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Your questions answered?

Last week we asked who invented playing cards and what the origin was of hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades?

Playing cards were invented by the Chinese before 1000 AD, reaching Europe around 1360.

The history of the different suits demonstrates an interplay between words, shapes and concepts. The suits of the Mameluke Empire of Egypt which introduced Europe to playing cards, were goblets, gold coins, swords and polo sticks. As polo was at that stage unknown in Europe, the polo sticks were transformed into batons or staves which, together with swords, cups and coins, are still the traditional suit marks of Italian and Spanish cards.

In the fifteenth century German card-makers experimented with suits vaguely based on the Italian style, but eventually settled on acorns, leaves, hearts and bells. These still remain in use today.

Around 1480 the French started producing playing cards by stencils and simplified the German shapes into a clover, a pike-head, a heart and a paving tile. English card-makers used these shapes but varied the names.

The spade may reflect the earlier use of Spanish suits, from the word espadas meaning swords. The Spanish suit of staves look like clubs. Finally, diamond is not only the shape of a paving tile, but may also perpetuate connotations of wealth from the older suit of coins.

We also asked why queues for women's toilets are always so long.

ACCORDING to a study by Professor Alexander Kira of Cornell University, women take around 2.3 times longer on the toilet than men.

But, perhaps surprisingly, this doesn't mean the queues are 2.3 times longer. In 2000, one magazine editor used a form of maths called queuing theory to prove a mathematical rule: The Law of Inconvenience

If a queue moves X times more slowly than another, then that queue will be at least X-squared times longer and people in it will also have to wait X-squared times longer.

So...that means that women can typically expect to queue at least 2.3-squared - five times - longer for the toilet than men.

Is there a solution to this problem? Quite simple: women should be given at least 2.3 times more toilets.

The Law of Inconvenience also explains why some supermarket queues are longer than others. If a checkout person is X times slower than average, their queue will be X-squared times longer. For example, if the checkout person is just 25 per cent slower than his colleagues, his queues will be over 50 per cent longer.

What are the most bizarre things people have been hanged for?

In 1819 Thomas Wildish was hanged for letter stealing; in 1750 Benjamin Beckonfield was hanged for the theft of a hat; and in 1782 a 14-year-old girl was hanged for being found with gipsies.

But there are some even more weird stories. In 1948 William John Gray was sentenced to hang for murder. However, he was reprieved after medical examiners ruled that hanging would cause him too much pain, based on some injuries to his jaw.

It was explained that if he were hanged, the noose wouldn't dislocate his neck and that he would either die of strangulation or he would be decapitated, as his injured jawbone was too weak to hold the rope around his neck.

At 9am on August 16, 1264, Inetta de Balsham was hanged. The King's messenger arrived a few seconds later with a reprieve. The hangman cut the rope with a sword. De Balsham's face had already turned blue, but miraculously she survived.

Here's some posers for next week. Was there a single day of peace in the 20th century? And what would have been the cause of death following an execution? Also, Terry Middlemiss, of Pegswood, Morpeth, wants to know why the places Once Brewed and Twice Brewed along the Military Road (the B6138) are so-called.

If you know the answers or want to pose a question of your own, write to Your Questions Answered, Evening Chronicle, Features, Newcastle, NE1 1ED.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 10, 2003
Words:665
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