Foray into the world of physics
Why Cats Land on Their Feet: And 76 Other Physical Paradoxes and Puzzles, Mark Levi, Princeton University Press, Pp 216 (HB), $19.95
MANY of the innocuous sights in daily life have a considerable amount of physics beating in their hearts. From self – righting cats to spinning tops whose balance would make a ballerina envious. In his wonderful book Why Cats Land On Their Feet Mark Levi encourages us to make a brave foray into the world of physics puzzles that, rest assured, will rub you the right way.
Levi opens up with a warm, brief introduction explaining that “a good physical paradox is (1) a surprise, (2) a puzzle, and (3) a lesson, rolled into one fun package.” In Levi’s opinion if music were taught the way physics is then students may know the notes but would be clueless about the melodies. He emphasises that physics should come to people naturally, intuitively. Thus attempts have been made to simplify the book so that no formal training in physics is needed to get by most of the book.
The contents of the book have been divided into chapters based on different types of paradoxes. The first type is “Outer Space Paradoxes.” As per the theme of the book, there are puzzles based an outer space environment. The answers actually seem obvious. Then when Levi reveals his hand it dawns that our mistake was glaringly obvious, much like the answer itself. Some of the other paradoxes given are on spinning water, floating, and even the Coriolis force is touched. Coriolis force is the mysterious change in direction of straight flying objects caused by the rotation of the earth. The title paradox, of the cat’s landing skill has a chapter of its own. Cats, while landing on their feet, manage to not only amaze us but make puzzle physicists with the how. The answer actually has nothing to do with the cat’s tail, contrary to the popularly held belief. The last chapter “Miscellaneous,” offers some more remarkable puzzles like “How to Open a Wine Bottle with a Book” and “Computing 2^1/2 with a Shoe.” At the end is a helpful appendix, in case any puzzle needs further brushing up.
While the language is indeed simple and no formal training in physics in needed, some understanding of physics will be essential. The puzzles will not intuitive to someone unless they have dabbled at least bit with physics. That said Levi uses titillating puzzles and a humorous tone to truly infuse fun into the book. A must have for anyone that likes physics, or for that matter hates. Why Cats Land On Their Feet is a book that introduces the reader to the cool side of physics and then engages for hours.
(Princeton University Press, 41, William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540)