QUESTION: Why is January colder than December, even though December is when the sun is lowest on the horizon and the days are shortest?

ANSWER: This is another way of saying, why isn't the longest day of the year, June 21, also the hottest day of the year? Why is August hotter than June and February colder than December? The astonishingly obvious answer is that it takes a while for the planet to cool down and heat up. In December, Earth is like something warm you've just popped in the fridge.QUESTION: Why do the 1991 cars go on sale by October 1990 at the latest?

ANSWER: Actually, it's gotten much more ridiculous than that. Ford came out with a '91 Explorer pickup in Feb. 1990 and the '91 Escort in April. Perhaps this is Detroit's strategy for persuading people not to buy Japanese: Cars From The Future. We expect cars from the next millennium by 1994. Now if only they'd remake the '57 Ford Thunderbird.

Let's go back now to the early days of the automobile. The National Automotive Show was held every January in New York City, and the new models went on display, for sale during the spring. Not only was car-selling seasonal, but so was driving. People put their cars away in the winter because the roads weren't safe. Not until 1924 was the first road cleared after a winter storm.

The Great Depression changed the timetable. Car production had always moved in cycles, with large numbers of workers laid off during the slow months. On Jan. 31, 1935, President Roosevelt vowed that this would change, and he and the auto industry agreed to start selling the new models in the fall rather than wait until the winter or spring. The annual National Automotive Show was moved to November, then October. This resulted in two peak selling seasons, fall and spring, and "a greater regularity of work and lessening the spread between the peaks and valleys of employment," as Roosevelt put it.

The October introduction of cars has remained the tradition, though Ford is a pioneer in breaking the rules. In the early summer of 1963, the company introduced a new car, the Mustang. Some regular folks call that a '64 Mustang, but in the business it's called a sixty-three-and-a-half.

QUESTION: Why is the championship of college football decided by a poll conducted by the Associated Press wire service?

ANSWER: We have made it a personal crusade to pound home the idea that there is no championship in college football, and that to accept this fact will be good for the soul of a country far too obsessed with hierarchy, lists, ratings and rankings. We're so dang linear. In fact we're the Number One linear-thinking country in the world.

Currently the college football season ends with millions of "bowl" games, which don't really decide anything. But this fact is not going to change anytime soon, because the bowl boosters in places like Miami and New Orleans and Phoenix think that without their big game the local economy will crumble, plus they won't be able to go to as many parties.

So the "champion" is just the team that ends up number one in the various polls. It's like letting the Gallup organization pick the President. Or the Nielsens. (Not a bad idea, actually: If the President becomes too unpopular, he gets cancelled.)

What's better, a 10-2 team with a tough schedule or a 11-1 team with an easier one? How do we interpret the fact that, in 1990, Notre Dame beat Southern Cal, but Southern Cal beat Penn State, and Penn State beat Notre Dame? If you can make sense of it, you should open an ashram.

Getting back to our original question, the Associated Press poll is generally the most influential. Partly this is because the wire service has more subscribers than United Press International (UPI), and in many cities the local newspaper only lists the AP poll. More importantly, the TV networks use the AP poll and ignore UPI. It is easy to see why: UPI polls only coaches. The AP polls journalists. Including TV sportscasters.