Here are some of the stories we have had in our weekly Tidbits. To read our current edition simply click on the tab above for Read Online.

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• Why don’t we get goosebumps on our face?

Goosebumps are a reaction to cold. We have smooth muscles at the base of most of our hair follicles. When we feel a cold draft (or sometimes get a good scare), these muscles contract, causing the skin around the hair follicle to bunch up, making a tiny bump. This same reflex is what makes birds able to fluff their feathers. We don’t have these muscles in our face, however, so the only pimples we get there are of the acne variety.

• Why do your feet swell aboard an airplane?

It’s not due to the pressurized cabin, it’s due to inactivity. If you sat upright and still for long periods of time in your office chair or in front of the TV, you’d get the same effect; fluids collect in your lower legs. Fortunately, in most situations, we have room to move around and switch position occasionally. Because airplane seating is so confined, our movements are restricted.

• Why do paper cuts hurt so much?

Our fingertips have more concentrated nerve endings than almost any other area on our body, so they’re extra-sensitive to pain. Paper cuts are usually shallow, which means they don’t bleed. Blood would clot a cut and close it quickly for healing; a paper cut remains open while it’s healing, so we re-live the pain every time we bump it or get liquid in it.

• Why are ketchup bottles tall and thin?

Ever notice how mustard jars are short with wide mouths, and ketchup bottles are tall and narrow? Studies have shown that people who use mustard do so sparingly, and prefer to delicately dip a knife into the jar to scrape out the preferred amount. Ketchup users, on the other hand, are less discriminating, and tend to pour and slather the stuff in large quantities.

• Why does home plate have an odd shape?

The five-sided frame of a baseball field’s home plate is designed to aid the umpire in determining the strike zone and the foul lines.

• Why was Fido a common dog’s name?

We still hear “Fido” used as a generic dog’s name, even though these days people tend to give their dogs names like “Chardonnay” or “Buster.” Fido is Latin for “I am faithful,” and since dog is man’s faithful best friend, well, you can guess the rest.

• Why does Queen Elizabeth carry a purse?

Just like any woman, the Queen likes to keep a few essentials handy. Her Majesty carries a small compact, a handkerchief and a spare pair of gloves in her bag. On Sundays, she also carries a £5 note to put in the church collection plate. Unlike the rest of us mortals, though, the Queen’s offering is carefully folded into quarters by her dresser and then pressed with a hot iron before it’s tucked into her purse.

• Why do I get a headache when eating ice cream too quickly?

The so-called ice cream headache usually only happens in hot weather. When something frozen hits the roof of your mouth, the nerve endings send a message to your brain that causes the blood vessels in your head to dilate suddenly in an attempt to warm you up. Like the nitroglycerine mentioned in our Heart article (earlier in this issue), that sudden rush of blood to the brain is what causes the headache.

• Why is the word “ambulance” written backwards on the front of emergency vehicles?

So that we can read it in our rear-view mirror. Just in case the flashing lights and blaring siren don’t clue us in.

• Why don’t school buses have seatbelts?

A bus is taller and heavier than most vehicles, and is relatively safe in a crash situation. The high seat backs also provide some protection in a collision. In a serious accident, the priority would be to evacuate the students, and shoulder belts would slow down that process.

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