I do not typically take requests for Research Day, but I’ve recently been asked an assortment of interest-piquing questions in a variety of situations, and I might as well get them all with one fell swoop.
Question asked by The Queen during a commute: Why does this minivan in front of us have a spoiler? This question was already tackled over at Answer bag, a pretty neat website I just-this-second discovered. In short, the function of a spoiler on the back of a race car is the same as it is on an airplane wing: air exerts pressure upon it, thereby creating a downward force on the vehicle. For a racecar this is good, because it presses the back tires onto the pavement and provides more traction, but given that most street vehicles (a) weigh considerably more than a racecar, (b) go considerably slower than a racecar, and (c) have front-wheel drive, the spoilers you see on the freeway are strictly for show.
Question posed by my mother over dinner: I was once on a plane that got delayed, and the captain said it was ‘because the tarmac is too hot for takeoff’. Was he just making that up? Research Day typically falls on the 15th of the month, but this one got pushed back two weeks while I tried to track down any evidence of truth to the “too hot to take off” claim. When I came up empty, I tossed the query over to the Seattle Public Library Ask A Librarian service. They responded three days later saying, essentially, they had found nothing. All of which makes me think that this particular pilot was full of what my dear departed grandfather would have called “baloney slices.” But if any readers know otherwise, leave a comment.
Update: Several readers suggested that the pilot wasn’t saying the hot tarmac itself prevented take-off, but that the hot weather necessitated more tarmac that the airport had available. In the words of Allan: “As temperature goes up air becomes less dense, so wings generate less lift and thus airplanes require more runway to take off.” Two articles on the subject can be found at Salon.com’s Ask The Pilot column and Why airplanes like cool days better. Thanks, y’all.
Coworker’s musing during Seattle’s recent heat wave: When we have a hot day in Seattle, I wonder why it stays warm until, like, 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, whereas, in D.C. for instance, it starts to cool down right after the sun sets?: To get an answer, I wrote my local TV station’s meteorology department. Here’s what Scott Sistek, the KOMO Weather Producer had to say:
When it’s 90 or more during the day, it’s because we have an offshore wind blowing from the east. As the air comes down the western slopes of the Cascades, it sinks and warms. Overnight, that constant breeze sinking and warming has been known to hold up our overnight temperatures, whereas in the flat east, they don’t have that problem (Although on warm humid days there, the humidity seems to make it feel a lot warmer at night than here).
Thanks, Scott. Wow, I thought you guys just reported the weather — I never realized you actually produced it.
Question left on my answering machine by a friend I’ve had since the third grade: Is there a word that means ‘to be buried alive’?: I posted this query to the discuss forum of http://www.file- ummmm I mean a website I heard might maybe exist. Anyway, within moments someone replied with with the word vivisepulture which was also the winning word in the 1996 National Spelling Bee. (Actually, the word itself didn’t win, some freakishly intelligent kid did.) Thanks guy from, um, some website!
Random email from some guy: Saw your website with the “I don’t want to grow up…Toys R Us” words. Do you have the soundclip of that or any suggestion as to where to find it? Here you go, Squirt.