QUIZ: To Early Earth and Beyond!

What number is bigger? Tastebuds on a human tongue, or the number of stone blocks used to build the giant pyramid?
14 November 2017

Interview with 

Lee Berger, Meghan Strong, Owen Weller, Jason Head


Colourful speech bubbles


It's not a Q&A show without putting our experts through their paces with a Naked Scientists quiz. Team One was Human Origins expert, Lee Berger, and Geologist, Owen Weller. They were up against Team Two: Palaeontology, Jason Head, and Egyptologust, Meghan Strong. And so it began with Team One.

QUIZ Q1: Pirates wore eye patches so they could see in the dark!

Chris - Is that science fact or science fiction?

Lee - I’m going to go false. How about you Owen?

Owen - I think the eye patch was so that when they came out of the bottom deck they could adjust their eyes to the light easier.

Lee - You're going to say true?

Owen - I’m going to say true.

Lee - I’ve got to go… you know there are ballast in the rocks.

True - It sounds like a joke, but it’s widely claimed that they wore eye patches to cover missing eyes, but they more often did this so that they could keep one eye adjusted to low light so they could see when they went below deck...

QUIZ Q2: True or False? Ancient Greeks would get drunk after making an important decision. They would know whether it was sound if they still felt the same way about it when drunk.

Chris - Is that science fact or science fiction - what do you two think?

Jason - I kinda want that to be true.

Meghan - Yeah. I know that Greeks liked to drink.

Chris - What today, or historically?

Meghan - They have tons of stuff dealing with wine: wine stringers, wine drinking cups, one drunk in wine drinking scenes.

Jason - And so much is written about the importance of wine, and the philosophy behind wine, and so…

Meghan - I’m going to say true. Yeah, we’re going to go with true.

A: False. I liked your logic but it was the Ancient Persians - (550-330 BCE). According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the ancient Persians had a ritual of intoxication. They believed that you could only tell the truth when you were drunk, so they would drink a lot of wine after deciding on something and if their minds still felt the decision was right when then it is considered the right decision!

Chris - I think you’d have to be drunk to come up with a rule like that wouldn’t you?

Chris: Time for Round Two on size. Over to Team One.

QUIZ Q3: What number is bigger? Tastebuds on a human tongue, or the number of stone blocks used to build the giant pyramid?

Lee - Tastebuds.

Owen - I would go with tastebuds.

Lee - We’re going to go with tastebuds just because there are not that bigger pyramids, and there’s a void in them.

Chris - So you’re going true or false?

Owen - We’re going tastebuds.

Chris - You're’ going the larger number are tastebuds?

False - The pyramid wins!

Did you know that Meghan?

Meghan - I would have gone with tastebuds.

Jason - Did you count the void - the new void they found?

The pyramid wins! We estimate more than 2 million stones were used to build the Great Pyramid. That number’s at least 100 times larger than the 10,000 or so tastebuds on a human tongue. So not that many tastebuds.

Currently you're still in the lead you two but let’s see, this other pair might equalise now.

Over to TEAM ONE.

QUIZ Q4: What’s larger, the distance from the surface of the Earth to the centre of the Earth, or the distance from the surface of the Earth to where the International Space Station is orbiting?

Jason - That’s going to be distance from surface to centre.

Meghan - Yeah.

Jason - Greater distance would be the surface to the centre.

Chris - Do you know how far it is?

Jason - I believe… isn’t the diameter 5… oh no.

I’ll get this wrong - 5000 plus kilometres I believe is the diameter isn’t it?

Chris - It’s not surprising Owen has his hand up.

Own - Can I get a bonus point for suggesting 6,371 kilometers plus or minus? It’s actually greater at the equator than to the north.

Chris - True. The Earth’s centre! It’s about 6000km to our planet’s core although there is a bulge around the equator to make it slightly larger between the surface of the core of the centre of the Earth, but only about 400km to the altitude at which the ISS orbits.

One all so far. So here we go onto the final round.

Chris: Now for the final round, firsts. Team One, over to you.

QUIZ Q5: What came first, Coca-Cola, or “Tyrannosaurus Rex”?

Lee - They’re going to refer to the name there I presume. So we’ve got Coca-Cola in late 19th century right - early 20th century? And Tyrannosaurs Rex is going to be later than that I guess on naming. What’s your thought’s Owen?

Owen - It has to be a trick question presumably.

Lee - No. We’re not allowed to think like that. I go with Coca-Cola anyway.

A: Coca-cola. They company was founded in 1892, the Tyrannosaurus Rex was given it’s name by Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the American Museum of Natural History, in 1905.

So that’s two to Lee and Owen. Meghan and Jason currently on one. Let’s see if you’re going for a tiebreaker.

QUIZ Q6: What came first? The discovery of the hole in the ozone layer, or the first space shuttle launch?

Meghan - I was going to say space shuttle.

Jason - We’ll go with shuttle.

A: Space Shuttle. Columbia blasted off for the first time in April 1981; the ozone hole was discovered in 1984 by 3 scientists at the British Antarctic Survey. Brian Gardner and his colleagues. That was in Cambridge when they made that. They didn’t make the discovery in Cambridge obviously, they went to Antarctica to make the discovery but they were working in Cambridge when they made that discovery. It lead to the Montreal Protocol in 1986, the banning of chlorofluorocarbons in fridges and aerosols and things. And the ozone hole which is currently Australia sized has stopped expanding so we think that, actually, it was one of the most important interventions on environmental grounds we’ve yet made.

It goes to a tie break. Whoever gets the closest answer, wins.

Chris -Final question, when did the last woolly mammoths walk on Earth? Answer to the closest I’ve got written down here. What do you all think?

Owen - About 18,000?

Lee - I’m going to say something very different than that.

Chris - Are you guys ready?

Meghan - Yes.

Jason - Yes.

Chris - Well let’s give Lee the chance first. What do you reckon?

Lee - I’d say about 3½ thousand years to 4 thousand recent ones found in.

Chris - So 3½ thousand years to 4 thousand years ago or BC?

Lee - Oh BC.

Chris - Okay. You're going to 3½ thousand years to 4 thousand years BC.

Let’s go to the other team, let’s go to Meghan and Jason, what do you think?

Jason - I thought it was about 4 thousand.

Meghan - Yeah. That sounds right.

Jason - We have effectively the same answer.

Chris - A: 1650 BC. Although, most of the woolly mammoth population died out by 10,000 years ago, a small population of 500-1000 woolly mammoths lived on until 1650 BC. For context, Egyptian pharaohs were midway through their empire and it was about 1000 years after the Giza pyramids were built.

So I think everyone gets a point so we have actually a perfect solution that no-one goes home any the wiser on any much a winner. So very well done to everyone there.


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