Q. If you could gather all the world's gold into one room, how big would the room need to be?
A. Writing in "The Secret House," mathematician David Bodanis estimates that a room 50 feet by 50 feet by 50 feet would probably contain the world's entire gold production since the start of history.
"What was gold once stays gold for years - centuries - to come. This has some interesting consequences. One is that much of the gold we use today was used as gold in previous ages, and only by an extraordinary mix of sales, thefts, melting down, and re-melting has it ended up in the gold earring about to be put on before the dinner party. Bits from ancient Egyptian jewelry which have been covering parts of people's bodies for several thousand years are perhaps in the woman's earring; fragments from South American mines, transported across the Atlantic in galleons to Spain, and bartered, sold and killed for in Europe are quite possibly there,too."
Q. You run into an old friend, an astronomer, and she tells you her marriage has gone sour. "Joe and I really talk now only once in a blue moon. And I mean that literally."
From this, how cold would you say their communication has grown?
A. "Once in a blue moon" - a phrase that has been around at least 400 years, according to folklorist Philip Hiscock - has at least two common meanings: One is the second full moon occurring in a calendar month, which happens roughly once every three years.
The other meaning signifies an actual bluing of the moon's (or sun's) appearance. Ordinarily the moon looks white or yellow, or maybe orange or red when low in the sky. But blue moons are rare indeed - brought on by particles of volcanic dust or forest fire ash being released into the atmosphere. These particles, to cause bluing, must be of a certain rare critical size, as occurred in 1950 in Alberta, Canada, when airborne oil droplets from forest fires blued the moon as far away as Scotland.
Either way, you can assume your friend's marriage skills need some heavy stoking.
Q. Which two animals have life expectancies of about seventy years, select mates for life, provide collective care for their young, suffer death from heart disease, bury their dead and kill for love of drink?
A. People and pachyderms, answers Ronald K. Siegel, Ph.D., in "Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise." It's odd to think of elephants consuming alcohol, but they certainly will if given the opportunity, at times with a vengeance: In West Bengal, a herd of 150 bulled their way into an illegal still and gorged themselves on moonshine mash, then went on a drunken rampage across the countryside, trampling huts, demolishing buildings, ultimately killing five people and injuring a dozen.
In his 1857 travels, missionary David Livingstone noted the passion with which certain African elephants ate fermented Borassus fruits, devouring all that had ripened and fallen and then shaking the trees for more.
Following rivers and paths on a march to the fruits, adult elephants travel sometimes 30 kilometers or more in a single day. "Some of them get smashed, especially those arriving late and fearful they won't get their fill. Now they become skittish, reactive even to a small harmless bump, which can send them racing off at great speeds," says Siegel.
Trained elephants in shows, if given a "menu," prefer a 7 percent alcohol solution (avoiding lower or higher concentrations) and will down the equivalent of 35 cans of beer. This is enough to start many of them growling, flapping their ears (for cooling), swaying and leaning against their chains to keep upright.