Monday, August 22, 2011

Inquiring Minds

Welcome to another edition of Inquring Minds, in which I tell you the answers to some of the random questions that have popped into my mind recently.

1. What kind of fur is Afghan President Hamid Karzai's signature hat made of?: It's called a qaraqul (a.k.a. karakul) and made from the fur of the qaraqul breed of sheep, which are common in Central Asia. The hats aren't made from just any sheep, though, but rather are fashioned from the supersoft fur of newborn qaraqul lambs or aborted lamb fetuses. (photo source)

2. What does "lazaretto" mean? (A word I encountered in the novel I'm reading right now, "Moloka'i" by Alan Brennert.): According to, a lazaretto is "a hospital for those with contagious dieseases, especially leprosy" or "a building or ship set apart for quarantine purposes."

3. What exactly is happening when you crack your joints (i.e. back, neck, knuckles)?: The web has a variety of (sometimes conflicting) information on this topic. Some of the more reputable websites I looked at suggested that cracking joints is rarely harmful and that the cause of the popping sounds is not completely understood. Some theories are that the noise comes from ligaments, or that it's the sound of nitrogen gas bubbles in the joint's fluid, or that it's two bones clicking back into place after being temporarily separated. All sound gross to me. The only area I ever intentionally crack is my back, after a night of sleeping like a log or a long day of sitting in a chair. And it's almost always a pleasure. Why is this? Most sites suggest that pressure in the joints is relieved upon cracking.

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