Strange But True

Opinions - November 20th, 1998

by Bill Sones & Rich Sones, Ph.D.

Q: “Yon Aztec has a lean and hungry look. Do you think our goose might be cooked?”

A: Historians believe the Az­tecs “sacrificed” and ate nearly 1 percent of Central Mexico’s population during the 15th cen­tury, or about 250,000 people a year, reports Kenneth V. Iserson in Death to Dust: What Hap­pens to Dead Bodies?

On the feast day of the gold Totec (occurring every 18 months), prisoners had their hearts cut out, then their bod­ies were rolled down the side of a pyramid to be eaten up by waiting warriors below.

And the Aztecs weren’t the only ones. In early China, body parts of leaders were cooked and consumed in hopes of in­gesting the courage and skills of the illustrious.

The mountain man Jeremiah Johnson was said to have eaten the livers of more than 200 Crow Indians during his life. True or not, the legend made for a reputation of fierceness.

And a handful of military of­ficers during World War II were later brought before war tribunals and convicted of can­nibalism, with some claiming to have gained extra strength or sexual powers.

While cases of ritual canni­balism and survival cannibalism (during a famine or other crisis) have been common, says Iserson, history counts few instances of gustatory cannibalism, i.e., din­ing on human flesh for the sheer pleasure of it. One such perpe­trator was Fritz Haarman, the “Hanover vampire,” convicted in 1924 of biting 27 young men to death, making sausage of them and selling it.

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Q: Insomnia is common enough. Have you ever lost sleep over “pseudoinsomnia”?

A: Some people will think they’re not getting a good night’s rest, but sleep lab tests show they’re sleeping just fine. One hypothesis, reports Josh Gerow in Psychology: An In­troduction is that such sleepers dream of lying awake and try­ing to get to sleep, and in the morning remember these dreams and conclude it was a fretful, sleepless night.

Usually just finding out that they’re sleeping normally is enough to cure their pseudoinsomnia.

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Q: Would a baseball tossed off the top of a tall building be going faster than a pitched fastball by the time it hit the ground? Could somebody catch it?

A: This stunt has been tried a couple of times. Terminal veloc­ity of a falling baseball is prob­ably around 95 mph, notes physicist Peter J. Brancazio. That’s about what a good Ma­jor League fastballer can muster.

But catching a horizontal, well-controlled pitch is one thing; fielding a ball plummet­ing unpredictably out of the sky is another. In 1938, a couple of pro catchers nabbed balls tossed from atop a 700-foot Cleveland skyscraper after watching the first few rebound 13 stories off the pavement.

The following year, playing “Can You Top This,” San Fran­cisco Seals catcher Joe Sprinz stood with mitted hand beneath a blimp 800 feet up. One dropped ball smashed into bleachers; another pounded into the turf.

Then Sprinz got under one and wished he hadn’t; the down-plunging orb slammed into his glove and shoved it back into his face, breaking five teeth and fracturing his jaw.

And the ball got away.