Star Wars Hit Probability Equation

From Bespin to Yavin, the “Star Wars Hit Probability Equation” predicts the outcome of any battle:

n is the number of “bad guys,” x is the number of “good guys,” and J is the number of Jedi present (if any).

The equation reads, “The probability of a bad guy hitting his target is equal to the inverse of all bad guys present plus the cube of the number of good guys present (plus one) plus the number of Jedi present (plus one) to the 10th power.”

So the presence of a good guy reduces the bad guys’ accuracy, and having even one Jedi present is bad news for the Empire.

Domesticated Animals

Dates of first domestication:

  • Sheep, goat, pig: 8,000 B.C.
  • Cow: 6,000 B.C.
  • Horse: 4,000 B.C.
  • Donkey, water buffalo, honeybee: 4,000 B.C.
  • Chicken, cat, llama: 3,500 B.C.
  • Silkworm: 3,000 B.C.
  • Camel: 2,500 B.C.

Dogs, by far, are man’s best friend. Some estimates put them with us as early as 150,000 B.C. It’s thought that scavenging wolves grew less fearful of humans, and we found they could help with hunting and warn us of approaching enemies. “To his dog, every man is Napoleon,” wrote Aldous Huxley. “Hence the constant popularity of dogs.”

A New Theory

Why do landmasses “sag” toward the south pole, as on the Sherwin-Williams paint logo? In 1973 Ormonde de Kay Jr., a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, proposed a “theory of continental drip”:

“Let’s look at the world map. Africa and South America … are textbook examples of drip, with their broad tops and tapering lower extremities. But so is North America, with Baja California and Florida dangling down at its sides, and Greenland, too, clearly shows the characteristics of drip.”

“What causes continental drip? A few possible explanations come to mind: some palaeomagnetic force, for example, unsuspected and therefore undetected, centered in massive, mountainous Antarctica and perpetually tugging at the lower hems of land masses. Or drip might somehow be the result of the Earth’s rotation, or of lunar attraction. One conclusion, however, would seem inescapable: contrary to the teachings of science, but as every schoolchild has always known, north really is up, and south down!”

The Best of Times

German arithmetician Zacharias Dase (1824-1861) once multiplied two 100-digit numbers in his head. It took him 8 hours 45 minutes.

Karl Gauss estimated that even a skilled mathematician, using pencil and paper, would require fully half that time.

Largest Organism

What’s the largest living thing in the world? It depends:

  • Savannah elephants get up to 26,400 pounds, and of course some land dinosaurs were far larger.
  • In the ocean, the blue whale can reach 100 feet and weigh 150 tons. It’s thought to be the largest animal that’s ever lived.
  • There’s a fungus in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest that fills 2,200 acres, but technically it’s not one individual organism.
  • Likewise, there are some stands of aspens that grow from one gigantic root system. One covers 200 acres and weighs an estimated 6,600 tons.
  • Australia’s Great Barrier Reef stretches for 2000 kilometers — it’s not a single creature, but it’s certainly the world’s largest “superorganism.”
  • The overall winning candidate is probably this tree, California’s “General Sherman.” It’s 274 feet tall and 36 feet thick at the base, with a trunk volume of 1,487 cubic meters.

The largest bacterium ever discovered, by the way, is Thiomargarita namibiensis — it grows to 0.75 mm in diameter, which means you can see it with the naked eye. Eww.

A Land-Dwelling Blue Whale

In 1878, paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope discovered the partial vertebra of a new species of dinosaur near Morrison, Colo. It was in poor condition but enormous, 7.8 feet high.

If it really existed, that would make Amphicoelias fragillimus the largest dinosaur ever discovered, up to 200 feet long and weighing as much as 185 tons, the equivalent of a land-dwelling blue whale.

Cope packed up the vertebra and sent it by train to a New York museum, but apparently it crumbled into dust on the way. All that remain are Cope’s description and a line drawing. Oh well.


“This coffee plunges into the stomach … the mind is aroused, and ideas pour forth like the battalions of the Grand Army on the field of battle.” So wrote Balzac, who wrote for up to 15 hours a day wired on black coffee.

If anything, he was ahead of his time. Today we drink more than 400 billion cups of coffee every year, making it the world’s most popular beverage. It’s second only to oil as the world’s largest traded commodity.

So, is it safe to consume that much of anything? Well, yes and no.

Generally, one dose of caffeine is 100 mg. That’s what you’d get in one shot of espresso, 5 ounces of coffee, or 2.5 cans of soda. The lowest dose that’s ever killed someone is 32 times that — and that was delivered intravenously. Even with strong coffee, you’d have to drink 3 cups an hour for 100 hours even to come close to killing yourself.

But that’s not all that can happen. At lower doses you might develop “caffeinism,” a condition that mimics mental illnesses ranging from anxiety and bipolar disorder to schizophrenia and psychosis.

(And that’s just humans. Dogs, horses and parrots have much more trouble metabolizing caffeine, and it hits spiders harder than even LSD, marijuana, benzedrine and chloral hydrate, as you can see here.)

And, as always, there’s no accounting for craziness. Jason Allen, a student at a North Carolina community college, died after swallowing almost 90 pills — about 18 grams of pure caffeine. That’s the equivalent of about 250 cups of coffee, a gallon and a half of espresso, or 22 gallons of Mountain Dew. That’s a serious all-nighter.

“The 1729 Anecdote”

The Indian mathematical prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan showed an almost supernatural facility with numbers. British mathematician G.H. Hardy once visited him in the hospital:

I had ridden in taxicab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavorable omen. “No,” he replied, “it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”

“Every positive integer,” remarked J.E. Littlewood, “is one of Ramanujan’s personal friends.”