Ever have a question occur to you that you just know there's no obvious, ready answer to?
Something like, "Why do they have brail markings on drive up ATMs" or, "What are those black specks on corn chips?"
Then you've dreamed up an imponderable.
Author David Feldman is out with the tenth in his series of "Imponderables" books, "Do Elephants Jump?"
He offered answers to that and many similar trivial, sometimes maddening questions to viewers of The Early Show.
What makes a question an imponderable, wonders Tracy Smith. Feldman says, "An imponderable is any question whose answer can't be found in a book. If I can find the answer in a book, I don't write about it."
He add, "The closest we come to something not being an imponderable in this book is. 'Why do beavers build dams?' But after looking in book after book, I found that the books all talk about them building dams, but assume you know why they do it. So, it got added to this book."
Where do the imponderable questions come from? People used to write to him by snail mail, but now, most of the questions are e-mailed to him. He has a very active imponderables Web site.
Feldman says, the two most frequently asked questions are the one about brail and ATMs and, "Why are snooze alarms programmed to let you snooze for nine minutes?"
So what are the answers to these imponderables?
Feldman points out that, if you think about it, there are some ATMs that people walk to, so they don't necessarily only cater to sighted drivers. But the real reason is that the American Disabilities Act mandates signage for the disabled. And, from a practical point of view, ATMs are manufactured uniformly: All of them are alike. It's too expensive to make some for drive-up windows and some not. It doesn't make sense.
The snooze alarm question remains something of a mystery for Feldman. He says you can't actually talk to the manufacturer of a clock radio. All the companies that make the clocks are overseas. So, that leaves him talking to engineers who hypothesize on why the alarms are setr for nine-minute snooze intervals. He still doesn't really have a definitive answer.
As for the black specks on corn chips, tortillas and tortilla chips mystery, Feldman explains that each kernel of corn has a hilum, sort of an umbilical cord where the kernel attaches to the cob. The kernel gets nutrients through the hilum while in grows. As the corn grows, the color of the hilum changes from no color to light green, light brown and finally to black. Chip makers use more mature corn to produce their chips. Hence, you see the black spots, which are the remains of the hilum.
Some other "Imponderables" in the book:
WHY ARE THE SPRINKLES PUT ON ICE CREAM CALLED JIMMIES?
Feldman did a lot of research on this and finally discovered the answer at the "Just Born" factory. Jimmies were invented by the Just Born company in 1930. Samuel Born was a Russian immigrant who invented the machine that inserted sticks in lollipops, the machine that coats chocolate on ice cream and the extruder that makes Easter "peeps." Jimmies were invented at the Just Born factory and named after an employee, Jimmy Bartholomew, who worked the chocolate pellet machine. Jimmies used to be offered for free at ice cream parlors. The "Just Born" company no longer manufactures jimmies. Feldman says "jimmies" tends to be a word used in the northeastern part of the United States, while "sprinkles" is used in other parts of the country.
WHAT LETTERS DOES CAMPBELL'S INCLUDE IN ALPHABET SOUP IN COUNTRIES THAT DON'T USE OUR ALPHABET? (such as Greece, Israel and Egypt)
Feldman says it's amazing when you try to track down some of these answers because the companies themselves don't always know why their product is the way it is. Sometimes, there is no institutional memory and no one actually knows the answer. At which point Feldman has to search elsewhere for answers. After research, Feldman discovered that "alphabet soup" is only sold in North America. There is no cyrillic alphabet soup.
WHY DO THIMBLES HAVE HOLES?
Feldman says the holes are there to catch the needle and prevent it from slipping. Pretty simple. And, professional seamstresses often use thimbles that are open on top, to allow for long fingernails.
WHY IS SALT SOLD IN ROUND CONTAINERS?
Morton salt is the leader in salt sales. Initially, salt was sold in bags, then boxes. There was a problem with the salt clumping because of moisture. Then they discovered that adding magnesium carbonate to absorb moisture solved that problem. But, salt tended to get stuck in the corner of boxes, so the company came up with a round container. It costs more and that cost gets passed on to the consumer. But, all other salt companies have copied the round shape to sell salt. Morton sells salt in bulk to institutions in other kinds of containers.
WHY DOES ORANGE JUICE TASTE SO AWFUL AFTER YOU'VE BRUSHED YOUR TEETH?
Feldman says this happens because they add mint to toothpaste and with orange juice that's a "bad sensory mix." He thinks the real ingredient in toothpaste is SLS, which is a chemical added to make it foam up and make you think there's something really effective going on with your toothpaste. SLS reduces your ability to taste anything too sweet or too salty.
WHY DO POLICE OFFICERS HOLD FLASHLIGHTS WITH AN OVERHAND GRIP?
Feldman says the main reason policemen use that "weird grip" is that they can then also use it as a weapon. And if you're searching a car it would be awkward. You'd have to bend down to use it underhanded.
WHY ARE NEW CDs RELEASED ON TUESDAYS?
Feldman says that's so that all the stores selling them get them on the same day. Stores at the end of the line who receive their shipment late in the day lose one selling day. So, to keep an even playing field, CDs are released on Tuesdays and delivered on Mondays.
THE FOLLOWING ARE EXCERPTS FROM "DO ELEPHANTS JUMP?"
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
DO ELEPHANTS JUMP?
We talked to a bunch of elephant experts and none of them has ever seen an elephant jump. Most think it is physiologically impossible for a mature elephant to jump, although baby elephants have been known to do so, if provoked. Not only do mature elephants weigh too much to support landing on all fours, but their legs are designed for strength rather than leaping ability. Mark Grunwald, who has worked with elephants for more than a decade at the Philadelphia Zoo, notes that elephant's bone structure makes it difficult for them to bend their legs sufficiently to derive enough force to propel the big lugs up.
Yet there are a few sightings of elephants jumping in the wild. Veterinarian Judy Provo found two books in her college library that illustrate the discrepancy. S. K. Ettingham's Elephant lays out the conventional thinking: "… because of its great weight, an elephant cannot jump or even run in the accepted sense since it must keep one foot on the ground at all times." But an account in J. J. William's Elephant Bill describes a cow elephant jumping a deep ravine "like a chaser over a brook."
Animals that are fast runners or possess great leaping ability have usually evolved these skills as a way of evading attackers. Elephants don't have any natural predators, according to the San Diego Wild Animal Park's manager of animals, Alan Rosscroft: "Only men kill elephants. The only other thing that could kill an elephant is a fourteen-ton tiger."
Most of the experts agree with zoologist Richard Landesman of the University of Vermont that there is little reason for an elephant to jump in its natural habitat. Indeed, Mike Zulak, an elephant curator at the San Diego Zoo, observes that pachyderms are rather awkward walkers, and can lose their balance easily, so they tend to be conservative in their movements.
But that doesn't mean that elephants are pushovers. Why bother jumping when you can walk through or around just about everything in your natural habitat? In India, trenching has been the traditional way of trying to control movements of elephants. Veterinarian Myron Hinrichs, of Petaluma, California, notes that the traditional trench has to be at least two meters deep, two meters across at the top, and one and one-half meters across at the bottom to serve as a barrier for elephants:
That tells us that they can't or won't try to jump a distance of 6.5 feet. But these trenches have a high failure rate, for elephants can fill them in, especially in the rainy season, and then walk across the trough they have made. And larger bull elephants can go down through and up even a trench that size.
Why leap when you can trudge?
Submitted by Jena Mori, of Los Angeles, California
WHY WAS HE CALLED THE 'LONE RANGER' WHEN TONTO WAS ALWAYS HANGING AROUND?
the classic western features a lone hero entering a new town and facing a villain who threatens the peacefulness of a dusty burg. The Lone Ranger, on the other hand, came with a rather important backup, Tonto. Leaving aside questions of political correctness or racism, calling the masked man the Lone Ranger is a little like calling Simon and Garfunkel a Paul Simon solo act.
Before we get to the "Lone" part of the equation, our hero actually was a ranger, in fact, a Texas Ranger. The Lone Ranger started as a radio show, first broadcast out of Detroit in 1933, created by George Trendle, and written by Fran Striker. The first episode established that circa 1850, the Lone Ranger was one of six Texas Rangers who were trying to tame the vicious Cavendish Gang. Unfortunately, the bad guys ambushed the Rangers, and all of the Lone Ranger's comrades were killed. The Lone Ranger himself was left for dead. Among the vanquished was the Lone Ranger's older brother, Dan.
So for a few moments, long enough to give him his name, the Lone Ranger really was by himself. He was the lone surviving Ranger, even if he happened to be unconscious at the time. Tonto stumbled upon the fallen hero and, while nursing him back to health, noticed that the Ranger was wearing a necklace that Tonto had given him as a child. Many moons before, the Lone Ranger (who in subsequent retellings of the story we learn was named John Reid) saved Tonto's life! Tonto had bestowed the necklace on his blood brother as a gift.
When Reid regained his bearings, the two vowed to wreak revenge upon the Cavendish Gang and to continue "making the West a decent place to live." Reid and Tonto dug six graves at the ambush site to make everyone believe that Reid had perished with the others, and to hide his identity, the Lone Ranger donned a black mask, made from the vest his brother was wearing at the massacre. Like Jimmy Olsen with Superman, Tonto was the only human privy to the Lone Ranger's secret.
Not that the Lone Ranger didn't solicit help from others. It isn't easy being a Ranger, let alone a lone one, without a horse. As was his wont, Reid stumbled onto good luck. He and Tonto saved a brave stallion from being gored by a buffalo, and nursed him back to health (the first episode of The Lone Ranger featured almost as much medical aid as fighting). Although they released the horse when it regained its health, the stallion followed them and, of course, that horse was Silver, soon to be another faithful companion to L.R.
And would a lonely lone Ranger really have his own, personal munitions supplier? John Reid did. The Lone Ranger and Tonto met a man who the Cavendish Gang tried to frame for the Texas Ranger murders. Sure of his innocence, the Lone Ranger put him in the silver mine that he and his slain brother owned, and turned it into a "silver bullet" factory.
Eventually, during the run of the radio show, which lasted from 1933 to 1954, the duo vanquished the Cavendish Gang, but the Lone Ranger and Tonto knew when they found a good gig. They decided to keep the Lone Ranger's true identity secret, to keep those silver bul-lets flowing, and best of all, to bounce into television in 1949 for a nine-year run on ABC and decades more in syndication.
The Lone Ranger was also featured in movie serials, feature movies, and comic books, and the hero's origins mutated slightly or weren't mentioned at all. But the radio show actually reran the premiere episode periodically, so listeners in the 1930s probably weren't as baffled about why a law enforcer with a faithful companion, a fulltime munitions supplier, and a horse was called "Lone."
Submitted by James Telfer IV of New York, New York.
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.