The Extreme Quiz

18 June 2019

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Who will be this week's big brains: astronomer Carolin Crawford and nanoscientist Colm Durkan, or the Centre for Existential Risk's Haydn Belfield and chemist Ljiljana Fruk...

Chris - Now we always try and do a little quiz for our panel of people when we do this. And they're competing for a prize beyond price, which is the Naked Scientist Big Brain of the Week award. And there are three rounds, and because this is our extreme month where we have a series of programs dominated by the theme of extreme things - this is an extreme Q&A show - and so this has some kind of relevance to this quiz, where everything is to do with extremes. So our two teams are Corm and Carolyn, and Haydn and Ljiljana. Round One is extreme weather. Are you ready, both of you? You may confer. This first question: the most rain recorded to fall in one minute was one hundred millimeters. Is that a science fact or a science fiction?

Carolin - Gosh. It feels like we've had most of that over the last week actually. Shall we say fact?

Colm - I would say that that's possible in places in India, yeah.

Chris - I'm really sorry, actually it's false. The most rainfall in a minute was 31.2 mm - that's 1.23 inches. It was recorded in 1956 on the fourth of July at Unionville in Maryland, in America. Okay. Unfortunately, zero for you. Haydn and Ljiljana, see if you can improve on a score of zero. The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was minus 60.3°C. Is that a science fact or a science fiction? What do you think?

Ljiljana - I would say it's a fact. I think it was even more than minus 60.

Haydn - Well can't we get things incredibly cold in the lab? So couldn't it be even lower?

Chris - Just to clarify, this is naturally, like in the natural world.

Ljiljana - But good thinking!

Haydn - I was thinking, because it’s the extreme month it might be extremely hard or extremely tricky questions.

Ljiljana - I would say it's a fact. It can get pretty cold. But I don’t know, you are extreme risk.

Chris - You’re saying science fact?

Haydn - I’m gonna go with...yeah.

Ljiljana - No!

Chris - Okay, level pegging on zero. Actually the coldest temperature recorded was even colder than the minus 60.3 - it was minus 89.2°C, minus 128.5° Fahrenheit. That was recorded in July 1983 in Vostok, Antarctica. Right, back to Colm and Carolin. See if you can improve on your score. This is Round Two: extreme fact or extreme fantasy. This is an example of someone who's extremely dedicated: the Schmidt pain scale was created by allowing venomous things to sting and bite people, and then record their reactions. Is that science fact, or is that something I made up?

Carolin - Ooh.

Colm -  Well I think that's correct.

Carolin - Oh you think it's correct? I was going to say it’s fantasy. Well I'm happy to go with Colm’s decision here.

Carolin -  That was the right decision my half. Go, excellent, well done.

Chris - Yes, you were right Carolin, that's right - right to listen. It's true. In 1983 entomologist Justin Schmidt famously came up with his Schmidt pain index. He rates the pain of various insect stings and bites by letting them sting him. For each he also provides a nice colourful description. So rated 2 on his pain index is a wasp sting; that causes a pain that he says is hot and smoky, almost irreverent, imagine W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue, he says. Level 4 is apparently the top of the scale. Although Schmidt says the pain from a Nicaraguan bullet ant is 4 plus! And it’s like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your foot. Anyone here had any painful brushes with nature? Anybody?

Ljiljana - Well I had a wasp sting. It wasn’t...

Chris - But that's that Schmidt scale 2!

Ljiljana - I know, but it didn't feel like this! He was very poetic.

Chris - Very poetic or potent? I got stung by a Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish. That was pretty painful, I have to say, I noticed that. I won't be repeating the experience either. Right, so you've got one point so far, so Carolin and Colm go into the lead, score of one. Over to Ljiljana and to Haydn, here you go: this is your question, an example of someone who was extremely dedicated. Greenland's only railway was built to move a meteorite. Science fact or science fantasy?

Ljiljana - This is so crazy that it’s probably a fact.

Haydn - Greenland’s only railway. Hmm.

Chris - Or did I make that up?

Haydn - I like that. I hope it’s true.

Ljiljana - I mean, you would expect meteorites falling into some really deserted places, and then...

Haydn - I presume it's so big that they needed to move it to the coast, or something like that?

Chris - What are you going for?

Haydn - Carolin is looking very…

Ljiljana - She knows!

Chris - Fact or fiction?

Ljiljana - Fact.

Haydn - I think fact.

Chris - Carolin sounds like she knows more about it than I do, but I'll read you what's written here. It’s Arctic explorer Robert Peary, who located a 31-ton lump of metal that local Inuit had been using as a source of iron for their harpoons and knives. It was the third-largest iron-rich meteorite recorded on Earth. He sold it for 40,000 dollars to a museum in New York, but first he had to get it on a ship to get it there. Unfortunately it was nowhere near where the ship was, so the only way to get it to where he could dock a boat was to build a railroad to put the meteorite on there, and then move this 3.4 by 2.1 by 1.7 metre chunk of iron to the ship, and it's now called the Cape York meteorite.

Ljiljana - And I can tell you he was full of dopamine, because he had a huge motivation.

Chris - Well he trousered forty thousand dollars. I suspect it was a lot of money in those days, wasn't it. Okay, one each, level pegging into Round 3: extremely trivial. Colm and Carolin, extremely stupid is your question. Ostriches’ eyes are bigger than their brains. Science fact or science fiction?

Carolin - I suspect that…

Chris - ‘Eye’ suspect, I like that.

Carolin - See, you’ve got to try and second guess, it's not the answer you expect.

Colm - No. I mean, I would expect...

Carolin - I think it’s fiction.

Colm - That's funny, okay. I would expect it's true because they're really quite stupid, and they have big eyes.

Carolin - I’m just wondering if it's a double bluff. Because we expect it to be true, it’s actually not.

Colm - That’s too clever for me.

Chris - So where are you going to go go, science fiction or science fiction?

Colm - I'll listen to you this time.

Carolin. Oh dear. Well I'm saying it's fiction, so if we fail I'm sorry Colm.

Carolin - Oh no!

Chris - Actually, this is true. An ostrich brain - thanks to a Turkish publication I found, I checked the diameter and the various measurements - the dimensions are six centimetres by four centimetres by four centimetres, so the volume of the brain’s about 96 cubic centimetres. The eyes are actually four centimetres diameter. So the volume of a sphere being four over three pi r cubed, that means the volume of the eye is more than the volume of the brain. About 125 or so cubic centimetres each eye, and they've got two of those, so most of an ostrich’s head is actually its eyeballs, there's very little brain there. They're allegedly endowed with these enormous eyes in order to be able to see well in the dark so they can escape predators. They're not very good at that, though, because when something does frighten them they just run around in circles. So actually they can see what's going to kill them very well, but they're not very good at escaping. They are very fast, though, so there is that. Right. It's all on this one, you two. If you get this then we don't have go to a tie breaker. Are you ready? Okay, going to have to give your answer quickly to this one. Stewardess is the longest word you can type with only one hand on a keyboard with the same hand.

Haydn - What about stewardesses. Surely you must be able to do that with one hand?

Ljiljana - I’ll leave it to you.

Haydn - I think it's not true because you can do stewardesses.

Chris - That was my sneaky one. Indeed, stewardesses is the longest word that you can type with only one hand. All those letters are on the left hand side of the keyboard, the E is sneakily there as well. So stewardess, yes you can type that, but stewardesses is up for grabs, and that's the longest one you can do with one hand. Bonus point, then. Can you tell me: what is the longest word you can type with just one row of a computer keyboard? What do you think?

Haydn: ‘Qwertyuiop’, what would that be…

Chris - Oh no, it's got to be in the dictionary! I’ll let you out of your misery. It's typewriter. Isn't that appropriate? It's all on the top line of the keyboard. Well done, our Big Brains of the Week award goes to Ljiljana and Haydn. Very well done, give them a round of applause. Very well done. We’re impressed with that.

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