MAD DOG: Opening Candy Wrappers at the Speed of Sound

Just when you thought scientists were finally buckling down to tackle the truly important problems of our times, like unraveling the keys to the genetic code, finding a cure for AIDS, and creating amber bulbs for traffic lights that people don't mistake for green, along comes a startling breakthrough: They've discovered why candy wrappers make noise.

A physicist from Massachusetts broke the news at a meeting of the Acoustical Society, a group that thinks "Shhhhh" is a dirty word. Eric Kramer announced that the noise candy wrappers make when you open them is caused by pops and snaps as the creases in the material are pulled apart. It's revelations like this that instill confidence in our education system.

The interesting part -- as if this isn't already truly fascinating -- is that he says opening the wrapper slowly doesn't make the noises any quieter, it only spreads them out over a longer period of time. This is pretty much the same argument men have been giving women for years when asked why they think foreplay should last about as long as a Pia Zadora retrospective -- it doesn't make it better, just longer.

This is causing me to rethink a lot of my habits. Not the foreplay one, because lately it's been more of a rarity than a habit. But it does make me wonder whether I'm really better off trying to force myself to lick a Tootsie Roll Pop rather than suck it, if there are really more jiggles when I watch "Baywatch" in slow motion, and whether getting there actually is half the fun. Or could it be only a third?

Hopefully Kramer's candy bar research will spur some real life applications, though I'm not in a position to say for sure since I'm not a scientist, I only play one when I want to wear a lab coat with nothing underneath and sniff chemicals that make me goofy in the head. But hopefully it will inspire others to look into similar time-related problems, such as whether it hurts less to pull a Band-aid off a hairy body part quickly or slowly. Or whether you get wetter running through the rain or walking.

While this last one may not seem important to you or me, it is to Marilyn vos Savant. She's the columnist who bills herself as the world's smartest person and discusses this topic at least twice a year. I don't know if she's really the world's smartest person though I do know she's smarter than I am. After all, she's the one who gets paid big bucks by Parade to write about walking through the rain and I don't. But I'm not convinced she's the smartest. After all, if she was she wouldn't be writing a column at all, she'd be designing toilet paper like Sir Roger Penrose.

Sir Roger is a British mathematician who, in 1974, came up with a geometric design which showed for the first time that a nonrepeating pattern could exist in nature. I really have no idea what this means though I have seen a drawing of it and it looks like something out of an M.C. Escher drawing. Or maybe the acid scene in "The Trip" with Peter Fonda, a movie I only mention because he deserves to be reminded of it periodically. Humility, after all, is a good thing.

Anyway, it came to Sir Roger's attention a couple of years ago that Kleenex quilted toilet paper had an embossed design that looked remarkably like his copyrighted Penrose Pattern. Exactly how he discovered this isn't important, or at least I can safely say I don't want to know. After all, like the ingredient list for head cheese, there are some things in this world that are better off staying secret. Sir Roger sued Kleenex, joined forces with the current European manufacturer, and we can only hope that this pattern of infringement suits becomes as nonrepeating as his discovery.

I have to wonder what Einstein would have thought about the effect speed has on the noise level of unwrapping a candy bar. After all, he had a theory about everything, and many of them involved speed. None, to my knowledge, involved candy or toilet paper. Much of his work hinges on the concept that nothing can travel faster than light, which moves at 186,000 miles per second, or about as long as I can sit still through an average episode of "Survivor." Yet scientists are now breaking that cherished rule. In an experiment performed at the NEC Research Institute, scientists figured out a way to make a beam of light pass through a tube of cesium gas so quickly that it exited the chamber before it entered. Honestly. While this is truly amazing it will come as no surprise to married women who are all too familiar with the concept of something being over before it starts.

Scientists say this experiment doesn't actually negate the laws of physics, which is a good thing or we'd be just like the Flongers from Star Trek episode 86 which I just made up. Actually they explain this phenomenon away by discussing the composition of light waves, the properties of ionized gases, and the need to get back to filling out forms so they can get another government grant, this time to find out if The Firesign Theater was right when they asked "How can you be in two places at once, when you're not anywhere at all?" Meanwhile I'm still sitting here trying to figure out how to open this bag of potato chips without tearing it into shreds and dumping the chips all over the floor. But at least now I know why it's so damned noisy.

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