Sharp-toothed chickens, merciful gladiators and over-sexed athletes.

Do Not Feed the Mutant Chickens
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get away from its freakish mutant friends who have alligator teeth.

Back in the good old days, about 70 or 80 million years ago, all birds had teeth. But the teeth disappeared to create the beaked creatures we know and love today. Nevertheless, German researchers recently discovered a gene mutation that makes chickens grow conical, saber-shaped, alligator-like teeth. The mutation, sadly, also affects organ development, and chickens born with the mutation generally don’t even live for two weeks. The scientists are looking backwards, attempting to figure out what the teeth of the first birds looked like, but surely someone is looking forward to creating a master race of toothed warrior chickens.
(source: ScienceNOW)

Congratulations, Germany, on your 2006 World Cup victory! Oh, sure, you haven’t actually played any games yet—the soccer tournament is still months away—but University of Dortmund physics professor Metin Tolan has used a completely, utterly, unfalteringly foolproof method to show that this is your year.

First, Tolan looked at average goal rates for previous World Cup tournaments, which gave German a 10.69% chance at the championship. But 10.69% is a number only the French would accept. (“Oh! We’re not going to win! You’re going to beat us! We surrender!”) So Tolan raised the German goal rate by one point to account for home-field advantage: That upped Germany to a 33.18% chance at victory. But that assumes an average audience, not a hearty, Oktoberfest-anticipating German audience. Tolan concluded that a home-field advantage in Germany would increase goal rate by two points, so Germany’s probability of winning is 56.39%.

Tolan has also rigorously shown that Germany will win every fourth or fifth World Cup. Five World Cups took place between the first two sets of victories, then four more happened before they won again. Guess what? Four World Cups have happened since then, so achtung, other teams! The invincible Germans are coming your way.
(source: University of Dortmund)

Shall We Fight to the Death, My Good Man?
It would be so romantic to think gladiators just went at each other with medieval weapons (advanced for the time), hacking away until one or the other was nothing but a bloody pulp. Alas, a new Austrian study shows that gladiators followed set rules, only using one weapon, never mutilating their opponents and probably not dispatching a defeated rival in front of the crowd. Where’s the entertainment in that?

Researchers studied the remains of second century fighters found in a Turkish gladiator cemetery. Skull injuries showed only one weapon was used per bout and a scarcity of injuries shows gladiators weren’t mutilators. Even though they wore helmets during fights, 10 of the gladiators had died of a hammer-like blow to the side of the head, indicating the condemned might have been dragged backstage and dispatched by an on-hand executioner. What class!
(source: New Scientist)

Dress to Impress, Or Else
Good clothes allow you access to more good clothes. According to an Ohio State University study, women who dress better get faster, friendlier service at large clothing stores. Two researchers who probably seemed downright creepy to the rest of the shoppers, rated women as they walked into a shop on 10 components: attractiveness of clothing, fashionability, formality, femininity, overall grooming, hair grooming, make-up, clothing fabric quality, accessory quality and purse quality.

They also rated the friendliness of the clerks who helped them. Clerks were consistently friendlier to women who ranked higher in nine of the 10 categories. Femininity appeared to have no impact on salesperson friendliness. Only hair grooming, fabric quality, accessory quality and purse quality affected how quickly clerks approached the customers. So that’s why Julia Roberts didn’t get any service in Pretty Woman when she walked into a Rodeo Drive boutique with her messy nest of hair and a purse big and unfashionable enough to be a duffle bag; not because she was a call girl.
(source: Ohio State University)

To Be or Not To Be The Bard?
German academic Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel believes she has found the true face of Shakespeare. She made the discovery by comparing facial measurements on two paintings, a bust and a death mask. If she is right, you shall not compare him to a summer’s day—unless a summer’s day where you live has cancerous growths around its left eye. Hammerschmidt-Hummel claims all four depictions of the Bard share 17 “identical” features and therefore, they all depict the same person. She also says that all four show tumorous growths around the left eye. This cancer is probably what killed Shakespeare at age 52, not heavy drinking, as was previously suspected.
(source: Scotsman)

Autism and IQ: Not Much of a Connection
Sure, the SAT may show a little gender, ethnic and class bias here and there, but that’s nothing compared to the bias of IQ tests against people with autism. A study announced at last week’s AAAS meeting showed that the measured IQ of people with autism could be off by 30 to 90 percentile points. The standard Wechsler IQ test assumes the test-taker fully understands simple oral commands, which many kids with autism don’t.

When kids and adults with autism took the written Raven’s Progressive Matrices IQ test instead, they scored up to 30 percentile points higher, enough to reclassify a person into an entirely different rank of intelligence. One mute person, often considered to be a very low functioning person with autism, failed the verbal test but shot to the 90th percentile on the written test. The researchers believe people with autism use different skills to accomplish certain mental tasks. So they’re not slow, they’re just visual. Don’t mess.
(source: ScienceNOW)

Go In With a Bang
Athletes need energy. They need fire. They need power. They need, um, spunk. And plenty of athletes hope to build their supply by abstaining from sex for days, weeks or months before a big sporting event. According to scientists, however, a little pre-gaming may not be such a bad thing. Some studies indicate that sex may raise testosterone levels and therefore actually help performance on the field.

Italian professor of endocrinology Emmanuele A. Jannini says three months of abstinence can cause testosterone to drop to children’s levels, which is probably none too helpful in maintaining the aggression needed for boxing or football. Sexual activity also doesn’t leave participants drained of their vigor: A roll in the hay usually only costs 25 to 50 calories per person, fewer than the calories in a single Oreo cookie.

In women, sex produces a neuropeptide that can block pain for up to a day, allowing female athletes to play through muscle pain. So start your warm-ups early, kids. Science knows best.
(source: National Geographic News)

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Originally published February 27, 2006


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