Science Fastbreaks

SCIENCE FASTBREAKS: A Monthly Report on What’s New in Sci/Tech

Last month our “Computer” column compared several new software programs that enable you to monitor your diet and help you lose weight (so-called “spreadsheets”), while our “Biology” column described two amazing, genetically-engineered vegetables, one that tastes like an onion but can be stored for up to 12 years (the “archives”) and one that is cool and refreshing but can be worn formally (the “cucumberbund”). This month on Science Fastbreaks, we take you to the edges of contemporary physics, chemistry and psychology…

Physics. More fun than a barrel of Einsteins! That’s how physicists at the Neils Bohr Charm School describe “Monopolativity,” a new board game based on the principles of General and Special Relativity. The object is to out-colonize opponents in the energy-rich Galactic Core, while keeping your “rocket” (game piece) outside the pull of the “Black Hole” (electromagnet) that dominates the center of the “Milky Way” (elliptical game board).

Each rocket travels within one of five concentric ovals, representing five distinct space/time continua, that surround the Black Hole. (In Advanced Play, for added authenticity the players themselves sit at varying distances from the board, though always within the same zip code.)

To represent time dilation near the Black Hole, players in the outer ovals move “faster” than those closer in – i.e., they throw the dice more frequently – but they are allowed less time to play. In Advanced Play those farthest out toss the dice one each minute for two hours (measured using the radiation emitted by the Caesium-133 atom included with the game), while those in the innermost oval have the same 120 tosses, but evenly spaced till the next leap year.

Excitement and learning are enhanced by two sets of game cards. The General Physics pack teaches the chaos inherent in a post-Newtonian universe via such cards as:
· Detonation of a fusion bomb over your Antarean colony causes silicon in the atmosphere to collapse into sand, destroying all life. Lose your next turn.
· You strike a tachyon. Two seconds earlier, it strikes you back. Destroy your gene pool.
Meanwhile, the Relativity cards include such gems as:
· You finally grasp that gravity is just the tendency of warped space and slowed time around massive bodies to cause other matter to gain energy of motion. Pat yourself on the back.
· Journeying through the curved space around a red giant wrinkles your trousers. Pay The Galactic Federation $5M IMUs. (See back of card)
o Back of same card: Did you forget to tip the dry cleaning deliveryman? Pay extra $2M IMU penalty.
And of course both decks include the classic:
· Go to the Event Horizon. Go directly to the Event Horizon. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect $2M IMUs.

This game is fun for people of all ages, especially those with advanced degrees in quantum mechanics or particle physics.

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Chemistry. For decades people have marveled at the remarkable reproductive powers of the metal clothes hangers favored by dry cleaners whereby, if you leave one hanger alone in a closet and return a week later, there is a litter of 6 to 12 full-grown hangers. Chemists believe this same property occurs naturally in wire bag ties and, to a lesser extent, paper clips, rubber bands and ballpoint pens. However, the underlying chemical and/or atomic structure has remained a mystery…

Until now. Last month chemists conducting research on a Fulbright, under the auspices of the Dry Cleaning Sciences Institute, Department of Hanger Studies, announced a breakthrough: If they injected Mr. Fulbright with a solution of perchloroethylene (1.7 g/cm3 at room temperature) and Stoddard solvents (C5-C12 petrocarbons), then left him unattended in an empty closet, a week later that closet contained, in addition to Mr. Fulbright, 6 to 12 metal hangers. Although this was not the self-reproductive result expected, the Institute predicts that major advances will follow and that soon, perhaps by dinner, they will be able to finish any volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, leave it on a bookshelf, and return to discover he’s added 10 to 20 major new characters.

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Psychology. In a landmark study, researchers at the Thomas Szasz School of Mythical Behaviors have discovered that the effectiveness of therapy, as measured by the duration of treatment until the therapist recommends termination, is unaffected by the therapist’s training or philosophy, but varies dramatically with the therapist’s mode of employment.

The most effective therapists are those employed by health maintenance organizations and colleges, whose patients rarely need more than 3 to 6 sessions to improve enough to end therapy … regardless of their presenting symptoms. Slightly less effective are therapists working for welfare departments (6 to 8 sessions), family and children’s agencies (7 to 10 sessions) and law schools (8 to 11.3 billable hours).

The big surprise is the ineffectiveness of therapists in private practice, whose patients (at least those with top-flight insurance) often remain in therapy for years, also regardless of symptoms. Although still seeking explanations for such anomalous results, the scientists involved proposed the following practical guidelines:
· First, gauge the severity of your problem. For example, if it’s nail-biting, severity depends on whose (biting a neighbor’s nails is more severe than biting your own) and on type (if they’re 8D galvanized, you need a dentist, not a therapist).
· Next, use severity to determine how quick a cure to seek. If speed is crucial, try your local HMO or community college. If the problem is less urgent, and you can’t get into a good law school, try a private therapist.
· But first, make sure to cancel your insurance or improvement could take years!

Howard Zaharoff
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