Useless Superpower: In the 1970s, Chinese researchers investigated reports of children who had the unusual ability to read with their armpits. The kids supposedly could describe what was written on folded pieces of paper tucked beneath their armpits. And not just their armpits. Some kids could see with their ears, hands, or feet.
After careful study, the researchers concluded that, yes, the children did seem to have this ability.
Wang Qiang and Wang Bin sat in the middle of the room and the observers sat in front and behind them. The lamp in the room was not very bright. They began with pieces of paper that had been written on before the test. They were placed in the ears of Wang Qiang and Wang Bin and the two girls were allowed to hold it in with their hands. After a little while, both girls said that there was no image and wanted to test it under their armpits.
Therefore, other pieces of paper were written on in another room by Shen Hanchang and Zhu Chiayi. The papers were folded twice and squeezed through the shirt from the backs of the subjects and placed under their armpits. The two girls held the sample against them with their hands. Besides the two writers, no one else in the room knew what was written on the paper.
After 2 minutes 40 seconds, Wang Qiang said that she "recognized" it. Everyone told her not to speak but to write it down on the side. She wrote a "3" and also wrote "blue". They opened the paper and found there was a "3 6" written with a blue ball point pen. The "3" and the "6" were separated some distance and thus she had recognized one half.
I jokingly referred to armpit reading as a useless superpower, but the Chinese researchers would disagree. They concluded their study with this remark:
Research on this type of special physiological phenomenon will not only have a deep and far reaching influence on medical science but will also influence the semiconductor industry.
On January 26, 1972, stewardess Vesna Vulovic was working on a Yugoslav Airlines flight when a bomb blew up the plane. She fell 31,000 feet and miraculously survived. No one else on the flight did. She eventually made a near-full recovery and went back to work at the airline, though not as a stewardess. She died in 2016. To this day, she maintains the world record for having made the longest fall without a parachute.
Vulovic is part of a small group of human marvels who have survived very long falls. Another member of this group is English tail gunner Nicholas Alkemade who, in 1944, survived a fall of 18,000 feet out of a Lancaster bomber.
A woman jumps out of a sixth-story window and walks away uninjured. Another slips on a banana peel and is killed. Why? That was the question Hugh De Haven asked himself...
Obviously, De Haven couldn't subject human guinea pigs to experimental accidents in a laboratory. Instead, he analyzed the records of some remarkably lucky and well-documented falls—cases where men and women dropped from as high as 320 feet (the equivalent of 28 stories) and survived. A few of them:
--A 42-year-old woman jumped from a sixth floor. Hurtling 55 feet, she landed at 37 miles an hour on her left side and back in a well-packed plot of garden soil. She arose with the remark: "Six stories and not even hurt." Her body had made a 4-inch hollow in the earth.
--A 27-year-old girl dropped from a seventh story window and landed head first on a wooden roof. She crashed through, breaking three 6- by 2-inch beams, and dropped lightly to the ceiling below. None of her neighbors knew about the fall until she herself appeared at the attic door and asked assistance. And although one of her vertebrae was fractured, the girl was able to sit up in bed the same day.
--Another woman fell 74 feet, landing flat and face down on an iron bar, metal screens, a skylight, and a metal-lath ceiling. The impact made a 13-inch bend in the 1.5-inch bar, but she suffered only some cuts on her forehead and soreness about the ribs. She sat up and climbed through a nearby window.
--After a 72-foot drop, a 32-year-old woman landed in jackknife position on a fence of wire and wood. She picked herself up and marched to a first-aid station but was unhurt.
--A 27-year-old man fell 146 feet onto the rear deck of a coupe. Some of his bones were broken, but he remained conscious and was back at work within two months.
--A man dropped from a 320-foot cliff to the beach below, bouncing from a sloping ledge halfway down. Although his skull was fractured, he fully recovered. DeHaven noted that the man wore a large coat, which may have slowed his fall by a slight parachute action.
--A woman fell seventeen floors onto a metal ventilator box, landing in sitting position and crushing the metal downward 18 inches. Though both arms and one leg were broken, she sat up and demanded to be taken back to her room.
In this evidence, De Haven observed that (1) in each instance the blow was distributed over a large area of the body, and (2) the fall was not halted abruptly—in the ventilator case, for example, it was slowed through a distance of 18 inches and the impact was thus decreased. Even so, she had survived a force of more than 200 times gravity. By contrast, a person slipping on a sidewalk might crack his skull because hitting the unyielding concrete pavement generated a force of more than 300 times gravity.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.