Over at Slate, the most recent Explainer column contains a list of "bottom of the mailbag" questions that didn't get answered. They're holding a reader poll to see which one they should write about, but that means the others will go unanswered. In the spirit of wikiality and in the best tradition of self-appointed pseudonymous experts, I've decided to help out by providing answers as best I can.
Q: What comes after 999 trillion?
A: 999 trillion and one (and an infinite number of other integers)
Q: Lasers are now powerful and small (at least I think they are), so why don't our troops carry laser guns?
A: Because lasers shoot only in straight lines. With a conventional gun, you can aim a little high and "lob" the bullets over intervening obstacles. Replacing our troops' rifles with lasers would deprive them of this invaluable "shoot-over" capability.
Q: If we taught animals to talk, how would that affect the world?
A: Animals can already talk. It's simple linguistics. Haven't you ever watched Mister Ed?
Q: Why did Zidane head-butt his opponent in the World Cup final? Do the French not fight with their fists?
A: That's right. The perfidious French are well-known for both head-butting and kicking. Never will you find a Frenchman who's willing to stand still and box as God and the Marquess of Queensberry intended.
Q: If a group of passengers on a hijacked plane wanted to, could they bring a plane down by all of them using their cell phones at the same time?
A: No, that would only cause their tinfoil hats to heat up.
Q: Why do humans die so young? In biblical times, people lived for several hundred years; now living to 100 is considered a long life. What happened?
A: Sin happened; also inflation.
Q: Hi, how does nature make water? How does nature combine one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms to make water? If we knew how nature makes water, then perhaps we can then find an efficient way of separating hydrogen from oxygen, thus creating the ultimate source for energy.
A: You're right, if we only knew the secret of water, we'd be the masters of creation, omnipotent and eternal. Unfortunately, Big Science is afraid to stand up to the Water Lobby and research this important question.
Q: Just suppose, one day someone wants to sell you an old gold bar. You don't know if it belongs to any treasure, and you can't find out if there is any reward for it, if it was a lost treasure. How would you go about melting it and selling it? The same would go for a gemstone about the size of a dinner plate. How would you go about selling it? If you're living in a country that is corrupt and you cannot trust the government, or anyone else, what can you do?
A: Melt down the gold in a crucible, use doubloon-shaped molds to form it into coins, then put the coins into a wooden box and bury it on a sandy tropical island to keep it safe. Remember to make a map with an X to mark the spot. As for the gemstone...hmm, that's tricky. I recommend mailing the gemstone to me. I'll let you know if it's worth anything.
Q: PYGMIES: How/when/where/still in existence/do we mate with them?
A: Evolution/now/Africa and elsewhere/yes/that's between you and the pygmy.
Q: What's likely to happen to people, or what might they feel, when they're killed instantly?
A: The two most likely effects of being killed instantly are (a) immediate death and (b) ongoing subsequent non-life. Nobody knows how people who are killed instantly feel because they're dead and thus hard to interview.
Q: I have noticed that a lot of mainstream movies feature men peeing. Are the actors really peeing?
A: I don't know the answer to this, but it couldn't hurt to start a Wikipedia page listing all mainstream movies that feature men peeing. That would be a valuable public service.
Q: Working in my yard yesterday, I killed a gnat in my ear canal, where it had flown. I couldn't remove the body as my finger was too fat. What happens to it now?
A: It goes to gnat heaven, and you go straight to hell for bug murder. Also, go on a diet, fatty-fingers.
Q: Is chicken considered meat?
A: Only by hippies.
Q: Hello ... Could you tell me if there's been any kind of medical discovery in the last 30 years besides DNA.
A: It seems like there must have been, but I can't think of anything. Oh, wait, what about that thing where they put baboon hearts in babies? That's like a medical discovery, right?
Q: Are UFOs confirmed to be from other Alien Planets?
A: No, they're all from that one Alien Planet.