Introduction - Why Can't Elephants Jump?: And 101 Other Tantalising Science Questions - New Scientist

Why Can't Elephants Jump?: And 101 Other Tantalising Science Questions - New Scientist (2010)


We’re back. And even better than before. This time we’re going to tell you why wet things smell more than dry things and we’ll answer that age-old question on everybody’s lips: how wise is it to pick your nose and subsequently consume what you find in there. Yes, welcome to Why Can’t Elephants Jump?, the latest book in a series that began with Does Anything Eat Wasps? and had its last outing more than two years ago with Do Polar Bears Get Lonely?In this edition we’ll reveal whether it’s possible to see the curvature of the Earth from anywhere on its surface (even atop Blackpool Tower) and we’ll explain which is more tiring, walking up a slope or climbing steps.

Most of these questions began life on the Last Word page of New Scientist magazine. Each week readers pose everyday science questions while others attempt to answer them. You can join them by buying the magazine or visiting the website at But remember, you won’t find anything on quantum mechanics or event horizons - that’s all covered by the clever New Scientist journalists elsewhere on the website and in the magazine. Instead, you’ll find the science of everyday things, such as why it’s difficult to tear sticky tape across its width. New questions are always welcomed, as is hefty debate on whether we gave the right answers to old ones. And our knowledge is growing at a rapid rate. Once upon a time we worried that the observational prowess and ingenuity of our readers would dry up - now we know better, and this book is testimony to those powers.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that a good few of the questions in this book - just like those found in its predecessors - have been answered by a Mr Jon Richfield of Somerset West, South Africa. In fact, Jon’s existence has been questioned by many (some speculated he was a pseudonymous stand-in for New Scientist’s journalists), while others have wanted to know if there is anything he cannot answer. We are delighted both to confirm his existence and to run a question that his wife tells us he doesn’t know the answer to. Check out page 51.

And last of all, we are daring to go into the casino bar once more with James Bond. In previous books we’ve mused over what chemistry creates the difference between a shaken and a stirred vodka martini. Well, we’ve found out more. You expect us to talk? Well, if you insist on aiming that scary-looking laser at us, of course we will. Turn to page 6.

Enjoy the book and be inspired to join in. You could soon be the next Jon Richfield.

Mick O’Hare

Special thanks are due to everyone at Profile books - especially Paul Forty and Valentina Zanca - while Jeremy Webb, Jessica Griggs, Lucy Dodwell and the subbing team at New Scientist made sure the book is as error-free as it could be - any remaining mistakes are mine alone. Judith Hurrell proved to be a tireless researcher when press-ganged into the job unexpectedly, so thanks to her. And finally thanks indeed to Sally and Thomas.