Jewish World Review Feb. 19, 2004 / 27 Shevat, 5764

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

Zambonis; Why does popcorn pop?; Why do we drive on the right side of the road, while the British drive on the left?; more | Q: How do Zambonis work? How were they invented? Why do people like them so much?

— Brent

According to the maker's Web site, Zambonis, the lovably hulking ice resurfacing machines that chug around hockey rinks, work like this: First, a blade shaves the surface of loose ice chips. Then the shavings are gathered up. Water is fed to a squeegee, which smooths the ice. The dirty water is vacuumed up. Finally, clean hot water is spread on the ice to make smooth new ice.

Frank Zamboni invented the first Zamboni Ice Resurfacing Machine to maintain his Paramount Iceland skating rink in California in 1949. It was recently restored and is fully operational. It still makes a terrific sheet of ice!

Zamboni machines have a top speed of about 9 mph. Since 1949, more than 7,000 Zambonis have been sold.

Why do people love them? Because they're so cool! They're like a lawn tractor for the polar ice cap!

— — —

Q: Why does popcorn pop?

— Amy, Charlotte, N.C.

A: Whew! For a minute I thought you were gonna ask why popcorn costs so darn much at the movies. Now THAT'S a good question.

There are three elements that make popcorn pop:

Moisture inside the kernel.

Starch inside the kernel.

The hard shell surrounding the kernel.

When a popcorn kernel heats up (either in a popcorn popper or the microwave), the moisture inside the kernel expands. When the pressure inside the kernel gets high enough, the kernel explodes.

The strange part is the white solid that forms during the process. Starch granules in the kernel do not explode, but expand into thin, jellylike bubbles. Neighboring bubbles fuse together and solidify, forming a three-dimensional network much like a sink full of soapsuds. This is the white fluffy solid we eat.

Bread and muffins expand and solidify in much the same way (although much more slowly).

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Q: Why do we drive on the right side of the road, while the British drive on the left?

— Richard Cosgrove Jr., Richfield, N.C.

A: In the olden days, horsemen passed on the left when they encountered a stranger riding toward them. This way, their sword hand was free and near the stranger in case they needed to clang him upside the head. (Then, as now, most people were right-handed.)

For a while, horse-drawn traffic followed this tradition and kept to the left in most of Europe and the Mediterranean world.

So why does all of Europe (except the British Isles), all of the Western Hemisphere (except some former British possessions in the Caribbean), and all of the Middle East drive on the right?

Napoleon decreed that his troops should march on the right side of the road, and instituted that rule for all traffic in the many lands he conquered.

See, Napoleon had soldiers all over, and they were always marching in and out of places. Following the British tradition, they started out by marching on the left side of the road. Columns of troops frequently approached from opposite directions and passed each other in the narrow roads of the time. The soldiers muskets were slung over their right shoulders, and the weapons of one column of troops would crash into the weapons of the other column of troops and everybody would get all tangled up. (Which would've been funny, but Napoleon didn't have much of a sense of humor. In fact, he was often rather short with people. Short!)

The obvious solution was to make the troops march on the right side of the road so that the weapons were on the outside edge of the road, where they wouldn't bang into approaching traffic. If all those men with weapons went to the right side of the road, EVERYBODY in those countries had to go to the right side of the road.

But Napoleon didn't conquer Britain, so the Brits stayed on the left, following their knightly traditions.

A London newspaper one April Fool's Day printed a story saying that, to further European integration, the U.K. was to convert to driving on the right. However, owing to the huge amount of work this conversion would cause, it would be phased in. For the first six months, the regulation would only apply to buses and taxis.

— — —

Time for our reader quiz of the week. This time we delve into our file of UNUSUAL people. These folks have little in common - except that they were not your boys and girls next door.

1. This French wrestler and actor loomed 4 inches beyond 7 feet and weighed about 500 pounds.

2. At 17 this visionary soldier inspired a French army to break the English siege of Orleans.

3. This "mad monk" won the confidence of Czar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra. And boy, was this guy hard to kill.

4. Perhaps this dark, 19th century American writer's unhappy life inspired him to pen his brooding poetry, and to help invent the modern detective story.

5. This family is legendary for its circus feats - especially for walking wires at tremendous heights.

ANSWERS: 1. Andre the Giant 2. Joan of Arc 3. Rasputin 4. Edgar Allen Poe 5. The Flying Wallendas

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here. If you send him a great question, he'll send you a Glad You Asked T-shirt.


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