The Questions We Never Answered

Do 3-D glasses work on cats? Plus 30 more Explainer bafflers from 2010.

It’s been another grueling year down here in the Explainatorium. Rows of tireless Explainatons have been banging away on tiny keyboards so you’d know how to defend yourself from angry mountain goats and whether it’s legal to eat your own cat. They’ve churned out articles telling you why people think blondes are stupid and testicles are courageous, what dinosaur meat tastes like, and whether spies really wear fake beards. And they’ve explained, once and for all, what the heck is meant by the phrase bunga bunga.


But it’s never enough, is it? We’ve published more than 250 columns this year, and the pile of reader mail keeps getting higher. So many questions, so little time. With this in mind, welcome back to an Explainer holiday tradition: A curated list of inquiries culled from our voluminous backlog. These are the reader questions that Slate felt either ill-equipped or unwilling to answer in 2010.


As always, we’re counting on you to tell us which of these unanswered questions most deserves its own column. The top vote-getter will be designated the Explainer Question of the Year for 2010, and a response will be posted in the coming weeks.


  1. Do passive-aggressive people know they are passive-aggressive? Also, how can you tell if you are passive-aggressive?
  2. If the entire U.S. was put up for sale, including privately- and publicly-owned land, homes, structures, et al., what would be the total asking price on the open market? I know it’s not a boom time to sell, but there may be a buyer lurking somewhere!
  3. Are all languages equally lip-readable?
  4.  Why are large, extensive tattoos always Asian-themed?
  5. I’ve always pondered why boys like having sticks. Whether it be walking down a hiking trail with a stick they picked up or running a stick across a white picket fence, boys (including me when I was small) seem to have a knack for having a stick. Is there some kind of explanation for this behavior? I hope you can answer this question for me and thanks.
  6. Do they have special spam filters at Pfizer?
  7. Why aren’t bathtubs bigger? I can never fully fit in mine.
  8. When did the slang word ho first appear? I ask because I think I invented it around 1986-87 when I was in the fifth grade as a joke, but I continued to use it and it spread through my school and before long it was everywhere. It is possible that the term was coined earlier and I just hadn’t heard it yet, but I can’t seem to find any info to verify that.
  9. Fall question: Is picking up leaves purely cosmetic?
  10. Is it legal to booby trap my house?
  11. Why do soup and other cans have ridges on the inside surface? The soup or other contents sticks to the ridges and prevents me from being as economical and environmentally virtuous as I would like to be.
  12. Do real life experts of martial arts really have the capability of take on a dozen armed thugs and beat them black and blue—as seen in films?
  13. My question was inspired by putting together prefab furniture. Phillips-head screws were invented in the 1930s, so why do people still use flat-head screws for anything? They suck, the screwdriver slips, I put a bunch of dents all over the place trying to use a drill, and I hate them. I can’t find any reason why a company would still use them when we have something better.
  14. If you watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show or any of the other ones, all the handlers (and most of the judges) are fat. Why?
  15. Why is hearing about other people’s dreams so boring?
  16. I work in an office with a large saltwater aquarium and I’ve noticed that certain fish seem to have areas of the tank that they frequent more than others. Do fish in captivity develop routines?
  17. Avatar came out in 3-D at a lot of theaters. I saw an ad about the giant cats on TV with my cat on my lap and was wondering, do 3-D glasses work on cats?
  18. Re: Will I die. Hi my name is [redacted] and I was sucking some helium today and I’m really nervous I did it at about 5:00 today and it’s 12:00 I just prayed to god to keep me safe I felt my pulse on my wrist and it was normal I just was wondering if it will hurt my older life I am about 10 to 14 years of age.
  19. Could mankind actually blow up the moon? Blast it with nuclear missiles until it was just rubble? What would happen to the Earth?
  20. I’ve heard that the color orange was named after the Dutch royal family (the House of Orange), who were named after the city of Orange in southern France. If this is true, then what was orange originally called?
  21. I can’t recall ever seeing an athlete sneeze during competition, and neither can anyone I’ve asked. YouTube also offers no help. Is there any reason for this? I have trouble with the idea that people don’t sneeze if they’re intensely focused, given that for some athletes (even on the pro level) this isn’t always the case.
  22. How long can someone hang upside down without having serious medical problems?
  23. Why don’t airplane bathrooms have windows? I’ve always thought it would be nice to gaze off into the wild blue yonder while relieving myself at 30,000 feet. It wouldn’t be a privacy risk, because there are no peeping toms to catch a glimpse of you at that height. Besides, if a lavatory window made bathroom-goers uncomfortable, it could include a movable window shade, just like all other airplane windows have.
  24. Are children naturally better spellers than adults? Or, is it that there’s simply a lack of spelling bees for adults? In an all-ages spelling bee, would kids win?
  25. Can you tell me why old movies are so terribly inaccurate and when (if ever) did that change?
  26. My question is, do blind people with seeing-eye dogs have to curb their dogs? To date, I have never seen a service dog doing his “business” in public. Are blind people allowed to have their animal defecate on public sidewalks with no penalty?
  27. I don’t want to sound like I want to see this, but why are there no male “beauty pageants” like the Miss America pageant, and if so, why not on a large-scale basis like that pageant?
  28. Is it true, as is often rumored, that intoxicated people are less likely to suffer serious injury from a fall or other accident because they are less likely to “tense up”?
  29. I was on the subway today and this question struck me: Why are old people always coughing?
  30. If a person is allergic to cats (common housecat allergies) would he also be allergic to a lion?
  31.  mY MOM is 93, just diag.with pneumonia..day 2 of antibiotic by injection, they say they may have to asperate She right now, is unresponsive to me stares in space and appears yellow, in skin color If no improvement in few days hospitalize???


Previous Questions of the Year:

2009: If a Siamese twin commits murder, does his brother get punished, too?

2008: What is the most disloyal dog breed?

2007: Why don’t we drop medical waste and nuclear waste into active volcanoes, the “ultimate high-temperature incinerators”?

2006: Can a bar of soap get dirty, or is it self-cleaning because it’s soap?