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The Big Questions

SOME questions can never be answered.

How were the pyramids built? Why is it that some people can read minds? He said he would call, so why didn't he? Other questions are equally perplexing but more easily explained. Why do onions make us cry? Why do dogs have wet noses?

Wonder no longer, and read on . . .

Why do penguins walk in single file?

The first penguin in line compacts the snow making it easier for the next penguin to follow and so forth.

Why do bulls get angry when they see red?

Bulls do not get angry when they see red. They are red/green colour blind. Bulls attack the red cape because of its waving motion, not its colour.

Why does chopping onions make us cry?

Amino acid sulfoxides, organic molecules in the Allium family (onion, garlic, chive, etc), give onions their bitter flavour. In the tissues of onions are enzymes called allinases. When these enzymes are released (through chopping, etc), they react with the amino acid sulfoxides, converting them to sulfenic acids, which cause tears.

Why are men more likely than women to go bald?

Androgens (male sex hormones) play a key role and women produce less than men. Castration prevents hair loss in men if it is done before hair is lost, but a comb-over is probably the more convenient option.

Why do migratory birds fly in a V pattern?

Theories abound. Some say it provides an aerodynamic advantage in that each bird creates an upwash with its wing tips, giving those behind an extra lift. Other quarters hypothesise that the skewed position gives each bird unimpaired vision.

Why do we blush when we’re embarrassed?

When we become embarrassed, the body releases a small amount of the "fight or flight" hormone adrenaline, the heart rate rises and breathing quickens. This causes blood vessels that deliver blood to the face to dilate and more blood than usual flows to the skin of the face.

Why do dogs have wet noses?

Dogs can't sweat. They pant to cool down and drain fluid through their noses, where it evaporates. A wet nose also collects scent particles more easily, hence the keen canine sense of smell.

Why do Rice Krispies pop?

During the cooking process each piece of rice expands and a network of tiny air-filled caves and tunnels form inside. When milk is poured on the Rice Krispies, they absorb the milk and the liquid puts pressure on the air inside and pushes it around causing the famous snap, crackle and pop.

Why do some talentless X-Factor contestants think they are in with a chance?

This self-delusion is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias causing unskilled people to suffer from "illusory superiority". Despite poor decisions and erroneous conclusions, the unskilled still rate their ability as above average. Paradoxically, the highly skilled tend to underrate their abilities, causing them to suffer from "illusory inferiority".

Why does the scratching of a blackboard make some people wince?

It has been suggested it stirs our primal instinct for danger. Warning sounds made by some apes are of a similar frequency and tone.

Why do teenagers sleep so much?

Teenagers don't necessarily sleep for longer, but go to sleep later and rise later. This is down to the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Most adults start to produce melatonin at 10pm. Teenagers don't begin to produce the hormone until 1am.

Why don’t the chocolate chips in cookies melt?

The chocolate has been tempered -- repeatedly heated and cooled -- until it takes on a crystalline structure that gives it more stability. The dough also holds the chocolate in place so it doesn't run, should it melt.

Why do we wake up just before the alarm clock goes off?

We all have an internal alarm clock. Anticipating the time you want to rise subconsciously triggers the release of the stress hormone corticotropin, which in turn wakes us up.

Why can’t we tickle ourselves?

Tickling provokes a feeling of panic and excites nerve endings beneath the surface of the skin. We can't self-tickle because the brain anticipates it and the usual reaction isn't triggered.

Why do most women think they’re fat?

Scientists have discovered that the body image a person projects in their own brain can be up to two-thirds wider than it is in reality. The brain's body image can also be around a third shorter. This could be more pronounced in women as they tend to be more sensitive to their appearance and are more exposed to distorted body images in the media.

Why do boomerangs return when thrown?

The weight of the boomerang and the skill of the thrower play a part, but the science is gyroscopic precision. The difference in velocity between the rearward and forward-facing blades creates a difference in the lift on each blade. With each rotation, the boomerang's axis shifts slightly, eventually making its circular path back to the thrower.

Why is yawning contagious?

Studies prove even dogs are susceptible to "catching" human yawns. It has confounded scientists for centuries. Some think it indicates empathy. This is backed by the fact that contagious yawning is absent in children with autism spectrum disorder. Other explanations include the idea that yawning may have evolved in early man as a way to signal mass sleep schedules. A contagious yawn perhaps meant that more than one person was tired and people should sleep accordingly.