Q: What's a most striking way to "get rich in your sleep"? Striking, yes, but neither easy nor practical.
A: One famous instance was when golfer Jack Nicklaus went into a long slump, having lost the graceful accuracy and timing of his swing, says New York University's David Randall in his book "Dreamland." His career was in jeopardy. Then one night, as he recounted later, he dreamed of pounding the ball onto the fairway. When he woke up, he realized he had been holding the club slightly differently, an adjustment that let him keep his right arm steady through the swing. "It was a tweak barely perceptible to anyone else, but Nicklaus instantly recognized it was the solution to his troubles. He got out of bed, went directly to the course, gripped the club like he had in his dream, and shot a 68. His old stroke was back."
Another example involved German chemist August Kekule, who awoke one night from a gilded dream about a snake eating its own tail. He suddenly realized the snake was in the same hexagonal shape as the benzene molecule he had been studying, which curved back around on itself. This 1845 discovery led to Kekule's being awarded a title of nobility.
When 19th-century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge awoke from an opium-induced dream, he had 300 lines of verse in his head, which became "Kubla Khan." One hundred fifty years later, musician Paul McCartney woke up with the melody for his song "Yesterday" running through his head.
"It was just all there, a complete thing," he later told a biographer. "I couldn't believe it."
As Nobel-Prize-winning scientists Francis Crick and Graeme Mitchison theorized, the brain picks up countless bits of information throughout the day and sorts through them during REM, or dreaming sleep, forgetting the useless stuff. With luck, the mind is "freed to make associations that it couldn't see before."
Q: If a young girl sits on a blanket and pulls up very hard on all four corners at once, can she lift herself? "Well, of course not, although, I know of one girl who tried with all her might," says Jearl Walker in "The Flying Circus of Physics." So how do jumping beans manage to jump up into the air?
A: In the bean is a small worm that first pushes off from the bottom and then collides with the top, propelling the bean upward, Walker explains. "The external force (the force outside the worm-bean system) that is responsible for the motion is the upward force on the worm as it initiates the jump."
Q: What might a tech-savvy basketballer have up his or her sleeve to make the perfect shot?
A: Actually practicing while wearing a sensor-laden sleeve manufactured by Vibrado Technologies, reports Michael Reilly in "New Scientist" magazine. The sleeve covers the shooting arm from the back of the hand to the biceps, with embedded electronic sensors -- known as accelerometers -- measuring motions of the back of the hand, the forearm and the biceps to compare them to an ideal model for a basketball shot. "We asked coaches, ‘How do you teach a shot? What do you consider good form?' " says Cynthia Kuo, co-founder of the California-based startup. Their response: "They look at things like keeping the elbow in, following through with the wrist and keeping the arm up."
Light and sound cues provide feedback to the wearer, and the system estimates the angle the ball leaves the hand, optimally about 52 degrees above horizontal for free throws. "This would be very good for teaching consistency," says Larry Silverberg of North Carolina State University. But the sleeve can't help with footwork: a shot "starts with the feet and goes up from there."
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