Question: This human universal differs little from culture to culture or by age, gender or ethnicity and is generally marked by obsession and "a state of need." More than an emotion, it's a primary motivational system with goal-oriented behaviors, associated with activity in the brain's pleasure and reward centers. Thwart satisfaction of this basic drive and its "dark side" may appear, sparking inappropriate, even dangerous efforts to attain the goal, and culminating in feelings of depression and hopelessness. What is this singular interpersonal experience?

Answer: Romantic Love, as described by anthropologist Helen Fisher in "The New Psychology of Love." Like thirst and the need for warmth, it can rarely be extinguished until satisfied and is stronger than the sex drive or maternal instinct (which can often be redirected). "Few people whose sexual advances are rejected kill themselves or someone else, whereas rejected lovers in cultures around the world commit suicide or homicide."

Love's elevated brain activity, as shown by MRI, may help explain "frustration attraction" — why disappointed lovers begin to love their rejecting partner even more. When a reward is delayed, reward-expecting neurons actually PROLONG their activity, says Fisher. Frustration attraction may at first seem maladaptive, but its intense energy and extreme motivation can be useful biological tools for regaining a beloved. Provided of course no one gets shot in the meantime.

Question: What's the uppity English "up"-word been up to?

Answer: Meanings a-plenty or no meaning at all, says Richard Lederer in "A Man of My Words." Think of call up, beat up, warm up, speak up, show up, crack up (a car or at a joke). Often the little word is superfluous, as when we light up a cigar, lock up the house, polish up the silver. Looking up a chimney means one thing, looking up a friend another, looking up a word still another. Same when we make up a bed, story, face, mind.

Winding up a watch starts it, winding up a meeting stops it. Is holding up a partner on a tennis court a plus or minus? Paradoxically, we can walk up and down the aisle at the same time, or slow up and down. Really mixed up: a house doesn't really burn up but down, we don't throw up but out and down, don't pull up a chair but pull it along, says Lederer. Upshot: Don't give up, but do be up for "up"!

Question: If you could look up into the funnel of a tornado, what might you see?

Answer: One of the few ever to do this and survive was Captain Roy S. Hall, in May 1948, whose house's roof was lifted off and the walls collapsed, says Jearl Walker in "The Flying Circus of Physics." When Hall spotted a neighbor's house, he was relieved that his own place was not flying through the air — until he noticed something horrible: Not far off something descended to just a few meters above the ground, and hovered with a slow vertical oscillation.

That something was curved, with a concave surface facing him. "With shock he realized this hovering thing was the inside surface of the tornado funnel, and so HE WAS INSIDE THE FUNNEL!"

It looked to be about 1,000 feet, swaying and bending, rings along its length, with a bright center like a fluorescent light fixture. He saw nothing being pulled up through. He also had no trouble breathing, so figured the air pressure could not be too low and marveled at the total silence — contrasting to the dramatic noise during the tornado's approach. "Suddenly the funnel moved away, and Hall's family came out of hiding to find him."


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