A book that answers the small questions in life such as "How long could you live on beer alone?" looks certain to become a hit this Christmas.
Does Anything Eat Wasps? has been reprinted five times since it was published earlier this month. Waterstone's says it is "flying off the shelves".
The book contains 102 questions posed and answered by readers of the New Scientist magazine in its The Last Word column since 1994. The questions illuminate the mysteries of everyday life that science can answer but rarely bothers with, such as "How far does the average mole tunnel in its lifetime?" and "How can I make sure I turn into a fossil?"
The paperback is enjoying a success to match that of such surprise Christmas hitsas Ben Schott's Original Miscellany and Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Profile Books, which published Truss's grammar lesson, ordered a first print run of just 10,000 of Does Anything Eat Wasps? - two compendiums of the column published seven and five years ago by Oxford Paperbacks sold modestly.
But Profile estimates the follow-up has now shifted more than 100,000 copies. "The bookshops took an initial 2,500 from a print run of 10,000 and it has really taken off. They are ordering thousands every day and it's largely through word-of-mouth recommendations," said a spokesman.
The book entered The Bookseller's non-fiction paperback list at number 15 this week and was number three in Amazon's book-sales chart yesterday. The Independent on Sunday is publishing an eight-page pullout of the questions and answers tomorrow.
Alister Babb, Waterstone's non-fiction buyer, reported that sales had "sky-rocketed" since publication on 3 November. He said: "It's captured quite a lot of attention and reached that tipping point where it has leapt into the public consciousness."
Mick O'Hare, its compiler and the production editor of New Scientist, was not sure what lay behind the book's popularity but said Britain was "on the crest of a miscellany wave". He said: "I don't know whether it's anything to do with the fact that attention spans are lower these days. And books like this are great because you can dip in and out of them and you don't have to follow a plot: it's good bog-reading."
And what is his favourite question? "I like the one about whether it hurts to be beheaded, because it's such a stupid question and we'll never know."
Profile's managing director, Andrew Franklin, believes sales of Does Anything Eat Wasps? could reach 700,000. "It's like a fourth division team winning the FA Cup final. It feels great when you do it but you don't expect to do it twice," he said.
So, does anything eat wasps? Yes - birds, skunks, bears, badgers, bats, weasels, rats and mice.
Questions you never knew needed answering
* Why do people have eyebrows?
Answer 1: Eyebrows divert sweat and rain from running directly into your eyes. Answer 2: Their position emphasises expressions, revealing the individual's mood.
* Why is it colder at the South Pole than at the North Pole?
The poles are at different heights. The North Pole (-30C in winter) lies on the surface while the South Pole (-60C) lies 2,800m above the sea.
* How much does a human head weigh?
Apart from decapitation, one method is to lower the head on to a scale while hanging upside down, observing the distance between the top vertebra of the neck and the skull. The instant the vertebra starts moving toward the skull you read the scales. This works because the neck vertebrae are responsible for holding the weight of the head.Reuse content