Friday, May 21, 2021

Insight: Resolving some of life’s everyday mysteries

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

It doesn’t take an exceptional mind to contemplate some of the greatest everyday mysteries known to modern man. I’ve been known to ponder such questions and often resort to the great equalizer, Google, in trying to discover answers to questions that may arise as I go about my day.

Some people tend to accept many things at face value, but having a curious reporter’s nature, I’m prone to seeking explanations to simple queries about certain items that crop up in my life daily.

Here’s a sampling of some everyday mysteries I’ve researched recently:

** Why doesn’t the icing melt on Pop Tarts when they are placed in the toaster?

The truth is that the frosting coating on a Pop Tart is made up of highly processed and refined sugar and fat which does melt, but only at a much higher temperature and a longer amount of time than the cycle of a conventional toaster. If left in the toaster long enough, a Pop Tart will burn and crumble before the temperature is substantial enough to melt the icing on it. Kellogg’s sells 19 flavors of Pop Tarts and 17 of them come with icing.

** What causes goosebumps on our skin?

There’s a scientific explanation for this common reflex we all experience at one time or another. Tiny muscles known as arrector pill muscles below the skin’s surface pull the follicles of each hair up as a response from the sympathetic nervous system to stimulus such as cold, fear, or other strong emotional issues. It’s still not known why this reflex was named after geese though.

** Why does Swiss cheese have holes in it? Dog

To make Swiss cheese, cultures of three different types of bacteria are added to warm unpasteurized milk. The bacteria then create curds in the milk mixture which is pressed into wheel-shaped molds and soaked in brine. The brine makes a thick rind on the cheese as it matures. The bacteria erodes away the lactic acid in the cheese mixture, producing carbon dioxide and propionic acid which bubble to the surface and then burst, creating holes in the cheese.

** Why does ice float in water?           

Ice floats in water because the molecules making up the ice are about 9 percent less dense than water. As water freezes into the solid form of ice, the molecules form stable hydrogen bonds which lock them into place. As the molecules lock and do not freely move about, they cannot form as many hydrogen bonds as the water molecules do. This process results in ice molecules not being as close as the liquid water molecules, reducing their density and allowing them to float on the water’s surface.

** Why do paintings of the 19th century French dictator Napoleon depict him with his right hand inside his shirt?

Artists of that era followed custom and painted Napoleon with his hand inside his tunic which was the typical pose for orators and distinguished gentlemen of that time period.

** Who was Granny Smith and why is a kind of apple named after her?

Granny Smith apples take their name from Maria “Granny” Smith, who first discovered the apple seedling growing on her property in Australia in 1868. Although “Granny Smith” died in 1870, her crisp and tart apple caught on with the public and continues to bear her nickname to this very day.

** Why do physicians wear white lab coats instead of some other color?

When a student studying to become a doctor is officially issued a white lab coat, it’s considered as a rite of passage in medical schools. Just a century ago, physicians customarily dressed all in black to reflect the somber and serious nature of their profession. But as the 20th century dawned, physicians had discovered the importance of cleanliness to prevent the spread of disease. White came to symbolize purity and cleanliness and thus white lab coats were adopted as an official garment of doctors.

** Why are hot dogs sold in packages of 10, yet hot dog buns are only sold in packages of eight?

Meat producers standardized national packaging of hot dogs sold in America in the 1940s to packs of 10 and the practice has remained in place until now. Depression-era bakeries established the standard number of hot dog buns placed in packages at eight to fit on baking trays in two sets of four buns each in the early 1950s. The baking and meat producing standards were never aligned and remain much the same today. <

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