacked plane wanted to, could they bring a plane down by all of them using their cell phones at the same time?

Maybe...

But if dozens of phones–along with wireless-enabled laptop computers and other power-emitting portable devices–were to be intentionally switched on in flight, the resulting cacophony of electronic noise could cause dangerous levels of interference that would almost certainly send navigation sensors into tailspins under the right circumstances.
posted by MythMaker at 10:55 PM on December 21, 2006


Hi, how does nature make water? How does nature combine one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms to make water? If we knew how nature makes water, then perhaps we can then find an efficient way of separating hydrogen from oxygen, thus creating the ultimate source for energy.

It's cool to stay in school, kids. :)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:00 PM on December 21, 2006


chicago reader's the straight dope
posted by phaedon at 11:36 PM on December 21, 2006


If we taught animals to talk, how would that affect the world?

Been to Digg lately?

Why is the No. 8 always the same combination (tamale, enchilada, rice, beans) in any Mexican restaurant I visit? This includes primarily the southeast United States but not obvious franchises.

It's a conspiracy perpetuated by the International Mexican Culinary Cabal. I have set up a website, Enchilada Cube, to dispel this myth. Enchilada is simultaneous 4-point CUBE, not cylinder. This has long been suppressed by EVIL academic. If ignorant of the almighty Enchilada Cube Creation Truth, you deserve to be killed.
posted by Spike at 1:27 AM on December 22, 2006 [2 favorites]


I think it depends if they mean pass as in overtake, like passing on the left on the highway. Or pass as in walk by someone walking at you, which personally I would do on the right sticking with the driving theme.

Umm, they mean walk by someone walking at you, hence the "right shoulder to right shoulder" bit. If you were overtaking somebody, it would be "right shoulder to left shoulder" :)
posted by antifuse at 3:37 AM on December 22, 2006


Why is smooth peanut butter cheaper than nutty?

I guess because nutty peanut butter actually contains peanuts whereas smooth peanut butter only contains flavors which are not made from real peanuts and therefore the smooth butter much cheaper.
posted by donut at 4:00 AM on December 22, 2006


999,000,000,000,001
posted by chillmost at 4:04 AM on December 22, 2006


On stepping to the left/right.
I once worked in a concert hall that had floor-to-ceiling mirrors on a few walls in the public areas leading to the theater. The space was used to congregate (and smoke!) during intermission.

It often happened that a person was distracted, and walking toward a mirror. Some part of said person's brain would notice his reflection, and react. So, immediately before colliding with the mirror, the distractee would step to the side (to let the reflection pass).
posted by hexatron at 4:36 AM on December 22, 2006


I GOT THEM ALL!
posted by Postroad at 5:38 AM on December 22, 2006


Given the exchange and dispersion of matter, how likely is it/how often do we inhale/consume and/or incorporate into our own protein structure molecules that were once in some historical figure, say Abraham Lincoln?

I remember this one from early elementary school in the early 70's. At least one teacher declaimed this in tones of awe.

I think they were trying to get us to live up to our George Washington molecules. This was before we found out the cherry tree story was a myth, and that he caused the French and Indian War (and the Seven Years War) by murdering a Frenchman. Although, come to think of it, murdering the French seems to be back in style, unfortunately.
posted by QIbHom at 5:53 AM on December 22, 2006


When we are approaching another person, like in a hallway, why do we step to our left? That is, try and pass right-shoulder-to-right-shoulder.

It's much easier in England. Avoid all eye-contact and pretend the person doesn't exist. The person with the stronger imagination gets the right of way.
posted by srboisvert at 6:51 AM on December 22, 2006


Are UFOs confirmed to be from other Alien Planets?

No. No one who has been abducted by a UFO has been credible enough to provide confirmation.
posted by googly at 7:05 AM on December 22, 2006


• Why is grilled chicken tasting increasingly rubbery and odd?
Read the label on the package. See what percent of the chicken is actually injected water/broth/flavorings. I've seen it as high as 15%. It makes for one overly juicy and suspicious-tasting bird. Really. The chicken no longer tastes like chicken.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:32 AM on December 22, 2006


and finally septillions (yotta-)

We are the wad of dough!

Why is smooth peanut butter cheaper than nutty?

I feel dirty answering a joke with an answer, but:

Because chunky is smooth with peanut bits added back to it in an extra processing step.

I'll tell you what comes after 999 trillion. 999 trillion + some infinitesimally small and probably irrational real number.

noahpoah, meet ε.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:09 AM on December 22, 2006


• i need more money.....what business can i start that will not take a lot of time...i have internet access daily...........and i have saturday morning free before 12 noon to run around. i work from 7am to 9:30 pm..............

Drug dealing and prostitution spring to mind.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:51 AM on December 22, 2006


The Explainer will answer one of these questions in an upcoming column. Please send your pick to ask_the_explainer@yahoo.com. Your e-mail should have the subject line "Explainer Question of the Year."

I say we vote for the hooker one.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:54 AM on December 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


Given the exchange and dispersion of matter, how likely is it/how often do we inhale/consume and/or incorporate into our own protein structure molecules that were once in some historical figure, say Abraham Lincoln?

Inhale Einstein by Seattle's Acoustinauts
posted by Tube at 11:15 AM on December 22, 2006


I'll tell you what comes after 999 trillion. 999 trillion + some infinitesimally small and probably irrational real number.

Actually, no number comes immediately after 999 trillion. For any arbitrarily small number that you can add to 999 trillion, there is a smaller one. And ε, as I understand, doesn't denote a particular number the way that π or e does.
posted by squarehead at 11:47 AM on December 22, 2006


It is almost 100% certain that you share some atoms that used to be part of Abraham Lincoln.

I'm not sure about this, but I don't have enough physics/ecology to make a real argument. There is an arbitrarily large number of atoms on the Earth. Relative to that unimaginably huge number, there is an arbitrarily small number of atoms that once were a part of any given organism, whatever being "part" comes to. Unless biological atomic turnover were ridiculously ridiculously high, there's no way the percent chance would be anywhere close to 100 percent-there are just too many atoms and not enough of them pass through me in my lifetime to be so confident. And biological turnover certainly is high, but I don't think that it's near high enough.

Think about it this way. If the argument works for Abe Lincoln, then it should work for anyone, right? There's nothing biologically special about Lincoln. So if the argument works, there's a near 100 percent chance that you share some atoms with everyone who ever lived-or at least everyone who died within a certain proximity of you at least X number of years ago, or something like that. And that seems wildly implausible. But maybe I'm wrong; do any experts want to offer an argument?
posted by Kwine at 1:11 PM on December 22, 2006


Working in my yard yesterday, I killed a gnat in my ear canal, where it had flown. I couldn't remove the body as my finger was too fat. What happens to it now?

Gross-but-true story...a fly flew into my grandmother's ear and died, and her body calcified around it making her deaf in that ear (or very nearly so). When she went into the doctor to deal with the cancer that ultimately killed her the doc offered to remove it but she couldn't be bothered, so she and the fly were cremated together and are now buried in an urn in the bank of a small creek in rural Canada.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:19 PM on December 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


Are UFOs confirmed to be from other Alien Planets?

as opposed to this alien planet?
posted by altman at 2:14 AM on December 23, 2006


Okay. This thread is pretty much dead now, and I'm not really correcting what I said above, but when I wrote that, I didn't know about the definable, countably saturated, elementary extension of the reals known as the hyperreal numbers. So I'm not sure why I'm adding this, but I am.
posted by squarehead at 7:24 PM on December 29, 2006


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