Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Skeptically Speaking…(part I)

Thanks to Desiree and all the people at Skeptically Speaking who invited me on their show a few weeks back. In case anyone is wondering how I came up with the answers to the audience’s questions, I’m posting my estimations below. There are a quite a few, so I’m posting this in two parts. Enjoy!

Problem 1:

How much mass does Bruce Banner gain when turning into the Hulk?


At first, I was thinking of the old Hulk TV show starring Bill Bixby as Bruce Banner. According to IMDB, Mr. Bixby actually turned into a green Lou Ferrigno (~275 lbs), so the mass gain is fairly small. Even if he turned into Shaq (~325 lbs), the most he would gain is about 90 kg (~200 lbs), but even that’s being generous. According to the Marvel Comics website, there are several different Hulks with weights ranging anywhere from 900-1400 lbs. Bruce Banner is listed as a slight 128 lbs. Doing the math, Bruce Banner will gain anywhere from 350-580 kg (~770-1270 lbs).

Problem 2:

How long would it take to find a needle in a haystack?


This clearly depends on how big your haystack is. When I visit my wife’s family in Nebraska, we often see huge hay bales. They’re cylindrical and look about 1 m (~3.3 ft) in radius and about 3 m (~9.8 ft) in length. You can calculate the volume of a cylinder using the formula,

V = Pi R2 L,

where R is the radius, L is the length, and Pi=3.1415926... Using this formula, you’ll get about 10 m3 for the volume of a haystack. I figure you can sift through about one handful of hay every 30 seconds. If each handful is a cube 5 cm (~2 in) on a side, then the volume per handful is 1.25x10-4 m3. You can then calculate the total time it would take:

(10 m3 per haystack)

*(1 handful per 1.25x10-4 m3)

*(30 s per handful)


~2.4 million seconds or about 1 month

Problem 3:

How many gallons of ketchup get wasted every year in those little foil packets that get thrown in the garbage when you empty your tray?


First off, there are much more creative things you can do with ketchup packets. However, since people are going to throw them out anyway, we should probably figure out how much environmental damage they cause. I assumed the average American gets fast food at least once per week. (Sadly, it may be a lot higher.) Whenever I go, it seems like they always give me two ketchup packets per tray. There are about 5 cm3 ~ 0.001 gallons per packet. There are about 300 million people in the U.S.

(2 packets per week per person)
*(52 weeks per year)
*(3.0x108 people)
*(0.001 gallons per packet
~15 million gallons of ketchup

That’s enough ketchup to fill a football field 40 ft high.

Problem 4:
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

I hate this question. If I answer it, will you guys please stop asking it? OK, here goes…
A quick search of the Interwebs shows that woodchucks (a.k.a. groundhogs) consume up to 0.5 kg per day, and they can live up to 6 years in the wild or 10 years in captivity. I’m assuming we’re talking about wild woodchucks because if I had a captive woodchuck, I’d like to think I’d feed him something tastier than wood. From these numbers, we can calculate the amount of wood chucked:

(0.5 kg per day)
*(365 days per year)
*(6 years)
~1100 kg (~2400 lbs)

That’s over a ton of wood chucked.*

* Note: I’ve assumed “chucking” means “eating.” Google also lists “to throw away” and “to vomit” as alternate definitions.

Problem 5:

During the "Great Flood," how much rain would have to fall each day, over 40 days, to reach the top of Mount Sinai?


According to Wikipedia, Mount Sinai is 2285 m (~7500 ft) high. Dividing the height by 40 days, you find that you'd need an average of 60 m of rain per day to reach the top of the mountain. As point of reference, Seattle, which is known as “the rainy city," gets about 3.6 m per year. Even if none of it seeped into the ground, it would take 15-20 years to reach the top of Mount Sinai.

Check out tomorrow's blog for the rest of the Skeptically Speaking calculations.

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