By Gareth Edwards

Monday 28 February 2011

Crows, plum sauce and the moon

More answers to your questions about every why, how, what, whence, wheretofore and whithersoever in the Universe.

When will all grocery stores agree on where, generally, to put the plum sauce?
In 1891 Huey L Dewey, younger brother of Melvil Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal System) devised his revolutionary method for supermarket product arranging, and all the major chains still follow this system. Under Dewey’s system fruit and vegetables go near the door so you can carry them as far as possible squashed under other things, cereals go next to the biscuits, and small chocolate things and magazines you don’t recognize the name of go next to the till. Hence foods from Asia go together, except for rice which goes with pasta, and lentils which go with health food, and organic things from Asia that nevertheless aren’t healthy which go with other organic things, unless they could be used in a barbecue, when they go in Seasonal Goods, or are yellow and/or begin with “p” in which case they go in the baking aisle. You’ll by now see a pattern emerging, and I hope it will be obvious that plum sauce in any supermarket operating under the Dewey system would be equidistant between fruit, pet supplies and treacle.

Where do we go from here?
Way over there, right at the end where it’s quiet. But you’ll have to carry all the towels and the picnic and the inflatables because I’ve got the beach umbrella.

Why is the moon wrong? (it often comes out in the early evening)
The moon isn’t ever wrong, but it is sometimes quite sarcastic. On a bright clear day when you look up and see the faint outline of the moon it is effectively saying “Oh, yeah, ‘cos day is just like so brilliant.” And then if it had hands it would do that sign that means "Whatevers."

Why do birds suddenly appear?
The technique for making birds suddenly appear was devised by Alfred Hitchcock who needed a way to make a large number of spooky birds appear en masse on a perch in the time it took to cut away to a frightened lady.  In the end he devised the following method: a large number of crows had lengths of elastic tied to their feet, then the other end was tied to a school climbing frame or similar. The crows were then tempted to roost there by being shown a short film about shiny keys and road-kill squirrels.  Then when Hitchock wanted to go for a take he would shout “Boo”. The crows would then fly away allowing him a couple of seconds to film the empty perch and then the scared lady (still alarmed by the director’s “boo”). By now the crows would have reached the zenith of their elasticity and been twanged suddenly back on to the branch in time to appear on camera looking extremely cross.

How many constellations aren’t there?
I’m afraid the answer to this is none. They all are.

Hopefully that’s liquidized at least some of the great challenges facing those who thirst after knowledge. It's possible that there might still be a bit of the Universe that remains unexplained, so do keep the questions coming.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Al Capone and the Ministry of Drab Awfulness.

Welcome, dear readers to another scramble through the unmapped cave system of knowledge. I’ve got a torch, a fistful of your questions, and a poorly thought-through metaphor, so it should be fun. Let’s go.

Who would win in a fight between a polar bear, a velociraptor, and Al Capone?
This is an age old conundrum. Aristotle was convinced that the fight would start slowly, with the velociraptor ducking and weaving and occasionally flicking the bear with his tail, and the bear growing increasingly frustrated and trying to lash out while Al Capone ran a book on the whole gruesome proceedings having already “suggested” to the velociraptor that he was going down in the fourth. Marx believed that over the course of the fight the veociraptor and bear would achieve “class consciousness” and overthrow Al Capone and possibly nationalize him, rendering him loss making. In the end history tells us the winner was the polar bear after the velociraptor was successfully prosecuted for income tax evasion and Al Capone was killed by an asteroid.

Is the right answer to this question “no”?
This demonstrates the superiority of the human intellect over evil computers in science fiction stories. Faced with this paradox an evil computer will tend to flash all its lights and say “Does not compute” in its special evil voice before self-destructing, whereas a person will think about it intensely for around three minutes and then get distracted by cats that look like Hitler on YouTube. Cuh. Look at him, with his silly moustache. Bless.

Orange juice and grape juice and apple juice are mere juices, but cranberry juice is a cocktail. Yet it has no alcohol! Please explain.
Cranberry juice is a metaphorical cocktail, such as we often hear of on the news, and rarely in a good way, for example “a cocktail of barbiturates”; “a cocktail of flammable liquids”; or “a cocktail of lethal cocktails”.  It is only a matter of time before we hear “Generic Celebrity found dead following a Massive Cocktail of Cranberries.”

What will be the last question?
Can anyone else smell maximum entropy?

Why do we drive on the left?
For a long time people drove according to regional custom so for example in Devizes locals avoided accidents by driving downhill in the mornings and getting drunk in the afternoon. All that changed in World War II, when driving was standardized by the Ministry of Drab Awfulness. Various systems were tried, including everyone driving on the North; and cars on the bottom, tanks on the top, until the present system was selected by Paul McCartney, a young civil servant who went on to a very different post-war career. Since the war many have argued for a return to the old ways but apparently we can’t change back now because of something to do with farmers not wanting to get up in the dark.

Thanks for all your questions. Do keep them coming. Then once we’ve covered every possible facet of this universe we can squeeze in explanations of all the other infinite parallel universes, one by one, which is bound to come in handy.