I just finished Liane Moriarty’s latest bestselling novel: Newton Was Wrong: Apples Defy Gravity. She has been punching bestsellers out like clockwork every couple of years in case you didn’t know. This has put me right back where I was in October 2020 when I wrote a post about Blakiston’s Fish Owls. In that post I commented:
“I learned about these owls from a book given to me by my son, Drew: Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save The World’s Largest Owl. I have to confess that I needed a good rebound book after finishing reading pretty much every word that Australian author Liane Moriarty has written. Owls of the Eastern Ice filled the beak as it were. Plus there were no owls in any of Ms. Moriarty’s books. Not even one. Not that I was counting.
You know what I’m talking about. You get into a certain author or a good trilogy or-God forbid-Stephen King’s nine-book Gunslinger epic series.. When you emerge out the other end you feel kind of lost, like a fish owl who has lost its mate. You just want a new, cozy literary friend to roost with.”
So. I’m on the rebound again but pleased to report that Ms. Moriarty’s not-mentioning-owls-in-any-of-her-books streak is still intact! Also intact is her uncannily impish ability to conjure up plot twists that you NEVER see coming. I mean, you know something is up, but it NEVER turns out to be what you think it will be. Dammit.
Just look at her. If that isn’t an uncannily impish expression, I don’t know what is. Full disclosure: I lied about the title of her book.
Seriously, Moriarty might be impish but she is a very honest writer whose characters think the same thoughts that all of us think but never talk about with anyone except our shrinks. Her books also center around gritty topics, including tennis, with just the right dose of compassion, incisiveness and humor. She has a wonderful knack for putting a great spin on things(!).
There are a lot of gritty topics out there, such as pandemics, the favorite sexual positions of the Vikings and whether hot water freezes faster than cold water. Seriously, when I was in high school in the mid-70’s, my father and I somehow got into a heated argument at the dinner table one night about why hockey rinks are sometimes flooded with hot water. Dad maintained that hot water freezes faster than cold water. I was dubious.
For context, my Dad knew his way around hockey rinks. He was a goalie and played on an Allan Cup-winning semi-pro Senior A hockey team (the Owen Sound Mercurys) back in the early 1950’s. The Mercs won the Cup in 1951 and were in the running in 1953 but the weird thing is that my Dad wound up facing the Kitchener Flying Dutchmen 21 games in a row in that Allan Cup battle. Here’s how it happened:
The Kitchener Flying Dutchmen beat Owen Sound in the quarter-finals, going seven games and proceeding on to meet the Sudbury Wolves in the semifinals. There was this weird rule back then that in the playoffs, a defeated team’s goalie could be called up by the next opponent of the winning team, in case of injury, spite, bribery or whatever. Sudbury therefore called up my Dad who wound up facing Kitchener again. Kitchener defeated Sudbury in seven games and went on to face Penticton for the Allan Cup. Penticton called up (guess who?) my Dad, who faced Kitchener for another seven games. The Dutchmen won. You know how the saying goes: “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.”
By that time, Kitchener was so sick of my old man that even though they had won the Cup, they still complained to the powers that be and got the call-up rule stricken from the books. Or maybe it was Penticton that complained. Or Sudbury. I dunno. Somebody complained.
Fast-forwarding to rejoin that dinner table debate in the mid-70’s, I snorted into my soup or whatever at one point and started spouting off about thermodynamics, entropy, etc and how it made zero sense that hot water would freeze faster than cold water. My Dad chewed my backside pretty hard and told me to zip it because I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was.
Turns out he was right.
Consider this landing page for a recent Quantamagazine article penned by a fellow named Adam Mann:
Back in 1963, Erasto Mpemba was a young Tanzanian fellow who was making a lot of ice cream in high school against heavy competition. All the boys would boil milk, mix it with sugar, let it cool and race to get it into the refrigerator freezer compartment. (Space was limited.) One day, a kid didn’t bother to boil his batch so he stuck it in the freezer at room temp. Erasto saw this and fearing there would be no more space left in the freezer, stuck his batch in without waiting for it to cool. Lo and behold, his hot batch froze faster than his rival’s cooler batch.
These and other anecdotes from older, more experienced ice cream-making acquaintances led Erasto on a voyage of discovery/experimentation which culminated in 1969 with him publishing a paper in collaboration with Donald Osborne a physicist at University College in Dar es Salaam. Here is the citation: Cool. E B Mpemba and D G Osborne 1969 Phys. Educ. 4 172. If you want to read it yourself, here’s a link to the paper: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0031-9120/4/3/312.
And here’s a graph from that paper, if you don’t believe me.
Mpemba went on to pursue a career in Wildlife Management and later published a paper about how to weigh 25,000 penguins using aerial photography. Actually, I’m lying about that. He didn’t study penguins as far as I know, because although Namibia has them, Tanzania is devoid of penguins and probably Fish Owls, now that you mention it.
Other researchers located in Antarctica did, in fact, weigh a waddle of penguins via aerial photography. If you, too, want to learn about penguin waddle-weighing, you can read about it here: https://lateralthinkingdepartment.com/2020/08/22/how-to-weigh-25000-penguins-simultaneously-with-apologies-to-dr-seuss/
In any case, the curiousity of Erasto Mpemba impelled other physicists to continue delving into the “hot water freezes faster than cool water” controversy. Sixty years later, the physicists are still arguing. Physicists like to argue.
Turns out that sticking a container of hot liquid into a freezer is a highly unstable, nonequilibrium situation. This means that all the standard equations that physicists know and love don’t apply because the temperature is not the same throughout the whole system and is changing constantly but not smoothly. This is neatly summarized by Mann: “If nothing else, the theoretical and experimental work on the Mpemba effect has started giving physicists a handhold into nonequilibrium systems such as arguments with their fathers, that they otherwise lack.“
Sadly, my Dad passed in 2016 but he would have loved to talk about this whole business. He had a phenomenal memory and probably remembered the conversation as vividly as I do.
In closing, and since the average Australian know very little about hockey in general and ice in particular, I hereby challenge Liane Moriarty to write a hockey-based bestseller with a plot that eventually takes an extremely clever twist somehow based on the Mpemba effect and also deals with the gritty, ages-old saga of a young man striving to find his independence by rebelling against his father. Talk about an unstable, nonequilibrium situation!
That should keep her busy for at least a couple of years.