Heymatt: If cats are smart enough to get up a tree, why aren’t they smart enough to get down again? — Cat Fancier, via email
Well, actually they can get back down again. They just usually go about it the wrong way — at least when people are trying to lure them down with canned tuna and “Here, kitty!” Considering how curious the average cat is and how easy it is for a cat to shimmy up a tree after a tasty-looking bird and how rarely we hear about a cat stuck in a tree, this suggests to me (easily suggestible, of course) that most treed cats get down on their own just fine, thank you. No harm, no foul, no fire department. It’s a different story, of course, if the cat’s been chased up the tree or is very young. Fear might then overcome the brain cells that tell them how to get down or to respond to tuna.
The cat’s downfall (maybe even literally) is its claws. Cat claws are curved under, which allows a great grip on the way up but no grip at all if they decide to exit the tree head (and claws) first. They can’t hang on and just slide for a while. Given enough time, a cat is likely to figure out that it needs to come out of the tree tail first to maintain a grip. It’s also true that cats’ back legs are stronger than their front legs, so they get lots of help going up and nothing much in the opposite direction.
It’s not unheard of for a cat to die in a tree eventually. Shelters usually can’t do anything, and not every fire department will screech over to your house and scramble up in a cherry picker to rescue a cat (unless you’ve first stirred up media interest). If the kitty situation is getting dire, try calling a professional tree trimmer, who of course will charge, but at least you’ll have your scaredy cat back.
Dear Matt: Where did the term “good money” come from, as in, “I spent good money for this car”? — Dawn, the net
People might just mean “a lot of money” when they say “good money.” But no telling what the word nerds will come up with. So, we shoved your question under their office door in the Unexplained Phenomena wing of Alice Industries, LLC, across from the ladies’ room. Eventually we got back a request for a large pepperoni pizza and a scrawled note that suggested that “good money” is shortened from the expression “throwing good money after bad.” That’s when you spend a bunch of money to fix your alternator, it doesn’t work, you go back to the mechanic, pay him more money for a new fix, it still doesn’t work, and you begin to wonder if you should throw more money (good money) at a problem you’ve already wasted money on twice (bad money), or just sell the clunker to some unsuspecting passerby (good money!). No surprise that your example involves a car.
Hey, Matt: What’s the deal with quicksand? As a child, I saw movies in which people died in the stuff. Cartoon characters sank in it. Yet, in all my years of reading the newspaper and hearing of the many weird ways people die, I’ve never heard of anyone sinking in quicksand. Is there even such a thing as quicksand? — Sandy Quick, Sandy Iego, CA
Quicksand lives. It’s just not this great deadly sucking hole into which hapless wanderers fall for the enjoyment of moviegoers. Quicksand is almost more a condition than a thing. It’s when water from some ground source wells up through silty, sandy clay, breaking the friction bonds between the dirt grains and decreasing their ability to support weight. If the water source is constant, then the quicksand condition remains as a damp, boggy pool. Quicksand can be created temporarily during earthquakes, when ground shaking can make certain kinds of soil act like a liquid. But, say you step in quicksand, what happens? Depends on how deep the quicksand goes, the ratio of dirt grains to water, and whether you remain calm. Quicksand is likely to be a pretty dense slurry, so even if the area is deeper than you are tall, odds are you will float pretty well. Spread out your arms and legs to distribute your weight around and move slo-o-o-o-o-owly. Panic and thrash, and you’ll just work yourself down deeper. That’s only cool in old movies.