# Spinout

RACECAR spelled backward is RACECAR.

# The Stilt-Walkers of Landes

In 1891, Sylvain Dornon walked from Paris to Moscow on stilts. It took him only 58 days.

Stilts were big in Gascony, whose wide plains, few roads, and broad marshes made foot travel difficult, and where shepherds needed to tend widely scattered flocks. The 5-foot stilts of Landes were called tchangues (“big legs”); with a long staff or crook, they turned a shepherd into a giant walking tripod that could cover plains, bush, pools and marshes with equal ease.

Spend enough time up there and you’d get pretty good at it. An experienced stilt-walker could stand, walk, run, hop, even pick flowers. When he wasn’t tending his flock he could knit or spin using a distaff stuck in his girdle; some tchangues even carried guns or portable stoves.

In 1808, when Josephine went to Bayonne to rejoin Napoleon I, the municipality sent an escort of stilt-walkers to meet her. It’s said that they easily kept up with the horses on the return journey, and the tchangues amused the ladies by racing, a tradition that continued through the 19th century. On the market days in Bordeaux, peasants would travel up to 20 leagues laden with bags and baskets. Beats a Segway.

# “Buildering”

Using only his bare hands and climbing shoes, Alain Robert has climbed more than 70 structures worldwide, including the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and the 1,668-foot Taipei 101, the world’s tallest building.

When he reaches the top, the first thing he does is call his children.

# Sneezing

The medical term for sneezing is sternutation.

# 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.

# Famous Suicides

Famous suicides:

• Boudicca
• Cleopatra
• Hannibal
• Seneca
• Nero
• Virginia Woolf
• Ernest Hemingway
• Alan Turing
• Sylvia Plath
• Vincent van Gogh

Ben Franklin wrote, “Nine men in ten are would-be suicides.”

# In a Word

tecnolatry
n. worship or idolization of children

# Rhino Horns

A rhinoceros’ horn is made of compacted hair.

# Wife Carrying Championship

This July saw the Ninth Annual Wife-Carrying World Championship in Sonkajärvi, Finland.

The event, inspired by a proud Finnish history of wife-stealing, involves flinging a woman over your back and sprinting past obstacles to a finish line 253 meters away. Rules:

• “The wife to be carried may be your own, the neighbour’s or you may have found her farther afield,” but she has to be at least 108 pounds and 17 years old.
• If you drop your wife you’re fined 15 seconds.
• The only equipment allowed is a belt worn by the carrier.

The world record is 55.5 seconds, and the winner (Estonia) gets his wife’s weight in beer.

# Barbie

“Barbie is the ultimate ambassador for girls,” says Mattel. That’s a little dubious, given her bio. Does this sound like your daughter?

“Barbara Millicent Roberts” attended Willows High School in Willows, Wis., and Manhattan International High School in New York City. She has 38 pets, including cats, dogs, horses, a panda, a lion cub, and a zebra. She also owns numerous cars, including several pink convertibles, and she operates commercial airliners when she’s not serving as a stewardess.

She dated Ken Carson for 43 years before dumping him to run for president in 2004. (Platform: create world peace, help the homeless, take care of animals.) As experience, her handlers cited “serving in the military, acting as a UNICEF ambassador and being a teacher.”

They also said she was “well-rounded.” That’s for sure. At life size, Barbie would be 5 foot 9 and measure 36-18-33. But it turns out you can be too rich and too thin: According to research by the University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, Barbie would have too little body fat to menstruate.