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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 21:56 GMT
What mysteries of life intrigue you?
Have you ever wondered why large items like brazil nuts always rise to the top of the muesli packet?

Researchers at the University of Chicago say it may be that when the packet is shaken, the larger bits get stranded at the top. Only the smaller bits are able to fall to the bottom down the thin gaps at the sides of the pack.

Experiments have also been done in the past to establish why toast always lands buttered-side down. It's thought to be because the toast is never dropped from a sufficient height that would let it rotate fully before reaching the floor.

What other puzzles would you like to have explained? HAVE YOUR SAY

Is the earth spinning faster on its axis?

Linda Ferguson, Zimbabwe
Why does each decade take a different amount of time to complete? From 0 to 10 years old goes slowly; from 10 to 20 takes ages; from 20 to 30 quick - and then the acceleration really kicks in. Is the earth spinning faster on its axis?
Linda Ferguson, Zimbabwe

Why do 24-hour shops have locks?
Rob, UK

Insurance companies happily take our money to line their pockets, but why do they make it as hard as possible when we need to make a claim?
Geoff, UK

How does a cow know it's not a butterfly dreaming it is a cow?
Mark, Australia


Why is Bart Simpson the same age despite having had at least 3 birthdays on the show?

Josh, UK
Why don't US and UK forces use the hide and seek method to find Bin Laden - pull out all troops and talk about something else until he thinks the coast is clear, then when he comes out assassinate him? Also why is Bart Simpson the same age despite having had at least 3 birthdays on the show?
Josh, UK

To Rt, Kenya, people are usually quiet in elevators because the walls are so much closer: they can hear how loud/ pompous/ pretentious they sound, feel embarrassed and shut up!
Frank, Basingstoke, England

Why are people usually quiet in elevators?
Rt, Kenya

If humans evolved from monkeys, why is it that monkeys still exist?
Paul E, UK

To Paul, UK, the answer is that humans did not evolve from monkeys but that they both evolved from a common ancestor. That is why monkeys are still around!
Jane, Wales, UK

To Paul E, UK: evolutionary theory suggests that humans and monkeys had common ancestors, *not* that humans evolved from monkeys.
Nigel, UK


Why am I writing this when I could be in the pub?

John, UK
Why am I sat here writing this at 7:30PM when I could be in the pub having a pint?
John, UK

Can God make such a heavy stone that He cannot lift it by Himself? Will we still be calling Him 'omnipotent'?
Prashant Mishra, USA

Why is it that when you go to park your car in a totally empty car park (or parking lot) someone ALWAYS pulls in next to your vehicle?
Dee, USA

Do sock monsters exist?
Shazbah, UK


Whenever I heard their slogan -"Why don't you go and do something less boring instead" - I took them up on their argument

John McVey, Scotland
Why did people ever watch the kids television show, "Why Don't You"? Whenever I heard their slogan -"Why don't you go and do something less boring instead" - I took them up on their argument.
John McVey, Scotland

Why are (old) ladies fascinated by bathrooms?
Peter, Finland

What does an occasional table do the rest of the time?
Ray Toots, Horsham, England

Why do Americans and many other nationalities of the world drive on the right? At least we can say that, before cars there were horses and as most people are right handed it was more common to pass on the left in order to keep your stronger (sword) hand next to the oncoming riders.
Ron Williams, UK

Ron Williams asks why so mant countries drive on the right. Two words:
1.Napoleon
2.Vanity
Jim H, UK

Ron Williams - I've heard a theory on this one, yes it does centre around the way battles were fought on horseback. When cavalry units charged at each other they would wheel to the left to bring the sword arm into action. A general trained his cavalry to wheel right instead and the next battle was won decisively as the opposition couldn't cope with the new tactic. Perhaps other contributors can confirm if this was a ploy used by the French or some other European nation. I'd like to know if there is a scientific reason why I find driving on the right more natural than driving on the left. Admittedly this is on a motorcycle so there is no problem with the steering wheel being on the other side. I've been driving in the UK for over 25 years yet find it takes longer to re-adjust to driving on the left on my return than the reverse.
Mike Parker, England

Are the words 'lisp' and 'stutter' cruelly designed to be difficult for the afflicted person to pronounce?
Lou, UK

How does the non-stick material stick to the pan?
Liam, UK

Why does the phone ring as soon as I get in the shower? Why does somebody knock on the door just as I go to the loo? In these days of "equality" why do the majority of women still get the house, kids, car etc after a divorce even when they are the ones who have been unfaithful?
David, UK

Many of the questions here are about sod's law - why does the 'phone ring when I'm in the shower, why do toothaches happen when dentists are closed etc. The answer is that we select those particular events for focus, and ignore the times when what happens is not frustrating. This is because we have an innate belief in some sort of a God, and tend to take events personally.
Jo, UK

What colour is a mirror?
Simon Miles, UK

Why is a "computer error" always invoked when something goes wrong in a computer system? 99 times out of 100, the error is due to operators or computer analysts like me, not to the poor computer itself!
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

Why do insurance companies give you some dazzling logic when it comes to replacing items stolen during burglaries? My very expensive guitar was considered old - it was 25 years old; applying some pro rating process they gave me something around 1/20 of its market value. I asked if age is your criteria to establish value, how much should a 300 year old Stradivarius be worth?...No answer
Gerry, Canada

Why are my trains always running late, yet when I'm running late they are on time and I miss them?
Adrian, UK


What the heck do women want?

Guru S., USA
Can science explain the question even Sigmund Freud couldn't answer: What the heck do women want? Also, can science prove God exists?
Guru S., USA

Why are all the pigeons, all over the world, the same size? Don't they have any babies or OAPs (old age pigeons)? And where do they bury their dead? I've never seen any corpses in Trafalgar Square or any other square in any city.
T. Dar, Sharjah, U.A.E.

Why are we still so fascinated by the so-called Roswell UFO incident and what is the latest official line on it. Why is it that whenever there is a dramatic event in the heavens, such as the meteor shower of Nov 18th, the sky is obscured by clouds?
Gummidge, Somerset, England

Why do stores give you a slush puppie with all that ice water when all you really want is that sweet sweet syrup?
Roberto, Canada


Why does my Mum always phone me when I have just sat down to eat my dinner?

Paula, UK
Why does my Mum always manage to phone me when I have just sat down to eat my dinner? Has she a psychic link to my oven? Is this normal Mum behaviour?
Paula, UK

Why does time go so fast when you are close to exams, why doesn't time always go slow, I see no reason for it to go any faster? We could enjoy the good times so much more?
Paul, Australia

If the universe is expanding and the universe is all there is, what is it expanding into?
Len, Finland (ex UK)

To Len, Finland: The universe is not expanding *into* anything. You only expect the concept of "expanding into" because you are only familiar with situations in which space is a constant - where there is always "space" to "expand into". The fact is that the universe *is* space, and it therefore cannot both *be* space and expand *into* space at the same time. We have to think of the stuff outside of the universe like an equation or something else non-spatial, otherwise our minds will make these misconceptions.
Rob Harris, UK

Why do fast food outlets always forget your extra serving of supersized fries? And why is this not discovered until you're about two miles down the road?
Stephen, UK

Why do people listen to grunge music?
Chris Cormier, Canada

If a tree falls in the forest, with no one around to hear, does it make a sound?
Alison, UK

To Alison, UK: Sound is the interpretation of air waves (just like water waves, but in the air!) by a brain. The air waves are detected by an ear and translated into "sound" by the brain. If there is no ear with a brain within range, there can be no translation from the air wave into "sound". So in conclusion, if nobody is around to hear the tree, it makes no sound.
Rob Harris, UK

If a man is standing in the forest and he says something and there is not a woman there to hear him, is he still wrong.
Gerry, Scotland


Why do people stop everything to answer the phone?

Tele Com, New Zealand
Why do people stop everything to answer the phone? A client is interviewed when the phone rings, he/she is completely ignored while the other person answers the phone. Wouldn't it be fairer to have telephone appointments as well?
Tele Com, New Zealand

Why couldn't the kids on Scooby Doo figure out that the villain was always the person(s) they met in passing at the beginning of each episode?
Robert, USA

Why do ladies always wait until they are stationary at their front door before starting to look for their keys? And why do they unfailingly wait until they've reached the front of a long checkout queue before trying to locate their money in the murky depths of a deep handbag?
Chris B, England

Why does a toothache always happen on a Saturday or Sunday when all dentists are closed?
Suzanne McMillan, Belfast, N Ireland


If you fix a slice of toast, butter side up, to the back of a cat it will make a perpetual motion machine

Peter, Cambridge, UK
Toast always lands buttered side down. Cats always land on their feet. If you fix a slice of toast, butter side up, to the back of a cat, what happens when the cat falls to the floor? Some say it will spin rapidly just above the floor and can be used to make a perpetual motion machine.
Peter, Cambridge, UK

If you strapped a buttered piece of toast to the back of a cat, would the two items hover?
Andy Spratt, Bristol, UK

Ah, the great mysteries of life! Why do we park in a driveway and drive on the parkway? And which did come first, the chicken or the egg??
Molli, USA

Why are rabbits not green? The camouflage effect could be devastatingly useful.
Peter, Cambridge, UK

Frank Hollis and Chris B - Thanks for answering my question. I'm glad you both actually understood what I was asking, since the other respondents clearly didn't. Does this mean that I can now claim to be related to Barbra Streisand?
Terra, England

If you work on the basis that your ancestors produced offspring roughly every 25 years so that every 25 years you go back the number of ancestors you have doubles (two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents etc.) then this means that 1,000 years ago you had 1,099,511,627,776 ancestors. If you go back much further then you'll have more ancestors than there are people on the planet. This doesn't seem logical but my head hurts when I try to think about it.
Terra, England

Terra from England: That conundrum was solved a long time ago. The reason there aren't more ancestors than offspring is because we share our ancestors with other people. Your brothers and sisters do not each have their own separate lineage, after all.
Eden Alvernaz, USA

Eden Alvernaz, USA: That isn't what I was asking. I was talking about just my ancestors. If my ancestors double every 25 years you go back (and I don't mean cumulatively) then you'll end up with more ancestors than there were people on the planet.
Terra, England

To Terra: Eden did in fact answer your question. You do not have 'your' ancestors, as they are shared by a lot of other people. All families are 'old' families. You cannot separate out your ancestors from someone else's as they are shared. That is precisely why the numbers don't work out the way you say.
Arri London, EU/US

Terra - with regards to your ancestors - yes there would be more people than currently on the planet, however they are dead and did not live at the same time so do not make up a total of the population. The world is after all thousands of years old so there will be many many more people having inhabited the planet than currently live on it.
CK, UK

Terra, England. That's an easy one. As you trace your family tree back you'll find it crosses over regularly. So your mother and father may each have had the same great-great (repeat 10 times) -great grandfather. Indeed scientists have determined that we all share one particular individual as an ancestor - known as the 'Mitochondrial Eve'.
Frank Hollis, UK

Terra, England: the answer to your question is inbreeding. By way of an example: if you take the population of a small and isolated island and theorise about the number of their ancestors 20 generations ago, you might find they should have been stacked 5 deep the length and breadth of the island. In-breeding across and between previous generations greatly retards the logarithmic increase in the number of our ancestors and helps us make the most of our available space!
Chris B., England

Why do grown adults think Jar Jar Binks was created for them?
Steve B, Scotland

Why do birds suddenly appear? Were they hiding or waiting for you? Is this some sort of private joke between you and the birds?
Michael, UK in NY, USA


When the person inventing the drawing board made a mistake, where did he go back to?

Martin, England, UK
If Murphy's law can go wrong, will it? When the person inventing the drawing board made a mistake, where did he go back to? Why is abbreviation such a long word? Is there a club called "extroverts anonymous"? If a pear messes up, what shape does it go?
Martin, England, UK

Why does any computer system access information at half the usual speed when you have a customer on the phone? Why can you never type straight when someone is watching what you are doing? Why does the boss always stop by your desk when there's something marginal on screen?
Ian W, UK

Why is the road always clear while you're getting into the car, and putting your seatbelt on, but incredibly busy the moment you start to back out of the driveway?
Peter, UK

Why do people stay on the middle lane of the motorway, doing 50 mph when the inside lane is empty?
Jacky, UK

When we travel, why do we go "down South" yet "up to London". And also why is there only one monopolies Commission?
Colin Mackay, UK

In the early days of the railways the up line was the one to London, hence going up to London
Chris Haywood, UK

I am always mystified at the immense lengths that some car drivers will go to, to gain a few seconds or take a short cut, but will make no effort at all to secure their children in the back of the car.
Frank Morison, England

Why do the buttons on telephones start with '1 2 3' on the top row, but on calculators they start with '1 2 3' on the bottom row? Why can't they be configured the same?
Peter Speakman, UK


Why does hot water freeze faster than cold water?

Graham, UK
Why does your new appliance always break down, two days after the warranty expires? And why does hot water freeze faster than cold water? Surely at some point the hot water will get to the same temperature as the cold and they will freeze at the same rate from that point on?
Graham, UK

To Graham: Hot water has less oxygen, oxygen slows the freezing process
Paul, Wales

To Paul, it's got nothing to do with Oxygen content. H2O is H2O, the only difference between hot and cold is that in hot the H2O molecules are bouncing around much faster. Hot water freezes more quickly than cold water because if you place them in say, a fridge, there is a much steeper temperature gradient between the hot water and the fridge than between the cold water and the fridge. This causes a much more rapid heat transfer from the water to the fridge! It's got nothing to do with chemistry, its just thermodynamics.
B Roberts, UK

To B Roberts, UK: The only portion of thermal dynamics involved in the hot water freezing first, is the extent of the hot water forming a temporarily melted bridge to the surrounding areas in which the containment vessel is in contact with. It therefore has a much more efficient transfer of thermal energy. Conduction vs. convection? I may be wrong.
Glenn, USA

To B Roberts: It is impossible for it to be true that something hot can freeze before something cold does. Just because the temperature gradient is steeper, it does not mean that it will reach the temperature quicker. By the logic you give, you would expect the reverse of this to be true too. A frozen meal should cook faster than a meal that has been kept in the fridge - because there is a greater temperature difference and therefore steeper gradient. This obviously does not happen!
Sam R, UK

To Graham, UK et al. Regarding the problem of hot water freezing faster than cool water. It's A-level physics. The solution is in the initially dominant form of heat transport, that is evaporation or conduction. If we use a thermally insulated open container then, initially, the dominant form of heat transport is evaporation.

The effect of evaporation is two fold, firstly the liquid cools, secondly the mass of liquid is reduced. The level of evaporation from a hot liquid is higher than from a cool liquid. So the hot liquid cools rapidly AND the mass of liquid is significantly reduced. On the other hand evaporation is low from the cool liquid, so the liquid cools slowly and maintains a relatively constant mass. As the mass of the initially hot liquid has been reduced it has proportionately less thermal energy to dissipate, so continues to cool at a faster rate. Thus hot water, under certain conditions, can freeze faster than cool water.
Greg, UK


Why do outside news reporters adopt strangely affected intonations?

Brian, Wales
Why do outside news reporters adopt strangely affected intonations while those in the studio speak normally?
Brian, Wales

Toast fall butter side down because in the time it takes to fall from the desk to the floor it can only rotate 180. If however desks were twice as high toast would land dry side down. Try pushing a piece of toast off with the buttered side touching the plate.
Andrew C, England

If exceptionally a slice of buttered toast falls on the floor buttered side up, does that mean that it was buttered on the wrong side?
Peter, Netherlands

How come no-one has minted a 99p coin? Everything seems to cost 1.99, 2.99, 99p. Just think of the copper it would save.
Richard H, UK


The world had a beginning so, apparently did the universe (big bang). But there must be an ultimate 'space' in which our universe exists that just 'is'

Roger Sayer, USA
We live in a world of starts and finishes, beginnings and ends, births and deaths. The world had a beginning so, apparently did the universe (big bang). But there must be an ultimate 'space' in which our universe exists that just 'is'. It didn't have a beginning and may not have an end. How can anything exist without being created from something bigger? This thought is totally baffling to me. My brain just cannot conceive the idea.
Roger Sayer, USA

To Roger Sayer: the reality of this situation is quite depressing. Things do what they do and only what they do. Us humans perceive our surroundings in a way that has proved useful to our survival as the gene-vessels we are. Our function is not to understand all about the universe, at this stage of our development at least. No doubt a cat perceives things differently, has different concepts that it's mind will attempt to apply to what it perceives. The point is that we may never get an answer to our question, because like a cat wondering of the sun "can i kill it?", the difficulty lies in the unsuitability of the question. We may have come to a head in terms of our ability to understand the universe in our current state. Perhaps it is time to look at ourselves before we once again move forward "out there"...
Rob Harris, UK

To Roger Sayer, USA, scientists and quantum physicists have been wrestling with that same problem; they refer to it as the turtle syndrome; the creation of the earth is one turtle sitting on top of another that was the big bang that sits on top of another that was an even bigger bang. However, the scientists and the physicists cannot get to the turtle at the bottom and guess what, some are starting to believe in a superior being that created everything.
Gerry, Scotland

Gerry, Scotland - any idea what created the supreme being? Another supreme being? To follow the "turtle" theory will scientists get to the supreme being at the bottom? Can't stop I'm about to try my paw at killing the sun.
Mike Parker's cat, England

Why do people stand by pedestrian crossings without pressing the button? And also, Gerry - nice stuff about the turtles. But where did the "supreme being" come from then?
Jake Hadlee, UK

To Jake Hadlee: That is a phenomenon generally observed in London. It's due to the fact that there is no discernible correlation between pushing the button and having the light change in the pedestrian's favour. Most of the crossings I've tested (yes on my own time without pay - I'm such a dedicated scientist) exhibit a seemingly random pattern of changing lights. The buttons are only there to give the pedestrians something to do while waiting for a break in traffic.
Arri, London, UK/US

How is it that we can put a man on the moon, but back on planet earth we're reduced to clawing and shredding the first ten meters of the toilet paper roll?
Shane, USA

Why do people have to "spend" more to "save" money?
Frank, Aruba

Why can't I write my essay on time for once, instead of procrastinating by reading BBC Talking Point debates?
Hannah, Oxford, UK

Hannah in Oxford asks why she can't write her essay on time for once instead of procrastinating by reading these debates. The answer is "because she is human". Never put off until tomorrow that which you can put off until next week.
Jenny, Durham, UK

Who finances scientists to conduct such meaningless research?
Gill, UK

Why does food always stick to the non-stick pans when my mother-in-law is coming to dinner?
Caron, England

Why do cups always have the handle on the right-hand side?
And where can I get one of those baseball hats with a peak at the back?
Chris B., England

Why I am able to fathom out the functions on a brand new remote control, operate a computer (and keep it perfectly maintained) and open a 'tetrapak' carton of milk without spilling any of the contents in a shorter space of time than a man...
May Kewlaff, UK


If you can be disgruntled - can you be gruntled?

Adrian Hancox, USA (From Coventry!)
If you can be disgruntled - can you be gruntled? Also - we have drive-thru cashpoints over here - why do the buttons also have braille on them?
Adrian Hancox, USA (From Coventry!)

Why is it more socially acceptable to be warm than to have fresh air e.g. sitting on a crowded, stuffy bus in the winter with all the windows shut? After all, we're all wearing our coats, aren't we?
Richard, UK

Why do helicopter captains sit in the right (starboard) seat, while airplane captains sit in the left (port)?
Mark M Newdick, US/UK


When a stream of people are going through one half of a two-door entrance or exit, why do people wanting to go the other way stand by the closed door and wait for them?

John B, UK
When a stream of people are going through one half of a two-door entrance or exit, why do people wanting to go the other way stand by the closed door and wait for them? Am I really the only person alive with the sense to OPEN the remaining door and go through it? And when I do, why does everyone look at me as if I'm the idiot?
John B, UK

Why doesn't my girlfriend understand me?
Why does a brown cow give white milk when it only eats green grass?
Why do fools fall in love?
Why do birds sing so gay?
What becomes of the broken hearted?
If I pull my nose and my leg falls off, is that wrong?
Simon Hasard, Yemen

Why do people always say where they are when they answer their mobile phones?
Why do advertisers make choosing a brand of toothpaste seem like a life altering decision?
Whatever happened to Sigue Sigue Sputnik?
Jamie, UK


A lifetime of study and bemusement awaits you my son

Richard N, UK
Women. A lifetime of study and bemusement awaits you my son.
Richard N, UK

Where do scientists get the money to perform this pointless research?
Guy Chapman, UK

Why do we always cheer on the underdog who's never going to win?
Alex Banks, UK, living in Ireland

Why are all goldfish called 'Bob', according to the other fish in the tank? (think about it...)
Caroline, UK

The Professor on Gilligans Island could make a working telephone out of a coconut. Why couldn't he fix a hole in a boat?
Robert del Valle, USA

When I begin to drill in a hard material such as tempered steel, the shallow dimple that the bit initially makes is often tri-modal, i.e. somewhat resembles a flower with three petals. The bits I use are of the usual, two-threaded twisted variety. So why the three modes?
Leszek Luchowski, Poland

Why are dusters always yellow?
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

Why does the cat wait until you are just about to go to the loo before coming to sit on your lap? Why does he insist on seeing the outside world from the back door just after establishing that it is raining when observing from the window? Why is a spread-out newspaper or magazine of no interest to him until you start reading it - then he sits on the bit you are reading?

To answer Graham's first question: appliances are built to specs that include such parameters as build cost and MTBF; these and others are tweaked to maximise profit. A similar principle applies to non-availability of spare parts, and forcing users into buying upgrades. The disposable society has much to answer for!
P, UK

Why do people like P, UK assume we all know what MTBF means. My guess is "Meant To Baffle Female". And why are things built to spectacles anyway?
Jenni, Bristol, England

Why, why, why is Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode II after ruining Episode I? Does George Lucas have a death wish?
Chris, UK

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15 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Why brazils always end up on top
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