Diana would have become queen of England as a result of marrying Charles (assuming they had stayed married). So why, despite the fact that he is still married to Elizabeth, is Philip still a prince?

–Rbowman1, via AOL

There are queens and there are queens, you thilly. The kind of queen Diana would have been is a “queen consort.” This vaguely illicit-sounding title merely means she would have been queen by virtue of having married Charles, not queen in her own right. Were she actually the head of state, as Elizabeth II currently is, she would be the “queen regnant.” In your dreams, ho, you can just imagine Liz thinking. (Well, I can.) But now Di won’t be queen anything.

One might ask: why can’t Philip be the king consort? One would not be the first person to raise the issue, though it wasn’t Philip about whom it was first raised. That’d be Prince Albert, and the one who did the inquiring was Queen (regnant) Victoria, to whom Albert was married.

For years Victoria endeavored to have the title king consort bestowed on Albert. But there was a lingering feeling that while it was all very well to have a queen subordinated to a king, it would not do to have a king subordinated to a queen. Eventually Albert was named prince consort. The title became so thoroughly identified with him that Prince Philip hasn’t dared to assume it, and he remains an ordinary old prince. Though I suppose it’s not like anybody’s going to get him mixed up with the Prince Philip who delivers pizzas.

How does one suck in a piece of spaghetti? Think about it. How one sucks milk through a straw is easy. The lowered pressure in the mouth due to sucking causes the air pressure over the milk to force the liquid up. But if one pushes on the end of a piece of spaghetti it just buckles. The mouth is closed and sealed over the sides of the spaghetti, so passing air doesn’t drag it along. Somehow the air very close to the mouth must obliquely communicate a force along the length, and it’s far from clear how it’s possible.

–Berg [I guess; kind of scrawled], El Cerrito, California

You’re thinking, this is the lamest question Cecil has ever answered. However, this is because you lack an appreciation of the scientific issues. I blame myself.

It took me a while to get the regulars on sci.physics to focus on this too. Apart from the one lamer who said the partial vacuum inside your mouth exerts a positive force that pulls the spaghetti in, most reasoned as follows:

(1) Air pressure is customarily conceived of as acting perpendicularly to the surface on which it bears. In other words, it presses straight down.

(2) Air pressure at any point on the side of a strand of spaghetti is exactly counteracted by the air pressure on the opposite side.

(3) The one place where the air pressure is not counteracted is on the end of the spaghetti. The pressure on the outside end is much greater than the pressure on the inside (mouth) end.

(4) Therefore, the force on the spaghetti is equal to outside air pressure minus the pressure inside your mouth times the cross section of the spaghetti.

You’re not getting this, I said. I know how much pressure is exerted. What I want to know is where it’s exerted, since it seems pretty obvious that literally pressing on the end of a strand of limp spaghetti doesn’t do jack.

What do we care where it’s exerted? said the sci.physics regulars. We are scientists. We deal in the world of quantifiable effects. It is enough to know that the air bears somewhere, and that the pressure differential in aggregate is some mathematically determinable amount, as a consequence whereof the spaghetti is sucked, or rather forced, into your mouth.

Freaking gearheads, I said. Screw the mathematics. I want to know, What is actually happening at the level of individual particles?

“Heisenberg tells us…” the sci.physics types began.

Screw Heisenberg, I replied.

Finally a few of the scientific types conceded that the question had a certain practical interest. After some discussion we concluded that whereas it is customary to think of air as pressing straight down, most individual air particles, in fact, strike the surface of the spaghetti obliquely. Those particles striking the spaghetti close to the point where it enters the mouth, and whose vector had some inward-pushing component, would force it in. Exactly how close to the mouth the particles would have to hit would of course depend on whether the spaghetti was al dente or boiled to within an inch of its life. You want to take it up with the sci.physics crowd, be my guest.

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