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Heymatt: I’ve always wondered what happens to the big hole left when we pump oil out of the ground. Considering all the oil taken out of the Middle East, I would think the whole area would be ready to collapse into the ground. So what’s the story, Matt? — Webster, Webster

The “big hole” fills with water. Plain old H2O. Occasionally, depending on the type of rock the oil’s in, the water can cause a big cave-in by dissolving the rock. But oil drilling itself doesn’t leave a hole. Coal mines, now that’s a different story. They also catch fire and burn underground for years. So go visit a coal mine.

Hey Matt: I get distracted by things easily, especially when in the car. I go down by the shipyard at 32nd Street quite often, and I always find myself looking up at those massive cranes they use to build ships. After passing through a few times, I got to wondering: How did they build those cranes and get them to that location? Do they have some super-duper gigantic kind of crane that they use to build cranes for construction on the spot? — Max300, via email

Whoa, Max, the next logical question is, “How do they build the super-duper gigantic kind of crane used to build the massive cranes?” And on and on. So stop right here. The massive cranes build themselves, okay? When you already have a crane on site, why bring in another? No need for skyhooks or scary, 1000-foot structures.

Consider the tower crane. Big, tall vertical mast with a horizontal sort of boom. This is the payload-lifting part of the crane, with a counterweight at the other end. The crane arrives on site on trucks in preconstructed 20-foot sections.

So, first we dig a huge, deep hole and fill it with concrete and put in gigantic bolts to anchor the whole structure. Then we bolt in the crane’s base. Then start adding 20-foot sections of the crane’s central mast. This is done with a second (reasonably sized) crane, which helps construct the lowest part of our crane.

While all this is going down, the horizontal arms of the crane are being connected to a boxlike thing called a slewing unit that controls the rotation of the arms. The slewing unit with its arms is attached at the top of the mast. So here comes the self-building part. There’s a thingy called a climbing frame that fits on top of the mast and under the slewing unit. The climbing frame has a hydraulic system that pushes up the slewing unit 20 feet. Then the crane itself lifts up a new 20-foot section of mast and it’s fitted into the hole that’s created. Etc., etc. Over and over. And so on. Got it? Now keep your eyes on the road.

The Elves Tangle with Corporate America (Again)

It seems like only yesterday that the crew of Matthew Alice professionals stepped into Kitty Litter. We had made some wiseacre reference to “kitty litter” and immediately received a sharp note from Kitty Litter Corporate warning that the name is not to be trifled with. It’s trademarked and should be capitalized, thank you very much. Fast forward to last week, another wiseacre reference, this time to Sunny D, suggesting that Grandma and the elves were working out of the Sunny D Institute for Exceptional Thinking. Again, feathers flew:

My name is Jennifer Cottle, and I was called with a question regarding an article that I saw on my Google alert that was in the San Diego weekly Reader. It was…by Matthew Alice. I work for the Sunny D Company, and I was trying to understand the mention in here, where it says, “We here at the Sunny D Institute for Exceptional Thinking (we finally got a sponsor!)” Wasn’t sure what that meant. I’ve also emailed our California offices to see if they know who the Institute for Exceptional Thinking is. If you could provide me with some information, I would really appreciate it.

Dear Jennifer: It was a joke. Sunny D has not added a think tank to its juice empire. We all apologize for suggesting that you had and for spoiling your week, which I’m sure was sunny and juicy until then. I will admit that the elves have occasionally been known to drink a Sunny D when we’re under deadline pressures and they’re parched from all the stress. Otherwise, all you readers out there, there is no connection between Matthew Alice Central Headquarters and the fine folks at Sunny D.

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