STRANGE BUT TRUE- Cracked rib: When movie magic goes awry


Q. What would happen if cinematic illusions seemed too real? –A. Hitchcock

A. Many familiar movie sounds are simple audio illusions, such as crunchy snow simulated by ice layered with cornstarch or birds in flight by leather gloves flapping or heads getting squashed by frozen heads of lettuce getting squashed, says Rebecca Coffey in Discover magazine. To suggest a large group talking, several people saying "walla, walla, walla, walla" will produce the desired murmur.

One of the earliest color film processes relied on black-and-white film projected through rotating red and green filters to fool the eye into seeing color. And when Moses parted the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments, the moviemakers filmed water pouring into a tank and then ran the footage backward. Things can occasionally get too real, as when the seat-rattling Sensurround effect at the 1974 premiere of the movie Earthquake became so intense it cracked one patron's rib.

Q. What would the world be like if some people really had psychic powers such as ESP? –J. Dixon

A. Then there would be some people with no need for caller ID, or who would never lose at "rock, paper, scissors," or for whom no one could ever throw a surprise party, answers David G. Myers in Psychology. These folks would all be fabulously rich, able to predict the outcomes of lottery drawings or to make billions in the stock market. Also, tabloid psychics wouldn't have mistakenly predicted that Madonna would become a gospel singer, that the Statue of Liberty would lose both its arms to a terrorist blast, and that Queen Elizabeth would abdicate her throne to enter a convent.

Moreover, asks Myers, where were these self-pronounced foreseers on 9/10 when we needed them? And why, despite a $50 million reward, could none of them help locate Osama bin Laden after 9/11? And why has no one been able to claim the $1 million offered by skeptic and magician James Randi to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities under strict scientific controls? Neither has anyone collected in France, Australia, or India, where parallel groups have offered a 200,000-euro prize.

Q. If an airborne helicopter remains in the same spot over the ground, would it land in a different location 12 hours later due to the Earth's rotation? –G. Galilei

A. The key thing to realize here is that Earth's atmosphere rotates along with our planet. Neglecting winds, the helicopter would then rotate with the Earth and land in the same location it started from. Or think of it another way: If the helicopter stood "still" while the Earth rotated underneath it, the helicopter would experience winds–- at the equator–- of 1,000 mph!

Q. That cut of supermarket beef looks really red and juicy– and fresh. Take a guess at how long since it was part of a living steer. –J. Salatin

A. Try 10 to 14 days or more. But you wouldn't want it any other way, says David Bodanis in The Secret House.

Rigor mortis– "rigid death"– hits slaughtered steers as well as deceased humans. The steer's a "stiff" for more than a week hanging in the slaughterhouse, with the carcass weight tugging on muscle strands until they finally "let go." 

"All red meat you eat has gone through rigor mortis and come out on the other side," Bodanis says, "aged those necessary extra days for your delectation."

Supermarket meat looks red because the plastic wrap allows oxygen molecules to pass on through and join with the hemoglobin on the meat's surface. "Oxygen plus hemoglobin comes out red, in beef as well as in our blood."


Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at [email protected].