Mental Floss

THE Y-FILES, Part II: More Answers to Help Shut Your Kid Up!

Mangesh Hattikudur
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I keep my office like I keep my coffee: dark. So when the door creaked open, and the light streamed in, I knew it was trouble.The dame walked toward me and started firing off questions. She was the pushy sort, and she shot "˜em off rapid-fire: "Why's the sky blue? Why are tennis balls fuzzy? Why do llamas spit? Why? Why? Why?" The gal was merciless, and she didn't take "go ask mom" for an answer. This was a four-year-old who needed explanations, and she needed "˜em fast. I looked over my shoulder, took a long swig of courage, then opened the drawer. I could see it was time to crack open this case.

THE WHY FILES

WHY DO WE SOMETIMES EXPERIENCE STRANGE MUSCLE SPASMS BEFORE FALLING ASLEEP?
It's OK to admit it. It's happened to all of us, and it scared us to death, too. But don't worry; it's perfectly normal. When we're awake, our brains are constantly communicating with our various muscle groups, but when we're asleep, that connection between our brain and our muscles is turned off. However, there is a period of limbo just after we doze off and just before we enter REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, leaving some room for communication. In this transition period, if we think of something stressful or fearful, our body tries to jolt back into "awake mode" by connecting to all the muscle groups and preparing to fend off the perceived danger. These jarring flinches, known as "hypnic jerks," can also occur if a person is engaged in a repetitive activity for a long period of time during the day, such as kayaking or skiing. On these nights, the brain has a hard time letting go of that brain-muscle rhythm and accidentally tries to initiate the movement.

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WHY DO WE GET GOOSE BUMPS?
The truth is that goose bumps are pretty useless. When we get cold or scared, tiny muscles attached to our hair follicles tighten, making the connected hair stand erect. It's not likely that your arm hairs sticking straight up will scare anybody today, but back in the days when we looked a lot more like chimpanzees, it was a pretty good tactic for making the body look bigger and more menacing in the face of an approaching enemy. It also helped keep us warm because tightening the muscles attached to our hairs closed our sweat glands and reserved body heat. Unfortunately, we don't really have enough hair for that to make a big difference anymore either.

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Lots more after the jump!

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WHY DO LLAMAS SPIT?
The spit of a llama may be the only thing more offensive than that of a baseball player, so be extra nice. If you get on their bad sides, llamas can whip up a wad of piping hot stomach juices and send it hurling toward you with powerful precision. Far from normal saliva-based spit, this putrid present will make recipients wish they'd been sprayed by a skunk. But, to be fair, llamas rarely get angry enough to show off this hidden talent. Most of the time, llama spit is of the benign saliva variety and actually serves as a form of communication among llama herds.

WHY ARE THERE LINES ON A SIDEWALK?
It's basically a way for builders to cover up their cracks "¦ concrete cracks, of course. When concrete dries, it shrinks and breaks apart. But, making small divisions between slabs gives the concrete a more natural, thin place to crack, and makes it less noticeable. When damaged, it's also much easier to replace a single slab of sidewalk concrete that's already divided than to have to cut it away first.

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>> Be sure to check out the first part in this series here. And if you enjoyed this article, you can purchase the back issue here on our site.

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