Strange But True: Records not likely to be broken


Q: Can you name a few absolutely unbeatable feats? Maybe some records are meant to be broken, but not these.

A: Start with the hardest of kicks delivered to the most private of male body parts, says Nick Green in "Mental Floss" magazine. Martial artist Kirby Roy was on the receiving end of 1,100 pounds of "ouch" from a mixed martial arts fighter. (The kick moved at 22 miles per hour.) Roy had spent decades conditioning his own body "to calmly take these kinds of attacks without pain, and he hardly flinched. As one would imagine, formal attempts to break his records are few and far between."

Now imagine yourself in a room with 40 snouted cobras, green mambas, puff adders and other snakes. How long would you last? In 2010, David Jones, a British carpenter, was locked inside such a room at a South African snake farm for 121 days, breaking the previous record by eight full days. "And he didn't receive a single bite!" Afterward, to discourage future attempts, the Guinness World Records committee declared it would no longer register the record.

Finally, the Renaissance Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503) acknowledged that as a young priest he had fathered four children with his favorite mistress, though historians believe the number was closer to 10. As the magazine quips, "While Alex wasn't the last dad-pope — Leo XII had three illegitimate children before donning the big hat in 1823 — we bet his record won't be broken anytime soon."

Q: What's the ultimate fate of life on Earth? Sure, this one's pretty obvious, but let's think it through anyhow.

A: Think of a skyborne fate riding in on an asteroid or comet, the likeliest culprits. Or a swollen sun could do it, says Andy Ridgway in "New Scientist" magazine. Short term, comets pose the greatest threat, hitting at three times the speed of asteroids and thus packing more of a punch, says University of Washington's Peter Ward. "Hale-Bopp is 50 kilometers (31 miles) in diameter. Had it hit, there would be no life on Earth."

But could life start again? It's difficult to say, but as evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould famously argued, it wouldn't evolve the same way.

Ultimately, though, life on Earth is doomed, Ridgway says. Our ever hotter sun will eventually start killing off plant life; more carbon dioxide will be drawn from the atmosphere, making photosynthesis impossible and "setting off a cascade of extinctions that starts with large mammals and ends with the hardiest microbes."

As Ridway concludes, "There will come a point when the supercharged sun creates conditions that couldn't possibly support biology. There will be no coming back from that."

Q: Most marriage license requirements are rather straightforward: minimum age, not currently married, not a close relative. But in the Indian state of Madhy Pradesh, what unusual item is the groom required to have in order to participate in a particular marriage ceremony?

A: A toilet in his domicile. Since 2007, Madhy Pradesh officials have conducted a number of mass marriage ceremonies to offer women from poor families a way to wed their prospective husbands, says Dan Lewis in his book "Now I Know More." According to the World Toilet Organization, about 2.5 million people — most of them very poor and living in developing regions — have no access to a functioning private toilet. In fact, half of all Indian households lack a toilet, with some 100,000 tons of human excrement accumulating in Indian fields each day (Bloomberg report, 2007). "As 'Fast Company' points out, improperly disposed-of fecal matter is the largest killer of children across the world, claiming over 1.4 million young lives a year."

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