Q: You can forget Superman and Wonder Woman on this one. Who have been the real Super-doers among us?
A: X-ray vision, no, but you can count the super-sight of German dentist Veronica Seider, measured at 20/2 vision (20 times better than average), who reportedly could identify people from a mile away, reports "Mental Floss" magazine. "She once wrote a 20-verse poem on a thumb-nail-size piece of paper — sans magnifying glass."
Then there was French-Canadian Louis Cyr, said to be able to hold back four pulling horses and to lift onto his back a platform with 18 men on it. "In 1896, he lifted 552 pounds with a finger."
Can you imagine identifying records by reading their grooves? When a friend challenged classical music devotee Arthur Lintgen to do just that, Lintgen read the grooves of 20 albums before a live audience and correctly identified all 20 of them.
Now let's hear it for the children of the Tarahumara tribe of northwest Mexico, whose low resting heart rates allow them to regularly run 200 miles — in two days. Invited to run a marathon in Kansas in the 1920s, they reportedly sent three kids "to run the mere 26.2 miles."
Finally, the "furious fluency of Francis Sommer" is superlative indeed: "Able to speak 94 languages, the Cleveland librarian said, 'I am afraid to cram any more words into my head. Either the top will come off, or I will wake up speaking Babel.'"
Q: How do electric eels manage to put a little extra zip in their zap, thus becoming possibly "the most sophisticated predators on the planet"?
A: These "batteries-included" fish ("Electrophorus electricus") have an electricity-generating organ or muscle that can be either off or on — just two power levels, according to Vanderbilt University's Kenneth Catania, as reported by Susan Milius in "Science News" magazine. Eels have a unique way of intensifying that power: When a recalcitrant fish struggles in an eel's jaws, the eel curls its tail, putting the electrically negative tail closer to the electrically positive front end, thus "doubling the strength of the electric field convulsing the prey."
As Catania explains, eels use electricity like a venom, shocking the prey's muscles, which makes it twitch and clench and exhausts it into immobility. Now the eel just opens its jaws and swallows its meal.
Regarding eels' toll on human life, he quickly speaks up on their behalf: "There's a lot of crazy stuff on TV, but I have never found a reputable source — and I'm not sure I have found a disreputable source — that eels kill people."
Q: Maybe a big burp doesn't sound like much, but when might it be a lot more significant than it sounds?
A: When it's a "wet burp" and the burper is an astronaut in zero or near-zero gravity, says Christian Millman in "Discover" magazine. William Pogue, who piloted the final manned mission to the Skylab space station in 1973, had just such an experience.
"An environment of near-weightlessness doesn't allow the contents of your stomach to settle out by weight as they would on Earth. Gas, liquids and solids bump against the esophageal sphincter ... that separates the esophagus from the stomach." And since the gravity-assisted sphincter doesn't provide a total closure, belching in the confines of a space vehicle could cause some messy backflow.
"Unless the astronaut can keep the mouth closed and reswallow that backflow ... any liquids or solids ejected during a wet burp could conceivably float off and lodge in sensitive instruments." This may not be a huge concern, Millman says, but back on Skylab, Pogue was worried enough that he limited his belches to just a couple during his 84-day mission.