Question: What's quite likely the most surprising deadly snake of the venomous lot?

Answer: A rattlesnake isn't the answer but rather a DEAD rattlesnake! Amazingly, a rattlesnake can still strike an unsuspecting human even if it's been dead for as long as 30 minutes, says Jearl Walker in "The Flying Circus of Physics." In fact, numerous people have made the mistake of reaching for a dead snake to remove it from their property, only to find its fangs buried in their hand and the deadly venom delivered. What these victims didn't know is that pits between each eye and nostril of a rattlesnake serve as sensors of thermal radiation. For example, when a mouse triggers these sensors, a reflex action can cause the snake to strike and inject its venom, even on a moonless night since the process does not require visible light. The thermal radiation from a human hand can cause the same reflex action even if the snake has been dead for a while because the snake's nervous system continues to function. "As one snake expert advised, if you must remove a recently killed rattlesnake, use a long stick rather than your hand."

Question: One of the most beloved and popular of ancient Olympic events was the hurling of the discus, with the winner awarded the copper object for its metallic value. The 2 kilogram (4.4 lb.) discs today are generally made of steel and wood. What are a few interesting paradoxes concerning the discus throw?

Answer: Paradox No. 1: A flying-saucer-shaped discus will stay aloft longer and travel farther if thrown into a wind rather than with the wind, as verified in wind tunnels, says Vincent Mallette in "Science of the Summer Games." This is true because of aerodynamic lift associated with the oncoming air against the angled object. A rule of thumb is that a 25-mph headwind will add about 25 extra feet to the throw. But too strong a wind can upset the spin orientation, actually sacrificing distance.

Paradox No. 2: While Olympic records set by runners and jumpers make note of assisting wind speeds, no such asterisk attends discus throws.

Paradox No. 3: A well-thrown discus in tropic latitudes will go an inch (2.5 centimeters) farther eastward than westward, due to the rotation of the Earth, an example of the Coriolis force that causes hurricanes to turn counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere. "That's one scientific tip that isn't in the coaching manuals."


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