Question: In golf's early days, why did weekend duffers outdistance aristocratic swingers in drives off the tee?

Answer: Because the affluent used smooth balls and routinely discarded them after the first signs of wear, says John Eric Goff in "Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports."

Other golfers settled for the used balls and before long noted that the ones with nicks and cuts went farther.

Today, based on myriad analyses by aerodynamic experts using wind tunnels, golf balls are made with dimples that simulate this roughened surface.

Without them, the 300+ yard drives (274+ meters) of pro golfers wouldn't make it half as far.

Though it might seem contradictory, balls with surface roughness experience LESS air drag than smooth ones, something not really understood until the turn of the 20th century.

Because of the greater surface friction on the spinning ball, a "boundary layer" of air forms that keeps incoming air from reaching the ball's surface.

In fact, most sports balls have some type of surface imperfection, such as the prominent stitches on a baseball or football.

"It's doubtful that the first person to stitch up a baseball had fluid mechanics in mind.

But were it not for those wonderful 108 double stitches on a baseball, home runs in today's parks would be almost nonexistent."

Question: Estimating animal populations is tricky, in part because different species require different methods.

What are a few of these?

Answer: In the case of blue whales, biologists tally the number spotted along a stretch of ocean, then extrapolate to larger populations, says "Science Illustrated" magazine.

With the mark-release-recapture technique, they "mark" whales by photographing them, then estimate the entire population from the ratio of marked to unmarked whales in a later census.

Latest count: 6,000.

African elephants are counted from the air, though some can be missed, especially in forested areas.

So researchers supplement aerial surveys by estimating dung density for a designated area, even using DNA samplings to compile lists of individuals.

Latest count: 550,000.

Because endangered Siberian cranes exist exclusively around Poyang Lake in southeastern China, it's fairly easy to get a count from airplanes.

Ground tallies can round out the process.

Latest count: 3,500.

Researchers count Atlantic puffins during the birds' breeding season, when mated pairs and their nests can be observed.

For small colonies, each nest might be counted; in larger sites, extrapolating from manageable 300 square-foot sample areas works well.

Latest count: 12 million.

For countless other species, latest count: Unknown.

Question: Maybe you're not a millionaire, but if you were one, flush with single dollar bills, could you count them all?

Answer: Do you have some time on your hands?

On average, it takes about one second to speak out a two-digit number and about five seconds to say a six-digit number, say Alfred Posamentier and Ingmar Lehmann in "Mathematical Amazements and Surprises."

So let's use an average of four seconds per count.

Comment on this story

Supposing you begin your dollar-counting exercise right now, 24 hours per day, 60 minutes per hour, 60 seconds per minute, you would reach 1,000,000 in about 46 days.

But that's without any breaks.

Are you hungry yet?

At least for this exercise, let's just hope you haven't gotten into business and become a billionaire, because now you'd have to count 1,000 times as long.

By this measure, only you "super-centenarians" could ever hope to complete the 130-year task!

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com