Q. At the Animal Olympics, who's fastest and by how much?
A. Start with the human yardstick of 22 mph average speed for 100 meters, 27 mph for brief bursts.Fastest of the Big Runners is the cheetah, at maybe 56 to 59 mph, not the widely reported 70 mph, says R. McNeill Alexander in "Exploring Biomechanics: Animals in Motion."
This erroneous figure was based on clocking a tame cheetah in an enclosure whose length was originally exaggerated.
Racehorses have been carefully timed at 36 to 38 mph, as have greyhounds at 34 to 36 mph.
A Thomson's gazelle or a zebra can attain 31 mph; a lizard 18 mph; a rhinoceros 17 mph. If you want to imagine how a 7-ton Triceratops may have run back in dino days, watch a galloping rhino, then picture Triceratops as more than twice as big.
In the Crawlers division, the gold goes to the American cockroach, which can evade a chaser's shoe at around 31/2 mph, or 50 body lengths per second (Guinness). Videotape analyses have shown roaches rising up on their hind legs and running bipedally, gaining speed because these legs are slightly longer.
More species are Flyers than anything else, though not all Flyers are faster than Runners. Peregrine falcons certainly are, however, swooping at speeds upward of 150 mph, as are robins at 70 mph with a good tailwind.
Swimmers, as you'd guess, are somewhere in the middle of the pack, with bull killer whales attaining 35 mph and dolphins 23 mph, or 20 knots. Clocking in at a respectable water speed of 11 mph is the shark. By comparison, a human Olympic freestyler can manage only about 5 mph, equal to a fast walk.
Q. That cut of supermarket beef looks red and juicy. Must be really fresh, right? Take a guess at how long since it was part of a living steer.
A. Try 10 to 14 days or more. But you wouldn't want it any other way, says David Bodanis in "The Secret House."
Rigor mortis - literally "rigid death" - hits slaughtered steers as well as deceased humans. The steer's a "stiff" for more than a week hanging in the slaughterhouse, with the carcass weight tugging on muscle strands until they finally "let go."
"All red meat you eat has gone through rigor mortis and come out again on the other side, aged those necessary extra days for your delectation."
In the display counter, the meat looks red because the plastic wrap is engineered to allow oxygen molecules to pass on through and join with the hemoglobin on the meat's surface. "Oxygen plus hemoglobin comes out red, in beef as well as in our blood."
Q. How might you become a "miracle healer" in just a few easy steps?
A. To start off, most diseases or conditions eventually improve by themselves or reach a certain point and become stable, says Temple University's John Allen Paulos in "Innumeracy." So whatever treatment you suggest (incantations, goat entrails burned under a full moon, etc.) will often seem at least partially successful.
In many cases, the ubiquitous placebo effect will also work in your favor: People want to get better, so they'll readily imagine they're feeling better thanks to your treatment.
What the above doesn't take care of, memory selectivity might. Your successes will tend to stand out and make the rounds by word of mouth; failures will soon be forgotten and buried.
"Chance provides more than enough variation to account for the sprinkling of successes that will occur with almost any treatment; indeed, it would be a miracle if there weren't any 'miracle cures."'