Question: "Stay on the ice and pay the price" runs the old hockey adage. Who's paying what and why?

Answer: For this fast-paced game, exhaustion is often a problem at the uncoached amateur level, as some players hog the ice time even to the point where a good player can be outpaced by a mediocre defenseman, says Alain Hache in "The Physics of Hockey." Hockey's energy drain is greater than other team sports like basketball and baseball, with National Hockey League players skating at speeds in excess of 25 mph (40 km/hr). The legendary Bobby Hull, fastest of his time, was once clocked at 29.2 mph (47 km/h) and after he had spent 29 minutes on the ice during one game, sports scientists figured he had skated a total of about 8 miles (13 kms). So it's not surprising that during 60 minutes of regulation time, a player can burn several hundred calories and lose up to 10 pounds.

Typically players hold their speed at about 75 percent of maximum, budgeting their energies as they wait to see how play will evolve. "We can now understand why NHL athletes take many short shifts on the ice (usually less than a minute each) rather than fewer long ones: this is the best way to operate at optimal capacity."

Question: "Cogito, ergo sum," or "I think, therefore I am," is the famous argument of 17th-century philosopher Rene Descartes. Famous but likely fallacious. How so?

Answer: When Descartes says "I think," he is unconsciously presupposing the very "I" that he claims to be proving, points out Bertrand Russell in "A History of Western Philosophy." Introspection in fact justifies his saying only "There are thoughts," which he can know beyond a doubt. But to jump from these thoughts to there having to be a "thinker" for them really begs the question. The seductive imperatives of grammar — a predicate needing a subject, an action needing an actor — seem to have undermined his logic.

Score it Grammar 1, Descartes 0.

Question: It's enough time for a skydiver to plunge 200 feet, for a raindrop to fall 30 feet, your car to go 100 feet, you to walk 6 feet, a runner to traverse 30+ feet, a meteorite to streak several miles across the heavens, sunlight to race 186,000 miles, a hair on your head to grow .0000004 inch and a fingernail .0000001 inch, a glacier to scrape over .0004 inch of bedrock. The glacial pace, by the way, is about 4,000 times faster than your lengthening fingernail but barely 1/200th of the pell-mell pace of the proverbial snail. Got a second to identify this universal unit of time?

Answer: It's the second, of course, along with some of the movements that can take place therein.

Question: Given that there are 600+ species of bacteria in the human mouth, it's no surprise halitosis is a common concern. Yet a quarter of "sufferers" are just imagining it. How do you know if you've got the real thing?

Answer: Experts have subjects lick their wrist and rate the smell, then compare this to the ratings of odor judges, says "New Scientist" magazine. In general, people score themselves twice as smelly as do the judges, suggesting widespread "halitophobia." Patients will even get annoyed when they think they have a problem but are told they don't.

To counter bad breath, Brazilians chew cinnamon bark, Iraqis chew cloves, in Singapore they chew the peel of giant guavas, in East Asia anise seeds. Yet even if it were possible to destroy all your oral bacteria, you wouldn't want to, says researcher Mel Rosenberg, since they keep other invaders such as yeast at bay. "A fungal infection in your mouth is much harder to deal with."


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