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Alaub Ruazuelo via NASA
Alaub Ruazuelo via NASA

4 Burning Questions We Just Can’t Answer

Alaub Ruazuelo via NASA
Alaub Ruazuelo via NASA

Despite all of the incredible things humans have figured out, we don’t know everything.

1. What’s inside a black hole?

We’ll probably never know. Nothing can communicate from inside of one—light, radio waves, anything. Even if we could send something (like a signal) into a black hole, we couldn’t get it back. The closest thing we have to an answer employs two established theories (gravity and quantum mechanics). Scientists even have a name for this combined theory—quantum gravity—but they still don’t get how it works. For now, they think everything sucked into a black hole is bunched up and stacked on top of itself in its center, like a big, galactic dogpile. Other people think black holes could be a gate to another universe. But until someone goes into one and comes back? No idea.

2. Why do we have an appendix?

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Total mystery! It’s just there (unless you had it removed). A 2007 issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology posited that the vestigial organ once acted as a storehouse for “good” bacteria, so when pre-medicine bodies were hit with dire illnesses affecting the gut, an appendix could help repopulate the stomach with disease-fighting bacteria. Scientists agree that this guess is as good as they come, but the author of the study admitted there’s no way to confirm it without a “very expensive, heinous” experiment that might involve infecting people who don’t have access to modern medicine with dysentery. No thanks!

3. What’s the CIA hiding about JFK’s assassination?

Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Maybe nothing—or not. In 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald applied for a visa to travel to Cuba, via the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. The CIA picked up on it. Five senior CIA officers signed off on a cable basically saying Oswald wasn’t a concern (whoops). Of the approximately 3,600 JFK files that remain sealed in the National Archives, 1,100 concern the CIA. And while the JFK Records Act of ’92 mandated all files related to the assassination be released in 2017, it also holds provisions that if the files could potentially compromise national security upon release, they can remain classified ... of course.

4. Does Tony die in The Sopranos finale?

Alamy

In the most infamous last scene in TV, Tony Soprano eats onion rings to “Don’t Stop Believin’” in a sketchy New Jersey diner, then...nothing. It cut to black. Outrage and conspiracy theories abounded! Show creator David Chase was mostly mum on it until an April 2015 Directors Guild of America interview: “I never considered the black a shot. I just thought that what we see is black. The biggest feeling I was going for ... was don’t stop believing. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it.” In other words: You’ll never know.


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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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