The Explainer questions we never answered in 2007.

Answers to your questions about the news.
Dec. 19 2007 3:36 PM

The Questions We Never Answered in 2007

Digging through the bottom of the Explainer mailbag.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Another year of Explaining is drawing to a close. Over the last 12 months, regular readers of the column learned what to do when confronted by a gun-toting madman, how to fight off a band of bloodthirsty monkeys, whether a racehorse really pees like a racehorse, and why the camera adds 10 pounds.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

But for every reader question we managed to answer, 50 more arrived in the Explainer inbox. By year's end, these numbered in the thousands. Today, the Explainer renews a holiday tradition and presents an assortment of inquiries culled from our voluminous backlog, which Slate felt ill-equipped or unwilling to answer in 2007.

Once again, we'd like you to let us know which of these unanswered questions is most deserving of an answer. The one receiving the most reader votes will be designated Explainer Question of the Year for 2007 and addressed in an upcoming column.

Vote for the Question of the Year button

The Explainer's Unanswered Questions From 2007

• Could you play sports in space, if you had a spacesuit?

• Can a baby get drunk off of nonalcoholic beer?

• Very rare to find a hotel room with a light on the ceiling, they're usually floor lamps or desk lamps. Is there some structural reason for that?

• Mitt Romney is running for president. His father, George Romney, a former governor of Michigan, ran for president in 1968. Is "Mitt" named for the mitten-shape of Michigan?

• How do surface-dwelling fish survive monster sea storms?

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• If I drank a bunch of orange juice, which caused me to get heartburn, then ate a bunch of antacids, would it neutralize the vitamin C, thus providing no benefits from the ingested vitamin? If so, if you ate antacids continually, would you get scurvy?

• I've been looking for information on how the word "dick" became an insult, especially since people still go by the name Dick. Why would anyone choose that name, when it has other meanings?!?!

• Why do male ice skaters have routines that are so feminine in execution? After all these years, there should be some kind of movements on ice that would be more masculine-looking. The gymnastics shows have them.

• Why are some cats softer to the touch than others? Is it possible I have the softest cat in the world?

• In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, he says that Jason Bourne can pack with great economy of space, allowing him to pack much more in a small bag than it would seem. How would one do this, and is it even a real thing?

• Do you have any idea why sporting the moustache was so much more common in the military than in any other job in 19th-century Western countries, and to some extent present-day Western countries?

• If an unscrupulous bar owner was to mix diethylene to, say, whiskey, what would the effect be on the consumer?

• I am an Afro-American woman. I am in my youthful 50s. My hair is strong and a little past the shoulders. I wear it pressed (hot combed or flat iron). It is also a salt-and-pepper color; I get great compliments on it. The problem I have is static. Could you give me some tips on what to use to stop this?

• There was the most beautiful sunset here in Indiana last evening. Would the California fires have anything to do with that?

• I haven't seen this in the news, but perhaps you could explain it anyway. Why do people feel like destroying things when angry?

• Why do most reptiles go to sleep when you rub their bellies? I have done it myself with everything from domestic water dragons to wild alligators, but I heard recently that it is bad for them—and they only appear to be sleeping, when in fact they are having trouble breathing. Is this true?

• Would it be possible to "shoot" someone with "lightning"? Like, a Taser with no electrodes.

• Why do men almost never win on ABC's Wheel of Fortune?

• Are any of the scorpions in central Vietnam deadly? I was stung three times one night, and evacuated to a hospital where doctors said the one that stung me was the only lethal one in Vietnam. Truth or lie?

• Why don't we drop medical waste and nuclear waste into active volcanoes, the "ultimate high-temperature incinerators"?

• Hello. I am an editor and writer and I would like for everyone to change some letters that are now in lowercase to uppercase. An example would be the 18th century to the 18th Century. Where does one go about starting to do this?

• Is it "open sees me" or "open says me"?

• Can dogs be mentally retarded?

• Why don't they build into cars a secret button for police to use, and when these people are trying to get away from police down the freeway and city streets at 100 mph, the following police car could push the button, making the engine on the speeding car stop? Surely there must be some smart person who could make this.

• Why does having a foreign accent make a person seem more attractive?

• How often are presidents born, and how often do they die? Do they die in bunches, or on average every four years?

• When a fly lands on a ceiling, does it execute a barrel roll or an inside loop?

• Is there such a thing as "crazy eyes," where the whites go all the way around the corneas and makes the person look psycho, such as those of runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks and wife-dismemberer Stephen Grant?

• I've always wanted to know why bald heads shine!!!

• Who is Daniel Engbert? I'm sure that I'm spelling his name wrong, but he's one of a few guys that you regularly go to as a reliable source—and I want to know who he is and why he's qualified.

• What infections do viruses and microorganisms suffer from? My guess is none. They only suffer from random mutations and suffering caused (mostly by humans) by chemicals.

• I have been looking for an old movie from about the late '60s. I was born in 1960 and watched it as a little kid. It was a Santa movie and it had the Devil in it. It was like the Devil was trying to stop Christmas. I remember the Devil was wearing red PJs. Santa has a magic powder that would make people sleep. It was a cute movie. Please help.

• What do the SWAT teams do to keep their fitness? Like, do they run for half an hour, or do five pressups?

• If mountains are measured from sea level, then the 12,000-foot peaks in Colorado are only about 7,000 feet above Denver since they lie on a 5,000-foot-high plain. That being so, a one-foot rock lying on the ground becomes a 5,001-foot-high mountain. Do we need to address this differently, if it really matters at all?

• Is it possible in any way to prove that someone was on crack cocaine nine to 10 years ago?

• Why don't long-haired football players, many of them of Polynesian descent, get their tresses tugged during their gridiron clash?

• This may be a dumb question. Most people spell their names as first name, middle initial, and last name. But some people spell their name as initial, given name, and then last name. Is the initial before the given name their first name, and they go by their middle name? Or is the initial before the given name their middle initial? If it is their middle initial, why would you put it before your first name, because then it is not in the middle anymore? It seems like conservatives or Republicans are more likely to list their name starting with an initial.

• What would happen to the rest of the planets and the sun if Jupiter were to explode, or somehow leave our galaxy altogether?

• Which is the best hearing aid? Why are there so many different ones, and are the ones that allow you to hear others' conversations across the room legal?

• When a man lies to his lawyer to obtain a divorce from a wife of 47 years when she is ill and does not even know and cannot defend herself, is this legal, or perjury?

Which of these questions is most deserving of an answer? The one receiving the most reader votes will be designated Explainer Question of the Year for 2007 and addressed in an upcoming column.

Vote for the Question of the Year button

Check out the answer to the 2006 Question of the Year: Can a bar of soap get dirty, or is it self-cleaning because it's soap?