5 Classic Jokes With Mind-Blowing Scientific Answers
You all of course know about "joke questions" -- those silly little queries meant to make you ponder and laugh at the absurdities of our shared human experiences, like: "What was the best thing before sliced bread?" or "Why do you always get an erection after seeing old people fall down?"
They've been an important part of standup routines for ages, but in all that time we've never actually heard the answers to any of them. And that's a shame, because while those answers can be anticlimactically boring (apparently the best thing before sliced bread was wrapped bread), a few of them are so fascinating, they'll basically give you a brain boner, like the answer to ...
What's the Deal With Airline Food?
This one might require a short explanation for our younger readers. You see, in the past, airlines used to give you free food on the plane, which people then complained about because it wasn't very much to their liking.
And the beautiful women serving them were eights at best! It was torture.
In all fairness, airplane food was famously tasteless and subpar, so much so that inquiring about its "deal" remains one of Jerry Seinfeld's most famous jokes. Mind you, the question isn't actually about airplane food. It's more about ripping on the audience's common enemy, which is no different from asking: "Boy, that Hitler, what a character, right?"
Airline food tastes the way it does due to the plane's environmental factors playing the fandango on your senses with a baseball bat.
Modern planes travel at an altitude of about 35,000 feet, which, in terms of places most likely to kill you, ranks somewhere between the foot of an active volcano and inside the wife of an angry lumberjack who unexpectedly came back home for lunch. That's why airplanes have to keep the cabin artificially pressurized -- to keep your brain from swelling and leaking out of your ears. The problem is that, according to modern research, the cabin's pressurization combined with the plane's white noise can numb your taste buds, suppressing your ability to taste salt and sugar in non-fatal doses.
"Oh, so that's why my overcooked circus elephant tasted a bit weird!"
Obviously, airlines tend to use the cheapest ingredients possible in their in-flight meals, but even a steak with a 10-minute-old kill date would still taste like ass when your senses are literally and figuratively so high, they can hardly feel their face. Cabin air is another problem. It's usually recycled every two to three minutes with the humidity kept below 20 percent, drying not only the food but also your nose, which further impacts your sense of taste. Culinary-wise, that's like serving meals inside an unventilated sand factory in the middle of the Sahara.
But as luck would have it, airplanes don't affect your ability to taste bitterness or umami. It would explain why people usually go for bloody Marys or tonic water inside planes: Oftentimes it's the only thing their bodies recognize as having a taste. With everything else, you might as well be chowing down on gravel and cardboard, as far as your taste receptors are concerned.
Though I'm not guaranteeing that actually doesn't happen sometimes.
If Nothing Sticks to Teflon, How Does It Stick to Pans?
Joke questions like the airline food one are funny because they make us realize that despite our differences, we are all bound by the same nonsensical acts of petty hatred. Questions like the Teflon one, on the other hand, derive their humor from the absurd images they conjure up in our minds. How do you get Teflon to stick to a frying pan? I don't know about you, but I instantly picture a scientist trying desperately to glue a Teflon sheet to a pan until he gets so frustrated, he angrily burns his laboratory to the ground.
Which is also the same methodology I use for threading a needle.
Teflon frying pans are the result of super science of comic book proportions.
Teflon is the brand name of a plastic patented by DuPont. Its technical name is polytetrafluoroethylene, and the reason it repels every other substance that comes near it like that one kid we all knew/were in high school is because of fluorine atoms enveloping the plastic's molecules. So attaching the material to kitchenware is really just a question of removing some of the fluorine from it. According to Andrew J. Lovinger, director of the polymers program at the National Science Foundation, this can be achieved by taking a sheet of Teflon, putting it in a high vacuum environment under an electric field (like the one found in the solar corona), and then bombarding it with ions. Probably from some sort of death ray.
Then after the Gates of Hell open, you ask Satan to stick the Teflon to the pan.
The process effectively strips the fluorine atoms from one side of the Teflon, which can later be replaced with oxygen particles, causing the material to stick to any surface imaginable and slightly reducing the chances of your spouse leaving you for someone who can fry an egg. There are other methods of attaching the plastic to stuff, but this way is the only one that sounds like it's one accident away from being a genuine superhero/villain origin story.
"Once more, Teflon Man, we couldn't make the charges stick. You're found not guilty of murdering all those kids."
Why Do You Turn Down Your Music When You're Lost?
Observational humor is only funny when you're observing something that applies to someone besides yourself (that's why I've never crowd-tested my joke about how buying pants is much harder when you have a gigantic penis). This once again comes back to the idea of commonality as the basis of humor, and also of taking pleasure in the fact that our foibles and quirks are actually normal human behavior. Like when you're lost, a lot of people tend to immediately turn down their music to figure out where they are, as if that made them hear better with their eyes or something. It doesn't make much sense, but everyone does it, and pointing it out apparently makes for good comedy.
You turn down your music when you're lost because multitasking doesn't exist.
"This picture might, in fact, be fake." -Modern Science
Steven Yantis, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University, claims that human attention is in fact a zero-sum game of awareness, meaning that engaging one of your senses instantly "turns down" the rest. And that's exactly what's happening with your sense of navigation while music is playing. By diverting your brainpower to listening, you essentially shut down the parts of your brain responsible for noticing stuff like that dead tree you passed, like, four times already, and before you know it, you're lost in the wild and getting attacked by forest hobos (forbos).
"I always knew my Lady Gaga addiction was going to kill me, but not like this ... not like this ..."
This goes far beyond simply getting distracted. What Yantis discovered is that the human brain is just not built to handle two things at once in any situation, meaning that the often touted skill of multitasking is, in fact, a myth. Stanford University researchers have additionally discovered that people who think of themselves as great multitaskers were actually the worst people for any given job, making the most mistakes and taking the most time to do it. This is thought to be caused by information and cognitive processes necessary to complete each task getting mixed up inside your head, because our brains still don't have a non-alcoholic "clear cookies" option.
The good news is that it is possible to learn how to multitask, but it requires special training devised for people who actually need those skills, like military personnel. Without that training, mentioning your supposed multitasking skills on a resume remains more full of shit than trying to pass off your summer of selling drugs and masturbating as "pharmaceutical representation and entertaining the youth by playing the organ."
How Do Astronauts Scratch Their Noses?
About three years ago, I wrote an article about the origin of laughter, citing studies that said that laughter is all about the feeling of safety.
Which is why no one has ever found clowns funny.
Supposedly, laughter evolved as a way to signal that despite some serious shit going down, like a mammoth with uncontrollable diarrhea rampaging nearby, the situation in your general vicinity was under control, so you should relax, which was conveyed via a healthy chuckle. Some readers pointed out that this does not explain nervous laughter, but I think it totally does. The way I see it, laughing in situations that make us uncomfortable could be an automated response that helps us calm down by forcing our mouths to do the "Everything is fine!" noise, aka laughter. At least I sure hope that's the case, because if not, it means that I'm just a horrible person for laughing at the "How do astronauts scratch their noses?" question when I first heard it.
I couldn't help it. The image of an astronaut struggling and sweating like crazy due to an itchy nose seemed so funny to me. Maybe I laughed because my mind needed convincing that the question was totally hypothetical and no one I knew was actually going through that nightmare. But, of course, some astronauts must have experienced an itch while inside a spacesuit. How the hell do they deal with something like that?
They don't. They eventually go crazy and start hallucinating.
Spacesuits and most brands of diving gear include a small foam block installed at nose level called the Valsalva device.
The foam block is there for astronauts to wedge and blow their noses into to equalize the pressure in their ears, and of course to scratch their face horn when the situation arises. Other than that, they can also use the microphone built into the suit, or a patch of Velcro strategically attached to the inside of the helmet for this very occasion.
That's the thing most of us don't consider about spacesuits. They aren't merely pieces of clothing meant to keep an astronaut alive in space. They are complex pieces of technology with their own propulsion systems, Valsalva devices, Velcro patches, and even anti-fog spray nozzles for keeping their visors squeaky clean. They are essentially mini person-shaped space cars, only without snack holders or a backseat to have freaky alien sex in. So, in summary, space travel will be a living hell and is totally not worth it.
Who Was the Worst Person Ever Before Hitler?
Asking about the universal stand-in for evil before Hitler isn't really about getting a serious answer to that question. It's more about making you laugh at the image of old-timey people struggling to hold a conversation. Because that's one of the first things that pop into your head: someone not really knowing how to insult a guy who cut off their horse buggy or stole their newspaper. Was it the devil? No, that sounds too much like a compliment. I mean, have you seen Satan?
You, sir, are like a giant, horrifying, horned demon that I'm just realizing isn't that good of an insult. Fuck you!
Prior to World War II, people may not have been calling each other "the devil," but that doesn't mean they didn't turn to the Bible when wanting to offend someone (this of course was back before irony was first invented). It's just that they usually went with human characters, insulting one another by invoking the names of Judas, Pontius Pilate, and, most frequently, the Biblical Pharaoh, the guy who refused to let the Jews leave Egypt after deciding that his gods could totally take on this Jehovah character.
"Oh, what the shit, guys?! There's only like ONE of him!"
In his Common Sense, Thomas Paine once compared King George III to "the Pharaoh of England"; during the American Civil War, some Confederates apparently referred to Abraham Lincoln as "the modern Pharaoh." Yes, I know that doesn't make sense, seeing as Lincoln was going to war to end slavery, but whatever; insults don't have to make sense, as anyone who's ever been called a "vagina faggot" on Xbox Live can attest.
In other cases, different places around the world bestowed the title of "worst person ever" on whoever was screwing them over at the time. Napoleon Bonaparte, John Wilkes Booth, and George III were all once considered the worst people in history, but they were only local Hitler flavors that were virtually unheard of in many parts of the globe.
They were basically the poutine of insults.
"The Pharaoh," on the other hand, has remained the universal symbol for tyranny, evil, and the inability to pick your battles for centuries -- I don't know if you've heard, but the Bible used to be kind of a big thing back in the day. It didn't just provide you with moral guidelines; it influenced everything from art to philosophy to how everyone talked, and so when people of the past wanted a symbol of ultimate evil, they naturally consulted the Bible, but knew not to go overboard with it and accuse everyone of being Satan. No, even they knew to restrain themselves a little, and thus they decided that the ultimate insult was calling someone "the Pharaoh."
"You, sir, are like a ripped bronze god of a proud, ancient civilization. Oh, for fuck's sake ... World War II can't get here fast enough."
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.