Absurd Science Questions and Answers: What If?

Image of book cover of What If?

For divergent thinking, read What If?

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

I had a lot of fun listening to What If?: Serious Scientific Answers Absurd Hypothetical Questions. Randall Munroe is the author. He’s also the creator of xkcd. I told my sons I was listening to a crazy and fun book while I was walking and had gotten a copy from the library so that I could go over some of the questions and answers again as well as see the diagrams. When I told them the title of the book, they knew immediately who the author was. Munroe’s website is popular.

Absurd Science Questions=Thinking Outside the Box

I think any teen who likes thinking outside the box will love this book. You don’t need to be a science genius. Whether you understand all the science involved in the answer—to Munroe’s credit, he breaks it down for the average reader—you will sometimes be astonished at how weird or impossible events would affect the neighborhood, the state, the nation, the world, the universe.

Absurd Questions, Fun and Wacky Answers

What If? compiles all the best questions and answers from the xkcd webcomic. Four of these questions are listed inside the book jacket, so I’m guessing the publishers thought these were the best.

  • What if I took a swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool?
  • Could you build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?
  • What if a Richter 15 earthquake hit New York City?
  • What would happen if someone’s DNA vanished?

These are great, and the answers are surprising. Vanished DNA is an otherworldly concept to me. I have a few more favorites of my own:

  • What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent of the speed of light? (The answer was sooo far from anything I’d imagine.)
  • What if everyone actually had only one soul mate, a random person somewhere in the world?
  • What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element? (Boom! Boom!)
  • If an asteroid was very small but supermassive, could you really live on it like the Little Prince?

Weird and Worrying Interchapters

Also included in What If? are interchapters entitled “Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox.” A few examples:

  • Would it be possible to get your teeth to such a cold temperature that they would shatter upon drinking a hot cup of coffee? (Non-answer: “Thank you, Shelby, for my new recurring nightmare.”)
  • Is it possible to cry so much you dehydrate yourself? (Non-answer: “Karl, is everything OK?”)
  • What sort of logistic anomalies would you encounter in trying to raise an army of apes?

Ask Absurd Questions: Be a Divergent Thinker

I love all of this because of the divergent thinking. Just reading it lets you know that’s it’s OK to think up bizarre stuff and wonder about the answers. While the answers themselves are highly entertaining—and sometimes frightening—the fact that people ask such crazy questions in this wild, wide world is worth the read.

For other weird science reads, see my reviews of Gulp and Spook.

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About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
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