December Quiz: Festive Fun!

It's that time again to get your science brains rattling and see if you can beat this Christmas science quiz...
07 December 2021


Santa's sack


Now it wouldn't be a festive period without a bit of healthy, competitive family fun. So let's pull the cracker on our snow-it-all quiz. Raven Baxtor and Beth Singler, are in team one and Diva Amon and Hannah Wakeford, represent team two. So like the 10 Lords let's leap straight into round one.

Julia - Round one is called festive foliage. We've got Raven and Beth first. When you go out and about this time of year, you can't move for Christmas trees with twinkling lights, pine needles, which end up all over the floor and that lovely fir tree smell. The scent of Christmas trees is generated in part by chemicals called pinenes. As well as smelling divine, these chemicals also play very important roles in helping fir trees to thrive. Which of the following do pinenes do? Do they (a) protect trees from forest fires? (b) attract insects for pollination? Or (c) keep trees cool on hot days?

Beth - Well, I'm thinking, when they're most prevalent and what might be the key thing to get done during that period of time. So maybe it's about attracting insects for pollination, but that's just a guess. I think

Raven - I think that is also the right answer.

Beth - Okay, let's go for that.

Julia - The correct answer is C! Pinenes are a type of terpene, which in hot weather, are thought to be released to prompt a cloud seeding, which is a mechanism that modifies the weather. Pinenes are extremely flammable, so they contribute towards Christmas trees catching alight so easily, and fir trees pollinate using the wind as they don't have flowers to attract bees, or other insects. Bad luck with that one, but you know, we can make it up in the next round, I'm sure. So question two is for Diva and Hannah. Kissing under the mistletoe is a pretty obscure tradition where if two people find themselves under the white berried bearing plant, they can pucker up. The tradition of kissing under mistletoe is thought to have originated in ancient Greece due to the plants association with fertility, but mistletoe isn't quite as romantic as we might think. Which of the following is an ugly truth about mistletoe? (A) Its berries are deadly (B) its growth can kill trees or (C) its presence reduces bird numbers.

Diva - I thought it was A, I thought they were poisonous. Let's go with that.

Julia - The answer is B! Mistletoe is actually a semi-parasite that requires stealing nutrients from its host tree to stay alive. Excessive mistletoe growth can lead to the death of part or in worst cases, the entire tree. It's thought the parasitic nature of mistletoe might be why it got its everlasting association as it can stay green all winter by feeding off its host. Some mistletoes are poisonous, so should avoid being ingested, but they're not thought to be deadly. And several bird surveys have found that the loss of mistletoe from an environment reduces their numbers, hinting It's important for certain ecosystems. So Round two, we can bring it back. Question one for Raven and Beth. A common tree topper decoration is a star. And during the winter months in the Northern hemisphere, we get to spend more time looking at the stars, but in our history and today stars have been used for navigation. One star in particular Polaris or the north star has been a guiding light due to its relatively stable position above the Northern horizon all year round. But what constellation is Polaris a part of? Is it (A) the little bear (B) Orian's belt or (C) Draco the Dragon?

Beth - I really don't know.

Raven - I want to say little bear.

Julia - The correct answer is A, the little bear! Polaris is one of the seven stars, which makes up the little bear constellation, which is also known as the little dipper. And although Polaris is currently our north star, this may change in the future due to the slight shifting of the Earth's axis. And apparently around 2,600 years ago, when the pyramids were being built, it's thought the star Thuban, which is part of Draco the Dragon was the north star. Hannah, is that accurate?

Hannah - Yeah. That's accurate. It is to do with the way the earth rotates around its axis and how that changes over time. So, you know, back in when the dinosaurs lived, it would have been a completely different star across the sky.

Julia - That blew my mind when I found that out. So question two, we're now over to Diva and Hannah again. Electric Christmas tree lights were first wrapped around a Christmas tree in 1882 by Edward H. Johnson. Although it took over 40 years for people to warm to this idea, electric lights are now a central decoration for most trees. The cells in our brains communicate using electricity, equating to roughly 20 Watts of energy. If we went to town and decorated a Christmas tree with a thousand mini LED Christmas lights, how many human brains would we need to power them? Would it be (A) two and three quarter brains (B) three and a half brains or (C) four and a quarter brains.

Hannah - It's going to be lower than you think isn't it. How many watts does it take to light a Christmas tree? Not much. I'm guessing. I'm going to go with A again.

Julia - The correct answer is B! LED string lights use approximately 70 Watts of electricity and that equates to about three and a half human brains. And if we traded these led lights in for incandescent lights, so they're the lights that we used to use, we'd need a lot more human power. Does anyone want to guess how many brains we'd need to light up that type of tree?

Raven - I'm going to ballpark say a hundred.

Diva - I was gonna say 10.

Julia - It's sort of in the middle. It was 20. So, on that note, we are on team A - Raven and Beth - you have one point. Hannah and Diva - we're waiting for the comeback in the final round. So round three is called 'Merry Materials'. So question one - back to Raven and Beth. Wrapping up at this time of year in the Northern hemisphere is essential for keeping warm and across the holiday season. We also use a lot of wrapping paper to cover our gifts. In the UK alone. It's been estimated that the amount of wrapping paper that ends up in the bin at Christmas every year is enough to cover (A) half of the great pyramid of Giza (B) eight empire state buildings, or (C) the city of Cambridge in the UK twice.

Beth - I'm feeling the Cambridge connection. Because that's where I am.

Julia - The answer is C - Cambridge twice. It's estimated that in the UK, we throw away around 83 square kilometers of wrapping paper every Christmas and the area of the city of Cambridge is 40.7 square kilometers. So after wrapping the ground area twice, you'd still have a little bit leftover. And this amount of wrapping paper could cover almost a third of the great pyramid of Khufu in Giza and could cover the empire state building over 10 times. So we've got to make sure the paper is recyclable if we're going to use it. Last question, right, Hannah and Diva, we're going to bring it back. Santa's workshop is in the north pole and he and his helpers are busy making toys all year round. Aside from all the materials required to make gifts, the glaciers and icebergs in the Arctic are made of frozen freshwater. How much of the world's freshwater, as a percentage, is held in these structures? Is it (A) 20%, (B) 30% or (C) 40%?

Hannah - Well, none of those. I thought about three quarters of the world's freshwater was held in glaciers, but you're talking very specifically about the Arctic.

Diva - It's only Arctic glaciers and icebergs, and we're talking about percentage of freshwater?

Hannah - I know that three-quarters of fresh water is held in glaciers. But then the Arctic, what percentage of glaciers are there?

Diva - I mean, I would say 20 or 30 then given what you've just said. I wouldn't say 40.

Hannah - Okay. We've lost already. They've already beaten us. We just need one point.

Diva - Do you want to do middle ground? Okay. Middle ground, middle ground.

Julia - The answer is A! It is estimated 20% of the world's supply of freshwater is held in the glaciers and icebergs in the Arctic. So at the end of the quiz, the champion supreme are Beth and Raven with two points. Hannah and Diva - commiserations. You put in a good stint. But yeah that's our wonderful quiz all wrapped up. That was a pun and I didn't even mean it to be a pun.


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