Q: Can you name seven "useless" human body parts?
A: You might start with wisdom teeth, says Judy Dutton in "Mental Floss" magazine. Are you among the 5 percent of people today with room for them? "Back in pre-toothpaste days when molars fell out, wisdom teeth were handy backup chompers."
2. Tonsils in the back of the throat filter out bacteria and viruses but are prone to infection, and many kids have them removed. Luckily for adults, tonsils shrink with age and usually stop causing trouble.
3. Probably not as useless as once thought, the appendix may store beneficial bacteria for repopulating the gut after an illness.
4. The coccyx at the base of the spine consists of three to five vertebrae fused together, "remnants of our long-lost tails."
5. "Arrectores pilorum" are mini-muscles that long ago made our ancestors' body hairs stand on end to conserve heat and to make us look bigger, frightening off enemies. "Today, all they do is create goose bumps."
6. About 1 in 200 people has a set of spare ribs to go along with the normal 12 sets; all chimps and gorillas have an extra set near the neck.
7. Pinky toes: Our ape ancestors used all their toes to grab and swing from branches. Modern man can remain upright using his big toe "with a little help from its three neighboring piggies. The fifth is just along for the ride."
Q: Players of high-tech Scrabble no longer need huddle in small groups hunched over game boards. Rather, utilizing the Web, wireless and smartphones, they can drop a ZYGOTES bingo on fellow players anywhere in the world. That's good! But what new "psychic danger" is ever at hand?
A: After each move, a widget on the screen can now reveal what WOULD HAVE BEEN the best move based on the letters in the player's virtual rack. "A game today thus affords competitors a plethora of regrets," writes Steve Mirsky in "Scientific American" magazine. "And the worst come from not seeing a potential ‘bingo' -- a rack-emptying play that earns a 50-point bonus."
"For purposes of self-flagellation," Scrabbler Mirsky records science-related bingos he himself missed over a few weeks of play. Among them: a rock-climbing REVERSO (68); PORCINI mushroom (72); ROSEATE spoonbill (73); NEGATON, also known as "electron" (77); Heimlich MANEUVER (84); BOLIDES from outer space (95); and in the realm of metaphysics, FOREKNOW (104!).
Q: At a nursery for newborns in a U.S. hospital, what might underscore Americans' growing individualistic tendencies?
A: Parents these days so much want "a child like no other child" that they choose a more uncommon baby name, says David G. Myers in "Exploring Psychology: Ninth Edition." Around 1950, for instance, nearly 35% of boys were given one of the 10 most common male names, about 25% of girls' names were similarly chosen. But by 2010 or so, these percentages had plunged to under 10%, with uniqueness and individualism more and more ruling the baby roost!
"Over time, the most common American names listed by year on the U.S. Social Security baby names website were becoming less desirable," Myers continues. "An analysis of the first names of 325 million American babies born between 1880 and 2007 confirmed this trend."
In the U.S. in 2012, the 10 most common male baby names in descending order were Jacob, Mason, Ethan, Noah, William, Liam, Jayden, Michael, Alexander and Aiden. For female babies, Sophia ranked first, followed by Emma, Isabella, Olivia, Ava, Emily, Abigail, Mia, Madison and Elizabeth.
Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org.