Question: What's the biggest ever of all Earth's creatures?
Answer: The mammoth blue whale at around 120 tons, equaling the weight of 1,600 150-pound people, or 120 midsize cars, or 20 African elephants. It would have taken two large Brachiosaurus dinosaurs, at 50+ tons each, to rival one whale, whose tongue alone weighs as much as an elephant and heart as much as a car. Whales are seafarers, able to haul around so much mass because the buoyancy force of water largely negates gravity. In fact, a beached whale rests so heavily on its lungs it is slowly strangled to death.
Question: If you're ever tempted to fudge data on a lab report, expense account or tax return, there's a powerful tool called Benford's Law ready-made to trip you up. To know it is to avoid its bite. Know it?
Answer: Also called the "Law of First Digits," it goes like this: In lists of "amorphous" data such as expenses, gas or electricity bills, stock market quotations, populations of cities, areas of rivers, baseball stats, etc., FIRST DIGITS OF ENTRIES are most likely to be a 1, 2 or 3 (30 percent of the time, 18 percent, 12 percent respectively). Far fewer entries begin with 7, 8, or 9 (about 5 percent for each).
This is a startling finding — you'd expect an equal distribution 1 thru 9 — first noted in the late 1800s but still not fully understood. You can demonstrate this to yourself by a rundown of addresses in a phone book: Roughly 60 percent begin with a 1, 2 or 3 (1600 Pennsylvania Ave., 1 Downing St.), few with a 7, 8 or 9. (This does NOT apply in the case of truly random numbers like lottery picks or for highly organized numbers like phone numbers.)
So subtle is Benford's Law that many fraudsters are leaving telltale digit tracks, as when one insurance claims agent was reportedly caught with too many first 4s in his reports — from inflating claims into the $400s even as he stayed under the $500 cutoff requiring report to superiors.
Question: How to leap from a brakes-failed car that's headed for a train or cliff?
Answer: Try the emergency brake to slow you a little, then leap backward through the opened door at an angle to clear the car, say Joshua Piven et al. in "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook." This will reduce your speed with respect to the ground. Tuck in head, arms, legs, aim for anything softer than pavement, then roll, roll, roll.
"Stuntpeople wear pads and land in sandpits. You won't have this luxury, but anything that gives a bit when the body hits it will minimize injury."
Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at email@example.com