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Heymatt: I’ve been a proud knuckle-cracker for most of my life. My family hates it, but I love to torment them with it. They’ve tried all kinds of things to get me to stop, but of course nothing’s worked. My mother keeps insisting that if I crack my knuckles now I’ll have arthritis later when I’m older. She just won’t stop talking about that. Is there something you can tell me that will finally silence her and tell her that I won’t get arthritis? I don’t know whether I will or not, but I just want to shut her up so even something made up will be okay by me as long as it sounds convincing. Thanks. — Tom, via email

Convincing fake information is a subspecialty of the Alice Institute’s brain trust. It’s been a while since we’ve called on that staff’s skills. I sent the elves to the backroom to try to find them, but there was a note tacked to the door that said they’d all taken jobs at VH-1, so I guess we’re out of luck. The note was two years old. Maybe we ignored them a little too long. Anyway, if you’ll settle for real information, I think we can give you some ammunition. We can’t guarantee it will end Mom’s campaign. It’s Mom’s job to hound you and tell you how to live better until it makes you crazy. It’s just what moms do.

Knuckle-cracking has nothing at all to do with arthritis. Take it from the Arthritis Foundation and an army of physicians. I, for one, am sorry the scare tactic hasn’t stopped the teeth-itching, nerve-end-scraping, cringeworthy, hideous habit. I’m always amazed when a knuckle idiot pulls out his fists and starts popping away that someone in the crowd doesn’t finally lose it and take a swing at him. Guys seem to be the most common offenders, or at least the ones who most proudly perform their ugly percussion before a captive crowd.

The most common form of arthritis is caused by joint degeneration — the loss of cartilage within the joint. Knuckle-cracking happens in the same location but not in the same way. Finger joints are encapsulated by tissue that contains fluid to help joint mobility. When it’s time to crack them, you pull apart the two bones that meet inside the capsule. (Some crackers are finger-pullers, some are finger- flexers, but they both work the same way.) Stretching the capsule creates a low-pressure environment in which vacuum spaces are filled with gases already present in the joint fluid. When the spaces collapse, we hear the popping sound. This, by the way, is only the most popular and likely explanation. Fringe groups have other explanations, but fringe groups can be as irritating as knuckle-crackers.

Matthew: Why is it that no matter what you do to clean a dog’s water bowl, it’s still more slippery than snot? We have used metal, plastic, and currently have a porcelain water bowl for our beloved black shepherd. She gets fresh water twice a day, more when she needs it. The bowl gets washed/rinsed out each time beforehand and you better have a strong good grip on it when handling it. I have tried washing the bowl with all kinds of dish cleaners with no luck. Heck, we even put it in the dishwasher once or twice a month. That bowl can be as dry as a desert after cleaning it, but the moment it receives more water, the slippery feeling returns. Why, Alice, why? — The hundred-pound grip, via email

Infernal dog spit. What a nightmare. The gooey, drippy stuff that leaks from Rover’s mouth all over the floor is actually designed to be thick and slimy. The better to coat the food for swallowing and spread good bacteria around his mouth to keep him healthy. But I’m not sure about spit’s love of porcelain. (By the way, that’s a pretty high-class dish he’s got there.) Dog spit is not impervious to soap. It certainly has no defenses against dishwasher detergent, which is heavy-duty stuff. Your maniacal washing might just be the problem. Your dishes are so clean that when you pick them up with wet fingers, they slip right out of your grasp or they feel ultra-slippery inside. Believe me, there’s no dog spit on Rover’s dishes. It’s not possible. You’ve blasted them with so much soap, no slimy coating could possibly survive. A nice gentle soap wash will do. The slippery just means it’s very clean.

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leripat Jan. 8, 2011 @ 9:19 p.m.

Haven't the elves ever had a dog? I'm with Hundred-pound-grip: dog water dishes seem to retain some kind of slime residue that is reactivated with water. It doesn't happen with dishes the dog hasn't slurped out of, and it's not because it's just super-extra-squeaky clean. Back to the library, Matt.


Jay Allen Sanford Jan. 10, 2011 @ 6:43 p.m.

Glad to see the website template has been customized to fit the entire Rick Geary cartoon each week, instead of cropping it! The illos are a major factor in the tone and appeal of the longrunning Matt Alice column ---


Matthew_Alice Jan. 25, 2011 @ 11:46 a.m.

Well said, Jayallen. Sidekick Rick has always been a big part of the Alice family and a very talented dude, indeed. Those not in the know, check out his web site and consider his series of illustrated novels. He's done work for lots of pubs, including the New York Times. Thanks for your shout-out, Jay.


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