By Gareth Edwards

Friday, 30 May 2014

The Zombie Scourge and a Very Leggy Python

Welcome to another installment of the blog that attempts to explain everything in the whole universe one question from a member of the public at a time.

Nance asked: I've read that the sandwich was named for its inventor, the Earl of Sandwich. Was he really the first?
The Earl of Sandwich was not, of course, the first person in history to eat a sandwich. He was the first filling. Medicine in Georgian times was primitive, painful and dangerously Latin, and so the wealthy elite sought other ways to alleviate illness. This lead to the flourishing of spas where the affluent indisposed would flock to be cured without the help of a doctor by taking the waters, and thus towns such as Leamington, Cheltenham and Bath grew phenomenally rich. The small seaside town of Sandwich was not so lucky, and its Earl looked on the prosperity of the spa towns with envious eyes. But while his own town had no hot spring it did have a larger than average bakery, and so the lateral-thinking Earl set about luring the peaky but loaded to Sandwich to “take the bread”. A typical treatment involved the patient lying for hours at a time between two giant slices from a white split tin loaf, while for the more seriously-ill the Earl recommended a whole-meal bloomer, with a poultice of mustard or possibly mayonnaise. But at the height of his fame disaster struck when the Earl, attempting to prove the medical benefits of bread and cheese at higher temperatures had himself placed inside an eight-foot wide Welsh Rarebit and put under a giant grill. He became the toastie of the town.

Sarah Pgce Can you get WiFi in Plato's cave?
Classical scholars believe that Plato wrote extensively about wireless broadband and they presume that he would have posited that a paradigm of WiFi existed in a state of perfection forever beyond the reach of direct human experience. Sadly we will never know for certain as he found it impossible to post his blog about this from his cave, where the WiFi coverage was invariably awful.

Stu Beale  How did the first snake to evolve not having legs decide this was a good idea?
And since I may have missed one in my question, do hyphens matter?
The earliest snake ever to be found in the fossil record was a python, but unlike modern pythons this prehistoric specimen was a short, stubby animal with twenty muscular legs. It was known as the Twenty-Foot Python. But a freak mutation in the snake’s DNA lead to it losing the hyphen thus turning it into the long, limbless reptile we know today.

Nick asked Where are you going for your holidays?
Cornwall. It’s possible this wasn’t intended as a question for the blog but sometimes it’s hard to know where having a chat ends and academic inquiry begins.

And now in a new feature that reflects our efforts to keep SKOE at the forefront of cynical populism we've asked a leading British political figure to answer our final question this week: 

Peggy Tryton asked Zombie apocalypse - yes or no?
Well exactly and I’m hearing this on doorsteps up and down the land because in spite of what the liberal elite with their facts and information will tell you zombies are a real and growing problem both in my imagination and in the imagination of the many people I’ve frightened. For instance let me finish please if a group of zombies moved in next door to me I’d be worried and that’s not racist actually because these zombies are white except for the occasional greeny-grey bit and more to the point I’ve researched this anecdotally and on Netflix and it’s is practically a fact that of the human brains feasted on by ghastly blank-eyed abominations 97% are down to zombies and yes certainly the other 3% are Heston Blumenthal but my point is that decent hard working people alive in Britain today never voted for this and that’s why we’re the only party brave enough to ask the question Zombie Apocalypse Yes or No and while we’re at it Climate Change is mainly down to gay marriage.

That’s all for now, but do post a question in the comments below and we’ll get the Universe explained in its entirely before you can say Jack Robinson a billion times incredibly slowly.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Revolutionary Hamsters and a Two-Hundred Ton Pie

Welcome to the blog that sets out to answer every question you could possibly have about anything ever. Because the universe won’t explain itself.

@tommo121 asked: All the time we hear about the success of certain fruit-named technology companies such as Apple and Blackberry. What ever happened to their less-successful competitors?
To observe that electronic devices are named after fruit is to tell only part of the story. Since the early days of computing there has been fierce disagreement over whether to name these futuristic machines with cool sounding combinations of letters and numbers or to call them after things that are nice to have for pudding. Alan Turing pioneered the latter approach, naming his enigma-code-busting machine a Bombe after the popular chocolate and ice-cream dessert. IBM dominated the business mainframe market in the 50s with its two-hundred ton Lemon-Meringue Pie, and the high water-mark was perhaps Hewlett Packard’s delivery to the Pentagon in 1962 of its awe inspiring defence computer Death-By-Chocolate. By the 80s though the market was dominated by electronic gizmos with more lettery-numbery names like ZX80, TI52 and R2D2, and sadly products like Tandy’s hand-held Banana and Custard or Sinclair’s Spotted Dick languished on the shelf. But just as the health conscious 21st century has seen fruit come to the fore as a dessert, so today’s fruit-named technology is in the vanguard and the future market looks set to be dominated by products such as the Apple iPie, Blackberry’s Personal Crumble and Amstrad’s possibly ill-judged No Thank You I’ll Have the Cheeseboard.

Nance asked: Has it always been cats vs. dogs in the battle for human affections?
The sad truth of the matter is that it should never have been cats versus dogs, as for centuries the two species had happily shared their hobbies of ruining furniture and licking things disgustingly while the humans looked on for some reason delighted. The cat/dog rivalry only truly began in 1897 and involved a row over who had eaten a three day-old Schnitzel that had gone missing from behind the back of some bins in a café in a suburb of Zagreb. This being the Balkans, what began as a bad-tempered scuffle between a portly Spaniel named Franz and a tabby named The Triumph of Pan-Slavism! quickly drew in cats and dogs from the surrounding area, pitting German Shepherd against Russian Blue, and eventually even dragging in Old English Sheepdogs, Burmese Cats and, ultimately, the vast might of the American Shorthairs. A century of feline/canine geopolitical rivalry followed that even now only just balances in a precarious cat/dog détente as they eye each other warily across the shredded curtain. But this isn’t the whole story. Recently discovered documents from the Belgrade Archive of Rodent History reveal that the Schnitzel had in fact simply been hidden by a gang of revolutionary hamsters. Their aim – to engineer a conflagration of cat/dog destruction across the globe,  and then to emerge all furry and blinking into the sunlight as humanity’s favourite surviving pet.

Sarah Pgce  asked: What would Sherlock Holmes smell like if he was real?

A lemon tree, my dear Watson.

Peggy Tryton asked: How does Santa know?

Santa Claus’s apparently uncanny insights into who has been naughty and who has been nice along with his endless supply of infant consumer durables have for centuries been the central plank of his strategy to win the hearts and minds of the world’s children. But it was only on Boxing Day 2013 that we began to understand where the information for his famous “twice-checked list” came from thanks to the courageous actions of Yuletide Cheer Technician Second Class Edward Snowman. Snowman fled Santa’s vast underground industrial complex at the North Pole and brought with him computer records revealing extensive sharing of child behavioural data with Mumsnet and information on vegetable consumption levels from the National Association of School Dinner Servers. Snowman has now been granted asylum by leading anti-Santa activist Jadis the White Witch. Speaking from her sinister castle of ice she said that “No amount “Ho ho ho!” can disguise the reality of Santa’s iron fist in a red furry glove.”

Anonymous asked: When will I, will I be famous?

This lyric comes of course from the 1987 hit song by Bros. What is perhaps less well known is the unusual history of the lyrics. Many thousands of miles away in California lived a Mrs Debra Am, a poor black lady with three young sons, all called William, because she liked the name. As she was very short-sighted and couldn’t tell the boys apart she numbered each son with Roman numerals, Will I, Will II and Will III and asked that they make it clear which one of them might be speaking at any given moment. Her oldest, Will I harboured dreams of celebrity and every morning as the family walked to the school bus he would ask his mother “When will I, Will I, be famous?” His mother, like everyone in the housing projects of East LA at that time was an enormous devotee of the works of Matt and Luke Goss and the other one, and feeling that they might be able to help with her sons ambitions she encouraged Will I to write to them with his question. And the rest is history. Now with the benefit of hindsight and also foresight we are in a position to answer Will I Am’s question, namely he is likely to be famous for about the first quarter of the 21st century and then after that incrementally less so year on year until by 2073 nobody at all will know who he is unless they upload his Wikipedia entry into their hand-held wireless Strawberry Cheesecake.

That’s all for now but ask a question in the comments below, and do it soon because in just ten billion years this universe is likely to end, and what holds true for this universe may not apply to the next.