We did it, humans. We finally know the answer to the ultimate question: Are cats a liquid or a solid?
Though it seems like the answer would be straightforward, it most definitely isn't. And whoever figured it out just won a major prize. No, not the Nobel Prize — the Ig Nobel Prize.
Since 1991, the Ig Nobel Prizes have honored 10 of the most imaginative, thought-provoking, and frankly oddball pieces of research each year. Past prizes have been awarded to polyester rat pants, the economic value of pet rocks, and answering the age-old question, can frogs levitate? (Yes.)
On Sept. 14, this year's winners were announced. The lucky writers, scientists, and artists were invited to Harvard University, where they were greeted by contests, a bespoke mini-opera, and an awards ceremony. (This year's theme? Uncertainty. When asked why they chose this theme, founder Marc Abrahams replied: "I'm not sure.")
Among the winners was research into how touching a live crocodile affects people's willingness to gamble.
Two men hold a crocodile in Australia in 2003. Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.
It all depends on whether crocodile-touching excites you, according to Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer from Central Queensland University. Scaredy-cats tended to become more cautious while playing video poker immediately after holding a meter-long saltwater crocodile. Croc buffs, on the other hand, bet more.
Playing the didgeridoo might help with sleep apnea and snoring.
David Little plays the didgeridoo in Sydney, Australia, in 2006. Photo by Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images.
According to a study in the British Medical Journal, regular training for a couple months might help strengthen the airways.
And, of course, can a cat be both a solid and a liquid? Yes, it can.
In a feat that was part science, part philosophy, and all feline, researcher Marc-Antoine Fardin argued that cats should technically be considered liquids. After all, if the definition of a liquid is "takes the form of any container they're in," well, we've got photographic proof of that.
Photo via Jim/Flickr. (I don't know how Jim knew the internet needed this picture, but I'm glad it's here.)
Other winners included answering questions such as can identical twins tell themselves apart in old family photos? (no); why do some people hate cheese? (it's in their brains); and why do old men have such big ears? (gravity pulls them down over time).
The full list of winners is available on the contest's website.
In the end, it's not about who's the most groundbreaking or clever or weird. Instead, the contest is about making people laugh and then think.
We take things very seriously most of the time, but the truth is that good, important, life-changing work can be funny. And bad, terrible work can be funny too. The contest invites people to look deeper and make up their minds on their own.
"Your quick opinion about something might change — drastically — if you look at the details. Then again, it might not," Abrahams says.