Dr. Jerry D. Wilson,
Emeritus Professor of Physics
QUESTION: In watching a recent Winter Olympics curling event, two players would furiously sweep in front of the stone as it slid down the ice. What is the purpose of this? (Asked by Kirk Anderson, Greenwood, S.C.)
REPLY: Curling is one of the more unusual sports of the Winter Olympics. It wasn’t an official Olympic sport until 2006, and the United States won the gold medal in the men’s event this year.
In playing the game, a player (the curler) pushes a heavy, 42-pound granite stone (also called the “rock”) down an ice lane toward a bullseye target made of concentric circles. The goal is to accumulate the highest score, with points being awarded for stones resting closest to the target center. Two teams (each with four players) take turns throwing the stones, with each player throwing two. A game usually consists of 8-10 repetitions of this procedure, and the team with the most points in total wins the game.
Sweeping is what changes the path of the stone after it is thrown – while the stone slides down the ice, two players with brooms rapidly sweep the surface in front of the stone. The curler can introduce a curved path by causing the stone to turn slowly as it slides. Sweeping heats up the ice and reduces the friction between the ice and the stone. This makes the rock curl less and move straighter, giving some control over the path. The reduced friction also allows the stone to travel farther. The broom heads are made of fabric, hog hair or horsehair. Sweeping also acts to clean the ice of bits of dirt and debris.
There you have it. I curled once while up in Canada. Curling is sometimes called shuffleboard on ice. I can see why … I’m not very good at either.
QUESTION: Here’s something I have been wondering about for a long while: the saying, “rob Peter to pay Paul.” I have always connected it to the Bible, but is there anything to this or is it only a random choice of names? Thanks for the “Curiosity Corner” that is still in our Laurens Co. Advertiser. (Asked by fellow Buckeye Bernie Porter.)
REPLY: Always nice to hear from a fellow Ohioan, Bernie! I’ve used this expression, too, and there are variations such as “borrow from Peter to pay Paul,” and “unclothe Peter to clothe Paul.” Basically, the meaning is to take from one thing and use it for another, especially in paying off debts.
Like many idiomatic expressions, the real source is unknown. It is possible that the names Peter and Paul were used because of their close Biblical association. However, there are a couple of legends or explanations involving churches. One is that the expression refers to the time before the Reformation when church taxes had to be paid from St. Paul’s church in London to St. Peter’s church in Rome. In this context, it meant neglecting the Peter tax in order to have money to pay the Paul tax.
Another from the Middle Ages is that St. Peter’s Cathedral in Westminster, England, was dissolved and its assets were used to repair St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Whatever the source, we know the meaning of the saying. To be more modern, I was thinking on using the saying with taxpayer, government and national debt. Think that would be appropriate?
C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): We are all ignorant to some extent. But, if you use ignorance to form opinions, draw conclusions and make decisions, that’s being dumb. —Anon
Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.