Answers for October 1998

Our last-minute WINNER for October, with a huge and comprehensive set of answers, is

Steve Hodges

Steve’s answers arrived in the evening of 31/10/98 – he probably spent the whole month writing them up, including getting e-mails from Pitcairn Island (and probably rowing there in a boat).

Question 1

When the volcano on Pitcairn Island erupted in 1990, the entire population of 65 was evacuated to Britain. How many of them went back?


Well, the answer was supposed to be “all of them, and as quickly as possible”, but there appears to be a problem with the question – Woops.

Alternative answers:

  • More than 65. Some were pregnant when they left, and lets face it, who’d stay in Britain?
  • Only the ones who got buzzes from licking the “postage stamps”…
  • They were evacuated all the way to Britain?? What a terrible ordeal.
  • An email from the person who maintains a major Pitcairn Island web site follows: “Actually Pitcairn is of volcanic origin, but it is very ancient and indeed one of the tallest mountains in the Pacific, though less than 10% of it is above water. I don’t believe that it has ever had a known eruption in historic times. You may be thinking of Montserrat in the Caribbean, whose eruption is still active, or the smoke & ash eruptions on a mountain in New Zealand. What is interesting is that major events like this seem far more likely to be exaggerated than forgotten. Thus I am rather skeptical of the event in question having actually occured.”
  • Are you sure you’re not confusing it with the Tristan da Cunha eruption which evacuated 265 and almost all of them returned?

Question 2

What could you measure in units of a “millihelen”?


Beauty. Helen of Troy in causing the Trojan War was said to have had “the face that launched a thousand ships”. Therefore a face beautiful enough to launch one ship would be 1 millihelen.

Alternative answers:

  • Helen
  • A millihelen is a face that can launch a single ship. I think the phrase was coined by Larry Niven. My life however has been full of women who could be measured in nanohelens, i.e. they could launch 2 lengths of deck planking and six rivets!
  • 1 Helen (H) is a huge quantity of beauty, and is thus inconvenient to work with. The smaller unit, the milliHelen (mH), representing the amount of beauty required to launch a single ship is more workable. Even this has problems, since the amount of beauty required to cause the spontaneous launching of ships must be large, since verifiable instances of beauty-induced ship launching are not commonplace. Also, there is no explanation as to how beauty could be “used up” in launching ships in such a way as to allow the count of successful launches to be able to be related to the total beauty.
  • Are there negative measurements (ugliness) and how are they measured? Spontaneous sinking of boats? Or the launching of submarines? With the reported problems of the Collins class submarines (a seriously ugly boat) probably resulting in extended times in dry-dock, their multiple launching could soak up a lot of ugliness in the world.
  • Is there a factor that needs to be applied to different classes of vessels to account for size, displacement, crew, etc. e.g. does a Trimaran requre 1mH, 3mH, or some other amount of beauty to spontaneously launch?

Question 3

Why was a totally wrecked car sold to a museum for $100,000 on 8 October 1992?


It had been struck by a meteorite.

Alternative answers:

  • It was the first car in Queensland to fail its registration test.
  • A damn good used car salesman.
  • A clairvoyant informed the curator that a smashed-up black Mercedes would attract the interest of millions in only five years’ time.
  • They paid more than that just to arrange the seemingly accidental death of Jimmy Dean, and someone had to recoup the funds.
  • It was Bonnie & Clyde’s vehicle. The one with the extra added ventilation holes.
  • It belonged to Elvis Presley
  • Something to do with Jackson Pollock?
  • You philistine … it wasn’t wrecked – it was Art. Or maybe it was James Dean’s Porsche.

Question 4

What happened on 6 May 1937?


“The really exciting thing was that an International Agreement regarding the Regulation of the Production and Marketing of Sugar was signed in London on 6 May 1937; but I suppose you’re after the boring old Hindenburg disaster…”

Alternative answers:

  • The condemned man asked only for steak and chips, but the prison dietician said that this was not a balanced meal and that salads were good for one’s health. Hey, you had this question in last month! (Woops again)
  • The Germans detonated the world’s first hydrogen bomb over America.
  • The Moscow Procastinators club finally got around to celebrating the first May Day.
  • It rained.
    Many things, including:

  • An International Agreement regarding the Regulation of the Production and Marketing of Sugar was signed in London, and
  • Dr. Thanasis Economou (1961-64, physicist for the Institute for Plasma Physics in Prague; 1981, appointed Senior Research Associate at the Enrico Fermi Institute at the Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research) was born in Zaka, Greece, and
  • the St George group was started as a result of a public meeting called in Hurstville, and
  • during the 14th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Regional Planning Association, Chief Thomas MacDonald referred to the 1924 study: “By coordinating highway improvements according to an established plan with a known sequence of improvement, each community involved will secure the greatest possible benefit for the least expenditure.”, and
  • in Emmet County IA (near Estherville) Phelps wrote to the farm manager saying: “We have never had any experience with hybred [sic] corn, but are trying it out on half a dozen farms this year for the first time”, and
  • a Mellon Institute building at Pittsburgh was dedicated in honor of the founders, Andrew W. and Richard B. Mellon, and
  • Sydney Goldstein (a mathematician) made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and
  • the first meeting of the Woodburn Mining Company was held at the residence of Herbert E. Rogers in Saltese, Mineral County, Montana. (Thank you Steve, and good night)

Question 5

The seminal language Proto-Indo-European was in use ca. 5000BC and is now being recovered by linguists. What is remarkable about how our ancestors described farting?


They had two words for it. One described the Silent Fart and one described the Audible, or Noisy Fart. How useful! Whatever happened?

Alternative answers:

  • The remarkable prescience by which they foresaw that their description would provide innocent merriment to a world-wide network of amusement seekers 7,000 years in the future.
  • It has the only known example of a ‘scratch-and-sniff’ (b)vowel sound.
  • They described it as sounding somewhat similar to a trombone. They were also the first people to invent the stone whoopee cushion, but that’s another story.
  • They used the word “fart”
  • Apparently it takes place through the ear when performed properly.