Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze?: And 114 Other Questions - Mick O'Hare (2009)

Introduction

This book’s predecessor, Does Anything Eat Wasps?, was the surprise publishing phenomenon of the 2005 Christmas season. The quirky collection of science questions and answers from New Scientist’s Last Word column took the bestseller lists by storm, leaving those associated with the column’s 13-year history a little shell-shocked and breathless. This sense of surprise was reinforced by the fact that Does Anything Eat Wasps? was actually the third collection of Last Word questions and answers in book form. The first two had modestly paid their way without ever troubling the bestseller charts. Which, on reflection, seems a pity, for those first two volumes contain some of the questions that have come to define exactly what The Last Word represents: the pursuit of the offbeat and the trivial. Why is snot green? Why does grilled cheese go stringy? Why does silver foil make tooth fillings painful? And, of course, why don’t penguins’ feet freeze?

Perhaps more importantly, those first two books also contain answers to questions that are asked every week by readers who newly discover The Last Word. It seems everybody wants to know why hair turns grey or the sky is blue. And you can find the answers.

Interestingly, the most popular question when the first two Last Word books were translated into German was ‘Why don’t sleeping birds fall out of trees?’ This led to the longest title of any New Scientist book published anywhere in the world – Warum fallen schlafende Vögel nicht vom Baum? And although the title Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze? does not match this for length, this book is by far the thickest and best-value collection of Last Word questions yet published. Since we feel the first two books deserved a wider audience, we’ve combined the best questions and answers from those volumes with some wholly new material from the weekly magazine column to create this bumper edition. Added together, we hope they will keep you entertained for weeks to come.

Does Anything Eat Wasps? generated a vast amount of media coverage, during which I was constantly asked why my book had sold so well. The truth was, of course, that it wasn’t my book at all; it belonged to the readers of New Scientist. Remember, everything you see here is provided by contributors to The Last Word, both in the weekly print edition of New Scientist and online. Thousands of questions are posed every year and just as many answers are received. So if you have something to ask New Scientist’s readers visit www.newscientist.com/lastword or buy the weekly magazine. Even better, if your friends routinely describe you as a complete know-all – or, like me, the pub bore – you are just the kind of person we are looking for. The Last Word is your natural home, so why not help us answer our endless supply of questions? Without readers’ input The Last Word would not survive and, as you’ll read here, none of us would know how to toughen up our conkers.

Enjoy this fascinating compilation and keep those questions flooding in.

Mick O’Hare

Again, special thanks are due to Jeremy Webb, Lucy Middleton, Alun Anderson, the production and subbing teams of New Scientist and the people at Profile Books for making this book far better than it might have been.