Olympics Themed Naked Science Quiz

Some mental gymnastics needed to win gold in our last test of mental agility...
27 July 2021


question mark on a blackboard


Now the Tokyo Olympics kick off this week, so we have an olympic-inspired quiz for the panel; public health guru Linda Bauld, exercise physiologist and paralympian Dan Gordon, wildlife expert Eleanor Drinkwater, and space science junkie Richard Hollingham.

Chris - So we've got two teams, Dan and Richard, you're going to be team one, and Linda and Eleanor, you're going to be team two and you can of course confer. It is the Tokyo Olympics. So I've got an Olympic inspired quiz for you. Dan and Richard, you're going first. Round one is long distance. So if Elon Musk's rocket goes off course one day and it takes him to Mars by mistake, how long, Dan and Richard, would his Mayday radio signal from Mars take to get back to Earth? Is it A) 20 minutes, B) 40 minutes or C) 60 minutes? What do you reckon?

Richard - It depends on the distance between the planets at any one time, because obviously the planets move around the Sun and those distances between Earth and Mars change. I would go for 20 minutes.

Chris - And Dan, are you in agreement or are you deferring to Richard?

Dan - I will bow to the superior knowledge on this, but I suppose I was thinking back to my H.G. Wells and War of the Worlds. I was going to the other end of the spectrum 60 minutes, but I'll bow to my compatriot and his superior knowledge.

Chris - Dan, you made the right call because it is 20 minutes. It does vary, Richard's right, because Mars is between 78 million and 378 million kilometres away from the Earth because some points in its orbit it's close to us, at other points in its orbit it's on the other side of the solar system. And so therefore signals from Mars to the Earth can take anything between three and 22 minutes to get back to the Earth. So 20 minutes was the closest answer. That's the right one. One point to you two. Linda and Eleanor. Your question. When Apollo 15, and you'll see Richard why you didn't get this question, when Apollo 15 made it to the Moon this week 50 years ago, how long were their radio signals taking to get back to the Earth? Was it 0.5 seconds, 2.5 seconds or 12.5 seconds? What do you both reckon?

Linda - Oh, I think it wasn't that long actually, I'm getting my knowledge from watching the film, which I don't think is pretty reliable, but there's sort of a pause, isn't there, when they're hearing from the astronauts. I kind of feel that the laws would say that it's probably not the middle answer because it was the middle answer when you asked the boys! I would say it's probably 2.5 or 12.5. What do you think, Eleanor?

Eleanor - I think it's going to be on the longer end of the spectrum.

Linda - Shall we go for 12.5 then? Okay. Let's risk it.

Chris - Richard, the answer is?

Richard - I'm going for 2.5.

Chris - You would have been right! It's 2.5 seconds. Sorry, Linda and Eleanor, I'm afraid it was 2.5 Seconds. Right, see if you can redeem yourselves on the next round - Round 2, we're onto weightlifting now. Heavyweights, Dan and Richard, as you are now in the lead with 1 point - relative to their body size, which of these animals can lift the most? A, a dung beetle, B, an Eagle or C, a gorilla.

Richard - I'd be tempted on the dung beetle

Dan - I would've thought - I mean, I know the gorilla's pretty strong, but I mean a gorilla's pretty hefty. I think we can rule the gorilla out. I mean, an eagle can lift quite large prey, but there's something about that dung beetle and the size of dung. Yeah, I think dung beetle.

Chris - Yup! You get a point! Would you have said that Eleanor?

Linda - That was way too easy!

Chris - You haven't had your question yet, hang on! You are right, you two. Dung beetle was the correct answer. Eagles are the strongest birds. They can actually lift 4 times their own bodyweight off the ground. Gorillas, get this, can lift an incredible 2 tons, which is 10 times their weight. But the dung beetles clinch it because they roll around piles of poo that actually weigh a thousand times more than they do, so they are certainly the winners this week of the heavy lifting contest, right? Linda and Eleanor - relative to their body size, which of these animals can lift the most A, a grizzly bear, B, an ox or C, a tiger?

Eleanor - Oh, I probably guess the ox?

Linda - I was going to say that Eleanor, because that's an animal that we use - traditionally people have used the ox as a lifting animal, haven't they, or dragging animal or something that would help people carry things. So I wonder whether that's why that's the right answer. Yeah, I think we'll go for the ox!

Chris - *Sad trumpet sound*

Eleanor - No!

Linda - We can't let the boys win!

Chris - I think that's something of an inevitability now, unfortunately! Grizzly bears can shift 500 kilos, so half a ton, that's 80% of their weight, quite a lot! "As strong as an ox," as you were sort of suggesting, that would have been a good call because those stocky ruminants can lift 900 kilos, that's 150% of their body weight. But a tiger can drag half a ton up a tree, and half a ton is twice the tiger's weight. So the tiger body size to weight is the strongest of those 3. So you should have chosen that! We'll do round 3 anyway, just to see if the boys can get a gold medal across the board. This is round 3 - water sports. So grab your Speedos, Dan and Richard, you're up, and to make this a fair comparison, we are doing this in terms of body length per second. We want to know who swims fastest, in body lengths per second, a mako shark, a bluefin tuna, or the probiotic Bdellovibrio bacterium?

Dan - Wow, that's a tricky one. That is cheeky!

Richard - Bacterium is just going to have little cilia on it, isn't it...

Dan - I think the probiotic, I was fairly comfortable at that point, I think, but I think the probiotic, I've just got a sneaky suspicion

Richard - I think you're right. I think we've been consistent that we can just go with the smallest one, I think.

Dan - Let's go with it!

Chris - Going with the bacterium?

Dan and Richard - Yeah.

Chris - Yes, that's the right answer! Makos are the fastest sharks, they can swim over 74 kilometres an hour. A bluefin tuna will cruise along a good 70 kilometres an hour. Now based on the length of those fish though, that's about 6 to 10 body lengths a second. But Bdellovibrio, which are these bizarre parasitic bacteria that invade other bacteria, drill holes in them and grow inside them before bursting out and finding more bacteria, they can swim along at 100 body lengths per second. You're a world record holder, Dan. So are these, they're in the Guinness Book of World Records so I'm told as the world's fastest swimmers, 100 body lengths a second, really quite a feat. Now let's see if you can get yourself a little bit of redemption, Team 2, Linda and Eleanor, you might get a bronze medal out of this one -  who can stay on the water the longest - a beaked whale, Croatian Guinness world record diver Budimir Šobat, or an alligator?

Eleanor - I'm guessing it's not going to be the person.

Linda - No.

Eleanor - So it's between the alligator and the whale. I want to say whale, but I feel like this is going to be a trick question. Given our track record, what do you think, Linda?

Linda - Yeah. Well, I was going to say the whale. I'm just trying to think about how alligators behave. They can disappear for quite a long time, can' they. I think the tricky thing is because we don't probably know much about that whale species - the beaked whale. Do you know much about them?

Eleanor - No, I don't

Linda - Think though, if you think about whales, the depth they dive too, you know, for ages, don't they to feed?

Eleanor - I feel like the whale's too easy. I'm thinking it could be the alligator because it feels like a trick question here

Linda - Okay. Well, we'll go with the alligator, but I think it's the whale. Let's go with the alligator.

Eleanor - Okay. Okay. What is it, Chris?

Chris - And it's the right choice, yes!

Linda - Hooray we got a point!

Chris  - Croatian Budimir Šobat has actually just set a new world record this March. He managed to remain underwater for an incredible nearly 25 minutes. A beaked whale is the longest submerging mammal, it can stay down at depths of about 2 miles for nearly 4 hours, but the alligator's on the top of the podium for this particular race - he has, or she has, the ability to stay under there for 24 hours if needs be. So congratulations to Team 1, Dan and Richard, you get this week's gold metal with 3 out of 3. You are the Naked Scientists Big Brain of the Week Award. We'll give a bronze medal to Linda and Eleanor for being jolly good sports, you did get off the blocks with your final answer.


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