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The Straight Dope



Last night I inserted a new blade cartridge in my modern safety razor. This AM my true love used said instrument (unbeknownst to me) to remove unwanted hair from her lower extremities. Now, a half hour later, I am trying to figure out how to apply a tourniquet to my upper lip after using the same blade for my morning ablutions. My question is, how can delicate female down so completely ravage a blade that regularly stands up to my hard-bitten stubble? --Bill Schlansker, San Antonio

It's simple, compadre. While the little lady's leg hair tends to be finer than your face hair, she's got a whole lot more shaving acreage than you do, particularly if she decides to shave her underarms too. So she wears the blade out a lot faster. (Remember, it's not just hair that clogs up a razor but dead skin cells as well.) If she's not wetting her legs sufficiently it'll make things even worse.

The blade companies wimpishly decline to speculate on what the female-to-male wear-per-shave ratio might be, saying individual variation makes averages meaningless (which certainly ought to come as news to people in the statistics business), but let's say it's 4:1. You put in a new blade and experience the silky smoothness of shave #1. Your inamorata comes along and thoughtlessly scrapes her gams with the selfsame razor, using up the equivalent of shaves #2, #3, #4, and #5. The next morning you pick up the razor expecting shave #3 and instead what you get is the equivalent of shave #6. Being psychologically unprepared, you gouge divots out of your face, straining the bonds of affection and causing you to wonder whether this relationship is really worth it. The obvious solution is separate-but-equal shaving equipment. Sounds reactionary, but there are times when the liberal impulse has to give way to the instinct for survival.

While reading an article recently on the coming ice age, I thought of a related apocalyptic myth that happens to be a favorite of mine, namely that the earth is way overdue for its periodic rotation of the poles. This will result in the complete destruction of civilization and probably means we won't get to watch Wheel of Fortune anymore either. What's the story--is it true? Has it started? --David Koenigsberg, Hollywood, California

Well . . . sort of. But let's take this from the top. "Poleshift," as it's called, has been the subject of several books, most of them by people who think Close Encounters was a documentary. A typical one is 5/5/2000--Ice: The Ultimate Disaster, by Richard Noone. Noone believes that on May 5, 2000, massive ice buildup in the antarctic will cause the earth to shift 90 degrees on its axis so that what are now the polar regions will end up at the equator. This will be accompanied by slippage of the crustal plates, earthquakes, flooding, volcanoes, and probably the most hellacious rush hour in the history of the universe. A reviewer has described the book as "without a shred of scientific foundation."

Not quite. A few legitimate scientists believe that the earth, or at least its crust, has shifted on its axis in the past. Geologist Jean Andrews of Columbia University has found evidence to suggest that 180 million years ago the poles were displaced about 22 degrees from their present alignment, with the North Pole located on the northern coast of what is now the Soviet Union. The poles have spiraled erratically toward their present locations in the aeons since.

Why this slippage has occurred (if in fact it has occurred) is not clear, but Andrews points to a theory advanced years ago by maverick scientist Thomas Gold, who proposed that heavy regions on the earth's crust would tend to drift toward the equator due to centrifugal force. This is not that far from Noone's idea, although Noone is talking about ice, the weight of which is trivial compared to the continental masses Gold had in mind. At all events, the concept has many practical applications. Take vacation travel. Instead of flying off to the tropics, you could just cram 50 tons of weights in your attic (to maximize your torque, of course), grab your Coppertone, and wait for the tropics to come to you. Not exactly express service, maybe, but it can't be much worse than standby.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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