Why Do Pirates Love Parrots?, by David Feldman

Why Do Pirates Love Parrots

I believe Why Do Pirates Love Parrots? is the most recent Imponderables book, and maybe the end of the series if there have indeed been none since then, as it’s from 2006 and before that there seemed to be a new one every couple years or so.

I’ve now read all eleven Imponderables books. (Be careful: there are at least thirteen titles, but the extras are rereleases of existing books with new titles—a confusing trick to get you to buy the same book twice?) I’ve always found them mildly entertaining, and I suppose informative though the information is of the type I tend to forget almost immediately, but I’ve never gotten into them in a big way. So for me it has been kind of borderline whether to continue obtaining and reading them.

Why Do Pirates Love Parrots? fits that same pattern. It’s an easy and somewhat fun read, but doesn’t leave me particularly eager for another such collection.

Here are a few things that caught my attention in this book:

When bats’ muscles are at rest they are clenched, so they can hang upside down even when asleep or hibernating. They have to make an effort to let go of something. That’s the opposite of us; if we’re holding on to something and relax, we let go.

In track events on a rounded track with staggered starts (the inside runners starting farther back to offset the advantage of being on the inside), it is common, especially among amateurs, for runners in the outside lanes to move to the inside almost immediately. All else being equal, this is inappropriate. In order to travel the shortest distance, instead of cutting over at a sharp angle like that you want to move over gradually. So on the first straightaway where you’re allowed to leave your lane, you should aim for the rail at the farthest point at the end of the straightaway and run in a straight line to that point, thus easing over very gradually.

As a means of defense, vultures will puke on predators. (That’s the same means of defense the protagonist in the Mad magazine version of A Clockwork Orange used. How’s that for an obscure reference?)

All the letters in “typewriter” are in the same row on a conventional keyboard.

Feldman claims that in most states self-serve gas pumps do not have a way to keep them on without holding them, as a safety thing so people don’t leave their vehicles while fueling. That’s news to me. I’ve driven in probably about 40 of the 48 states in the continental United States in the last fifteen years on various long road trips (though it’s possible I purchased gas in considerably fewer), and it’s been a very rare exception that a gas station pump couldn’t be clipped to stay on like that. Maybe 5%-10% of the time I’ve run into that, and even in those cases it felt like they had clips but I inferred that they had worn down or something. So that one puzzled me.

Normally these books have one or more additional sections beyond the main questions and answers. The most common concerns “frustables,” which are updates on the Imponderables that Feldman has still not been able to come up with a definitive solution to. This doesn’t have that, but it has an “Update” section, which is similar.

It also has a new section, called “Unimponderables,” which are the most common questions he gets that don’t fit the format he’s looking for.

He treats them as an annoyance, like a teacher dealing with students who don’t bother to read the directions, but frankly I can’t distinguish some of these from the ones that are “genuine” imponderables.

Yeah, some of them are just jokes from people like George Carlin and Steven Wright—about paradoxical uses of language and such—that folks send in as if he hadn’t already received them a thousand times, so I can see why those would be annoying. But what’s wrong with “Why Do Drive-Up ATMs Have Braille Markings?” and some of the others? Indeed, he proceeds to give straight answers to them the same as with the questions in the main part of the book, so I don’t see the difference.

I’ll mention also that the questions in the Imponderables books are always accompanied by fun little drawings by Kassie Schwan. It’s a minor thing, but they do indeed make the book an even easier, more enjoyable read. The question about why fruit appears on slot machines, for example, is accompanied by a drawing of a cartoon banana playing a slot machine.

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