The Explainer questions we never answered.

Answers to your questions about the news.
Dec. 20 2006 6:07 AM

The Unanswered Questions

Digging through the bottom of the Explainer mailbag.

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It's been a long year for the Explainer. In the past 12 months, we've answered more than 200 questions. The Explainer has revealed that President Bush is shrinking and investigated why Satan smells like rotten eggs. Regular readers have learned how to deliver a professional head butt, what to do when your eyeball falls out of its socket, and how many cell phones can fit up your rear end.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

There's only space to answer a small fraction of the questions that arrive in our in-box. Today, the Explainer offers a glimpse at a few of the 7,000 queries that, for one reason or another, Slate felt ill-equipped or unwilling to answer in 2006.

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And that's not all! We want you, Explainer readers, to let us know which of the questions listed below deserves an answer. The question that gets the most reader votes will be addressed in an upcoming Explainer column. (Editor's note, Dec. 26: Voting for the Explainer Question of the Year is now closed.)

The Explainer's Unanswered Questions From 2006

• What comes after 999 trillion?

• Why do train whistles at night always sound lonely and mournful? Not so in the daytime.

• 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?

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

• Why is smooth peanut butter cheaper than nutty?

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

• What would happen to the stock market if a meteor impacted the earth? What would happen to the global markets and the U.S. market? Say a meteor hits inside U.S. borders and takes out two states.

• Is it possible to collect all the cookie dough in Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream and actually bake cookies from it?

• 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.

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

• 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 have been pondering this situation for as long as I can remember (maybe age 7-8) and it drives me nuts. It makes me feel like my head will implode if I think any harder. Is the universe infinite? It must end somewhere. But when it ends … there must be something on the other side … right?

• 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?

• 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?

• How can I tell if I was the first person to use the term "K-fed-up" in relation to Britney's divorce?

• 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.

• 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.

• Why is grilled chicken tasting increasingly rubbery and odd?

• 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..............

• Just suppose, one day someone wants to sell you an old gold bar. You don't know if it belongs to any treasure, and you can't find out if there is any reward for it, if it was a lost treasure. How would you go about melting it and selling it? The same would go for a gemstone about the size of a dinner plate. How would you go about selling it? If you're living in a country that is corrupt and you cannot trust the government, or anyone else, what can you do?

• Can you tell me how long it will take if you eat rat poison to see if it is going to affect you? Please e-mail me back. Because my niece ate some.

• Hi. I just wanted to know if our eyeballs roll back when we are sleeping (or closed) or do they shake? Or …

• PYGMIES: How/when/where/still in existence/do we mate with them?

• Do dolphins actually save people? If so, why do they do this?

• I have a sister that stresses the hell out of me. For example this one sister out of three knows that I am recovering from a serious car accident. I thank God for saving my life, and healing me each and every day. My question is can a person who complains and talks about the same complaining crap every day stress you completely out? About four days ago I had to tell this one sister (Annie) basically to get a life and stop bugging me with her problems and everybody else's. I reminded her that I am still in a neck brace and healing … I really need to know if a person can really stress you out with the same old thing over and over and over again. PLEASE ANSWER BACK ASAP.

• Can someone be forced to masturbate?

• Why do we make a "lip-smacking" sound when kissing closed-mouth? We do make the sound; it doesn't happen on its own ...

• What's likely to happen to people, or what might they feel, when they're killed instantly?

• Can a state in the United States split into two or more states? If so, how? I think Texas has a special provision for being able to divide into up to five states. But I am wondering about the others.

• I have noticed that a lot of mainstream movies feature men peeing. Are the actors really peeing?

• yea i have my own 620 gang and i dont know how to run it to make not look like a little bitch gang joke it is just me and my friend how do i run it?

• Hi. How did the horse in the movie about dreams make it to not only survive but to win again? Was this movie true?

• 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?

• What is the richest religion? Scientology has a lot of Hollywood stars and I think they actually make their members give money, but Catholicism is a very old religion with its own country. Also, Islam has a lot of members but I don't know about their money situation.

• Is chicken considered meat?

• Hello ... Could you tell me if there's been any kind of medical discovery in the last 30 years besides DNA.

• Are UFOs confirmed to be from other Alien Planets?

• How do you get to write articles for Slate. Do you have to go through a process?

• I met a 40-year-old stripper back in February of this year. We had a special connection. Yet, she was homeless, going through a divorce and bankruptcy. She has three kids who live in Alabama and she pays $500 a month in child support. Moreover, she used cocaine. At one point, she was arrested for forgery. She spent a month in jail but was released under the condition that she become a narc for the police department. She gave the names of her dealers and would wear wires when drug deals were going down. I let her stay at my place and kept food in the refrigerator. This past Monday she took all her clothes, my money, and left. The night before, she hung out with some friends. I called her, and she said I was too good for her. She said she had never been treated so well. She said she would drag me down and she couldn't bear to handle that. I told her my hopes and dreams the night before. I wonder if I scared her off. I don't know what to make of it. I don't know if she met someone else the night before and doesn't want to tell me. It's killing me inside. I cried for her. I really cared for her. Can you give me some advice?