By Gareth Edwards

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Magneto, Margaret Thatcher and Robot Moths

More answers to your questions from the blog that sets out to explain everything in the universe, and other universes too if there’s time left over at the end.

@clangerfan1 asked: Can you explain the correct "hug greeting protocol" when meeting people for the first time?
It’s not really a question of protocol - what you are dealing with are the laws of physics. Two people meeting, like any two bodies with mass, will be drawn together. If unchecked this takes the form of a hug, or if it’s late at night in Glasgow Queen Street Station, a head butt. And yet many encounters result in neither outcome. In her efforts to explain this phenomenon the pioneering bio-physicist Irma Maskald-Fingermaus discovered the sub-atomic particles of awkwardness emitted by people on social occasions, particles which we know today as “hesitons”. Typically one person emitting a single hesiton is enough to delay but not prevent an embrace, but should the first hesiton induce the emission of a second hesiton in the other person, then the two hesitons will repel each other, and cause the emission of further particles creating what bio-physicists call a “negatively-charged atmosphere” containing enough awkwardness to prevent anything but the most stand-offish of handshakes.  A good example of just such a charged atmosphere would be all of Britain.

Jeffrey S. If Margaret Thatcher was the Iron Lady, could Magneto have defeated her?
Actually you are in luck because working in the tradition of that fine art-house classic Alien vs. Predator, I have just finished my screenplay for X-Men vs. Ex-PM. It features the power-crazed antics of the implacable supervillain locked in battle with Magneto, and culminates in a climactic sequence where Magneto throws the entirety of British heavy industry at Thatcher. She successfully destroys it in mid-air and is about to obliterate Magneto forever with a no-nonsense speech about how he doesn’t know the price of butter when Geoffrey Howe’s resignation triggers a leadership ballot and Thatcher implodes. Not suitable for miners.

Nance What is the best method for removing a red wine stain from a white cashmere sweater?
Use scissors to cut carefully around the edge of the stain and then whenever you wear the sweater mutter grumpily about giant robot moths.

@clangerfan1 Why do lightbulbs only burn out when you turn them on (making you jump with their little "bang") instead of dying quietly in the night?
This was a deliberate design feature of old-style lightbulbs and its intention was to increase national creativity by upping the number of lightbulb-related epiphanies, or "lightbulb moments". For example Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do not go gentle…” was inspired by the startled jump he did at the sudden burning-out of a bulb in the Swansea Public Library, causing him to spill his pint. There's concern in poetic circles that the modern shift to longer-lasting low-energy bulbs may reduce serendipitous verse output as it becomes harder and harder to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Grazlewacky Why does gravity seem to go in a generally downwards direction?

While gravity does indeed go straight down in Greenwich, London the further away you get from what is known as  “Greenwich Mean Down” the more gravity shifts, tilting sideways further and further until by the time you get to Australia gravity is going in exactly the opposite direction, and a dropped object will fall up, accelerating higher and higher until it hits the ground. This is because any dropped object falls directly towards the centre of the planet, an arrangement that was the result of a system devised by the Admiralty Board in 1758 to help Royal Navy sailors find where the Earth was during heavy nights out.

That’s all there’s internet for this week, but do keep the questions coming or there’s a danger some of the universe may never be explained.


  1. Particularly EXCELLENT questions this week. Oh, and rather splendid answers too.

  2. Does this mean that the word 'drop' has not entered the Australian lexicon, that it never has and never will? The answer has serious implications of course

  3. Why can TV remote controls only turn the television to & from 'standby' Why can I not use the device designed to control the TV remotely to actually 'switch it off'?

    Also, while we're at it, why do I only ever think of this vitally important issue shortly afer sitting down having forgotten to switch on the tv?

  4. Why does fresh pasta seem to take less time to boil than the dry stuff?

  5. Someone needs to invent the Hesiton Hoover to clear up the hesitons and turn Britain into Italy.

  6. Alack! Why did perfectly lovely words like "betimes," "semovedly," and "peradventure" fall out of daily use in English?