I’ve never read New Scientist and I’m not particularly scientific, but I do have a natural curiosity about things and I loved this book.
Apart from the fascinating quirkyness of the questions, what charmed and amused me were the responses. They’re submitted from around the world by all manner of subject matter experts. I was amazed at how people know stuff like the chemical composition of spinach and how willing many of them were to test and experiment on behalf of helping someone else out.
It conjured up visions of eccentric ‘boffins’ doing all sorts of mad things. For example, in response to a question about why frozen gnocchi (Italian dumplings) sink when they should float, one response included, “…as I had some frozen ones at home, I decided to do some rudimentary measurements in my kitchen. Firstly, my frozen gnocchi had a density of 1.1grams/millimetre….” And when considering why Guinness, a black drink, produces a white froth, someone got to work: “I poured myself a Guinness and put a little of the froth in a dish and examined it through a low-powered microscope.”
Given very few of the responses are from professional writers, they are usually very well written, and very amusing. I loved the description of how the best place to fossilize yourself would be in volcanic rock: “You need a rapid burial. I don’t mean a speedy funeral service….but something natural and dramatic – the sort of thing that is preceded by a distant volcanic rumble and an unfinished query along the lines of ‘What was…?’”
In addition to the one about the wasps (great answers), favourite questions included how long you could survive on beer alone, how fat you’d need to be to be bullet proof, how to get bubbles evenly distributed in Aero bars and this musing: “What would be the effect on the Earth if an alien spaceship came along and dragged the moon away?”
All in all fascinating, even for a non-scientist like me. An easy book to dip into, and great know there are people out there who understand really complicated stuff!