STRANGE BUT TRUE- Switch hitter: Knowing right hand from left


Q. Gruesome accident: Trying to beat an approaching train, J. E. gets his foot stuck in the tracks, and his left arm is torn off, his right hand mutilated. Quandary for the doctors: Could a left hand from J. E.'s orphaned arm be attached to his right arm and become functional? –C.H. Luke

A. This really happened. Carefully, the surgeons attached the hand to the right wrist, intricately weaving and criss-crossing critical tendons and nerves to assure that when J. E. meant to move his thumb he wouldn't have to think about moving his pinky and vice versa, says David Wolman in A Left-Hand Turn Around the World: Chasing the Mystery and Meaning of All Things Southpaw. With his thumb to the outside and smallest fingers closest to his body, J. E. looked as if he'd swung his arm around like a contortionist. He had to relearn doing even the simplest things such as putting on a wristwatch. 

Fascinatingly, the brain has the plasticity to adapt, able to control a left hand via the right-hand nerve center of the brain.

Handedness is in the brain, summed up the doctors. If some forensic investigator found a box filled with 100 human hands, there would be no reliable way to tell if each belonged to a right- or left-handed person. "I still think of myself as a natural rightie," says J. E. "But I'm an honorary southpaw now. I'm just happy to have a paw."

Q. What's possibly the coolest word in the English language? –P.M. Roget

A. Try "cool," the word having outlived generations of its slang predecessors, including hot, bully, groovy, hep, hip, crazy, far-out and tubular, says Mark Davidson in Right, Wrong, and Risky: A Dictionary of Today's American English Usage.

As far back as 1825, English Spy magazine described a certain college grad as "a right cool fish." Since the 1930s, American jazz musicians, beatniks, hippies, and people in many walks of life have adopted the word.  "The King of Cool" was Time magazine's 2000 tag for Morocco's young monarch Mohammed VI. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the French and Germans have even borrowed the term. The New York Times also ID'd cool as the favorite expression of Bill Gates "and just about everyone else in computerdom." 

For Microsoft employees, depending on context and tone, cool can mean perfect, phenomenal, awesome, ingenious, eye-popping, bliss-inducing, pretty clever, enchanting, fine, adequate, acceptable, okay, and more" (author Fred Moody).  "So enjoy the all-approving cool while it lasts," says Davidson, "and that may be forever."

Q. Whose eggs are on today's world's menu? –L.R.Hen 

A. Could be chicken eggs, duck eggs or others, since we humans aren't choosy about our meat-substitutes, says Marty Crump in Headless Males Make Great Lovers. An unusual appetizer of the Chinese is duck eggs coated with a mixture of ashes, lime, salt and tea, then cured for six months. And consider the extravagance of caviar– the salted roe (eggs) of fish– the finest of which is made by the Russians from sturgeon eggs. A single sturgeon at 2500 pounds may yield 400+ pounds; shad, cod and salmon are cheaper substitutes.

Central Americans eat the rich eggs of iguanas. A female stewed with her eggs still inside is "sublime." Sea turtle eggs provide protein in some regions, at times as appetizers served with beer or as prized aphrodisiacs. Nor are invertebrate eggs off-menu: yellow crab eggs in China, water boatman eggs in Mexico, ant eggs in Laos, snail eggs in Paris, and sea urchin eggs worldwide.  

The point is, concludes Crump, eggs are nutritious and full of energy, plus (for myriad other egg-eating animals as well) they're easy to "capture" because they can't escape.

Q. If you have ESP, why ain't you rich? –A.E. Newman

A. Few would argue ESP operates at 100 percent– rather it's alleged to show up statistically, says physicist Lawrence M. Krauss in Beyond Star Trek. So suppose you've got an ESP gift such that when playing the stock market you average 55 gainers for every 45 losers on a day when the overall market is static, adding maybe 1 percent value to your portfolio while non-gifted players are breaking even. Even if you start out with just $100, by the end of five years of these 1-percent-a-day compoundings, you'll be worth $7,700,291,200! Under different initial assumptions, this figure, of course, changes.

But the point is that so long as the market as a whole doesn't drop, you're going to make a fast fortune.

What this strongly suggests, says Krauss, is that there is no such thing as ESP; or that the people who possess these faculties are keeping it and their money a secret.

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