Question: It's a Pluto Platter, a spinning wing, descendant of a pie company's tins, with many claiming "fathers" and manufacturers aplenty (at least 60), with now an "Ultimate" version, having prompted a recognized sport that's a cross between football, basketball and soccer, its flight once studied in wind tunnels, tracked with computers and cameras, unloosed at times by special launch-machines, sold worldwide to the tune of 100+ million units. It bears a trademarked name and U.S. patent No. 3,359,678, with functionally stabilized flight to improve on its early wobbly forays. You've probably got one of these simple, light, colorful creations in your home or garage—or at least have tossed one in the past. Catch our drift?

Answer: Got it. It's the Frisbee, of Frisbie Pie Co., originally the Pluto Platter, with its 50th anniversary on Jan, 13, 2007.

Question: Giant tug-of-war in Harrisburg, Pa., involving 2,200 students and teachers: What might you imagine was the worst that could happen to the losers? Humiliation? Getting tugged to the ground and a little scuffed up?

Answer: Much worse, and not just to the losers as there were no losers per se. The 600-meter 2.5-mm-thick braided-nylon rope, built to withstand 57,000 newtons (13,000 pounds), suddenly snapped under the stress, says Jearl Walker in "The Flying Circus of Physics." The contestants near the center immediately released their grip but the ones farther away continued to pull, causing the rope to slide rapidly through some of the hands. So rapidly alas "that four students lost fingers or fingertips from the friction."

Question: Are there people who, in spite of showers, deodorants and what not, just keep smelling like a fish?

Answer: Known as trimethylaminuria (TMAU), or "fish odor syndrome," this incurable genetic disorder was first reported in "The Lancet" in 1970, says Lisa Seachrist Chiu in her book "When a Gene Makes You Smell Like a Fish." Biochemically, trimethylamine is in the urine, breath, sweat. Lots of foods get broken down into TMA, but in most people an enzyme defuses the malodor. Still, at least 100 cases of TMAU have been confirmed. Sounds almost comical, except that sufferers can lose friends, jobs, self-esteem, often coming to the realization only belatedly that the odor emanantes from them. About all they can do for now is to hope it's one of their better days (the condition is variable), to avoid certain foods, and basically just to manage.

Question: Can you name the natural resource that your hometown undoubtedly gets but the village of Rattenberg, Austria, doesn't at this time of year? It has been this way for centuries.

Answer: Sandwiched between the 3,000-foot-tall Stadtberg and Rat Mountains, Rattenberg — famous for its glassblowing — gets no direct sunlight at all from late fall to midwinter, says "Scientific American." Some 600 years ago, town founders settled in the sheltering shadow of the rock as security against bandits and wartime fighting. "To this day, when the cold months come the daylight stays below the horizon, blocked by the mountains."

Now Bartenbach Light Laboratory has proposed a here-comes-the-sun solution that might benefit other lightless towns in the region as well: heliostats. These 6-foot mirrors set up about a mile away track the sun using custom software and reflect it to a mirror-covered tower and then on to mirrors about town that disseminate and diffuse the light, dodging fire hazards and glare.

Definitely not your classic cause of "seasonal affective disorder," nor your classic remedy either.


Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com, coauthors of "Can a Guy Get Pregnant? Scientific Answers to Everyday (and Not-So- Everyday) Questions," from Pi Press.