What If? Rejects 2 Warm-Up

So, a few years ago, I wrote a series of posts on this blog called “What If? Rejects.” (You can read that series from the beginning starting here.) This series was based on the book What If? by Randall Munroe, better known for the webcomic XKCD.

What If? was billed as “Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions,” a series that Randall started on his website, in which he solicited silly questions from readers like, “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?” And then, he would analyze the answers to these questions scientifically.

However, in What If?, Randall also listed a number of “weird (and worrying) questions” that he didn’t answer, but just included for laughs.

Well, I decided to answer them. Few of them really couldn’t be answered, at least if we’re willing to venture a bit further into the realm of science fiction, so I decided I’d go for it. There were 27 questions in total, and I was able to give what I considered to be decent answers to all but two of them.

So you can imagine that when Randall announced he was publishing What If? 2 this September, I was very excited. The book itself is sure to be a lot of fun to start with, just like the first one. But I really hope Randall includes some rejected questions in the book again, because if he does…I’m on it.

I was encouraged in this hope when, a couple weeks ago, Randall published a comic listing categories of questions that he refused to answer in the second book, with examples. He’s not answering them for a reason, but I’m not quite as selective as Randall. (It’s not my book, after all.) So, as a warm-up for What If? 2, let’s try to answer the questions he listed above, lightning round-style:

People Cheating on Homework

Q. What if I made a pendulum by hanging a rock on a 2.75 meter string? What would its period be in seconds? (Show your work.)

A. Since your homework was probably due a long time ago, I have no qualms about answering this, although I’m not going to bother deriving the entire formula here. By a lucky coincidence, the semi-period of a pendulum on Earth is very close to the square root of its length in meters, within 1%, so the period of this pendulum is 2*sqrt(2.75) = 3.32 seconds.

Medical Advice

Q. What if you got a scratch and the next day your hand looked like this [Attachment]? Should you see a doctor or what?

A. Since I don’t have the picture, I can’t assess it directly, but if you have to ask, the answer is probably yes. (Disclaimer: I am not an MD.)


Q. Why don’t the squirrels in my yard like me?

A. Um…Are they American red squirrels? Because that kind are territorial. If they’re gray squirrels or Eurasian red squirrels (and you haven’t been throwing things at them or something), then you may need to talk to a sciurologist.


Q. Do you want to meet lonely singles in your area tonight.

A. As fun as that sounds, I must decline, as I did not just get on the internet yesterday.


Q. Have you recently been the victim of phishing? To check, log in to your account by clicking here.

A. Uh…no and no.

Requests for Help with a Crime

Q. Using modern science, what would be the fastest way to get through this bank vault door? [Blueprints.]

A. Well, the fastest way is probably a shaped explosive charge, but that’s probably not going to help you with that apparent crime because it cannot guarantee the safety of the contents of the vault.


Q. Why am I me and not someone else?

A. …How do you know you’re not?


Q. What is going to happen? (Be specific.)

A. Given the open-ended question, about the only answer I could give would be to list specific things that are near-100% certain to happen in the future…

♫♪ The sun will come out…tomorrow… ♫♪

Vague and Ominous

Q. Will I have to start worrying about spiders after Tuesday?

(Credit: Russel Watkins, Dept. for International Development, UK.)

A. Unless you’re traveling on Tuesday to a part of the world that has many spiders, it is very unlikely that you will have to worry about them more than usual.


Q. Hi, we’re lonely singles in your area, and we’re wondering what would happen if we shot a nuclear bomb into a volcano! Click here to log in and tell us.

A. Questioner is probably a bot. Also, I already answered this one.

About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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