The Readers Ask
How do you become a Texas Ranger?Are the world's frogs disappearing? How does a prince sign his name? Why do flight attendants 'disarm' the doors after landing? How long can you leave tires on your car before they are a risk? How good is rookie shortstop Nomar Garciaparra? Who invented matches?
Match Inventor: China or Europe?Skip to next paragraph
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Q Where were matches invented? - Josh Caldwell, Dolores, Colo.
A Matches apparently originated in 6th-century China. The story goes that a court of Chinese women, trapped without kindling during a military attack, fashioned the first matches out of pine twigs and sulfur. Matches finally showed up in Europe in the 16th century when inventors combined phosphorus, sulfur, and potassium chlorate to make matches that lit when struck.
Q I've seen the CBS-TV show "Walker, Texas Ranger" [Chuck Norris plays Walker, photo above]. How many Texas Rangers are there, do they wear uniforms, and how does someone become a ranger?
A The Texas Rangers have a colorful history that has been portrayed in books, movies, and on TV. The Rangers were founded on Aug. 5, 1823, by Stephen Austin, the "father of Texas." Ten men were selected to "range" the area around Austin's fledgling colony to protect it from Indians. The name "Texas Rangers" did not become official until legislation was passed in 1874. Modern-day rangers, like those shown in the TV show "Walker, Texas Ranger" don't wear uniforms. Instead, they sport western garb and wear a signature silver star over their left breast. Rangers remain an elite unit. Today there are only 106 rangers, of whom two are women. To become a ranger, officers must have eight years of experience, including four with the Texas Department of Public Safety. They must also pass rigorous examinations and oral interviews. Rangers celebrate their 175th anniversary next year.
Q Why do pilots instruct flight attendants on commercial aircraft to "disarm" rather than "unlock" doors before passengers deplane? - C.B., Tokyo
A As planes leave the gate, flight attendants are told to "prepare the doors for departure and crosscheck." At that time, attendants "arm" the doors - that is, prepare the doors for an emergency evacuation, if necessary. An American Airlines spokesman says this is done by fastening a bar at the bottom of the door. This engages the emergency evacuation slides packed inside each main door. If a door is opened, the bar triggers a device that deploys an emergency slide. "Disarming" the doors refers to disengaging the triggering device.
Q What are the origins of "The Gingerbread Boy" cookie? - Phyllis Mordas, Medford Lakes, N.J.
A "The Gingerbread Boy" is an American version of similar European folk tales, according to folklore expert Stith Thompson. Americans first read "The Gingerbread Boy" in 1875 in St. Nicholas Magazine. It's the story of a gingerbread boy who springs to life and runs away from the old woman who baked him. "I ran away from an old woman, and I can run away from you, I can," he shouts to forest animals who try to feast on him. In European lore, similar pastry tales appear under such titles as "The Fleeing Pancake," "The Scottish Bannock," and "The Russian Bun."
Q The original tires on my 1989 Honda Accord still have plenty of tread at 36,000 miles, but the sidewalls are beginning to have tiny cracks. How many years can tires be driven before age and decay make them unsafe? - Alberta Raffaelli, DeLand, Fla.
A Standard all-season tires can usually weather about five years before the rubber begins to oxidize and crack. Decay is caused by acid rain, ozone, extreme heat, snow, and road chemicals. Tire dressings applied to make tires look shiny can speed up damage by drawing out natural oils. Steve Cramer, consumer relations director at Cooper Tire Co. in Findlay, Ohio, says the critical factor is whether cracks in sidewalls expose the underlying tire fabric. If fabric is exposed, get rid of the tires. Superficial surface cracks, however, are not considered hazardous. To protect tires, garage your car and avoid chemical sprays.
Q Why is the sky blue? - Ginny Tonkin (age 8), Bridgeport, Conn.
A The sky's color comes from the sun's rays that are scattered by the atmosphere. Blue light waves are the shortest and most readily scattered of the light we can see, and they give the sky its color. But at sunset (or sunrise), the sun's rays have farther to travel through the atmosphere. As the sun sinks in the west, most light is widely scattered and cannot be seen. Only the longer red rays penetrate the atmosphere sufficiently to be seen.
Q How does Prince William sign his name when turning in an exam at school?