Good Question: Q: Who, what, when, where, why? A: Below Q: Who, what, where, why? Answers below

THIS is the first in a weekly series in which readers with real problems may find enlightenment through the uniquely user-friendly information sources at the disposal of the Independent.

Question: Why did they change the name of the Brontosaurus to Apatosaurus, when the old one was obviously a better name? (C Lewis-Marffy, Billericay)

It all started in the 1880s when palaeontologists found a heap of bones of a previously unknown dinosaur. Unsure how to classify it, they named it Apatosaurus (deceptive lizard). Two years later, another pile of bones was named Brontosaurus (thunder lizard).

Much later, it was confirmed that these were, in fact, the same creature, and in such cases, according to the internationally agreed Code of Zoological Nomenclature, the earlier name takes precedence.

Apatosaurus has, in fact, been the correct name since around 1940, though it has been slow to catch on. As recently as 1970, the US Post Office issued a set of dinosaur stamps including one picturing a 'Brontosaurus'.

The entries for 'Apatosaurus' in many encyclopaedias and dictionaries include the words 'formerly known as Brontosaurus' but this is not strictly correct. It was never actually renamed.

Another recent palaeontological error is the sound made by the Tyrannosaurus in the film Jurassic Park. The latest research describes it as resembling 'the sound made by a human stomach after a bad night in a cheap restaurant'.

Sources: Angela Milner at the Natural History Museum and New Scientist, 11 September 1993.

Why is it that women can fold a sheet or tablecloth accurately and neatly into its original folds but are terminally baffled if asked to do the same thing with a map? (James Goodchild, Glasgow)

Leaving aside the implied sexism of the question, there is a good deal of psychological research supporting the view that two formulations of the same problem, though demonstrably logically equivalent, are often not found equally simple by an individual solver. Take the following problem (The Wason Selection Task):

Version one: You are presented with four cards on which the visible faces show, respectively, A, D, 4, and 7, and you are told that each card has a letter on one side and a number on the other. You are then given the rule: 'If a card has a vowel on one side, it has an even number on the other side.' Which cards do you need to turn over in order to discover whether the rule is true or false?

Version two: As above, except that the cards show Manchester, Leeds, Train, and Car, each having a destination and a mode of transport on them. Which must you turn to establish the truth or falsehood of the statement: 'Whenever I go to Manchester, I go by train'?

The answers most frequently given to version one are 'A and 4' or 'only A'. The correct answer, however, is 'A and 7'. The second version is logically identical, but far more people get the correct answer of 'Manchester and Car'. The conclusion of this and similar experiments is broadly that problems are more easily solved if framed in a familiar context.

So people who spend a good deal of their time with sheets and tablecloths may find maps rather puzzling. And conversely.

For a problem that does appear to be sex-linked, try the following:

1 You have a four-legged table that wobbles. What do you do?

2 You have a three-legged table that wobbles. What do you do?

According to the psychologist Peter Wason, most people respond to the first by putting a wedge under the shortest leg, or cutting down the longest legs. When it comes to the second question, however, female respondents still wedge or cut, while males point out that three-legged tables cannot wobble. While Dr Wason found this an almost infallible indication of a respondent's gender in the 1960s, however, he says that more recent informal experiments have failed to replicate the earlier successes. He used to believe that when presented with a problem, women would solve it, while men preferred to conceptualise it. Now he is not so sure.

Sources: Thinking by P N Johnson-Laird and P C Wason; Personal Communication by P C Wason.

Who were the Gordons and were they all gay? (John Hibbs, Birmingham)

They were the Gordon Highlanders, in particular the 2nd Batallion, the 92nd Highlanders. The earliest reference we have found is in Frazer and Gibbons, Soldier and Sailor Words (1925), though the expression appears to be from an older song, 'Gay Go The Gordons To A Fight'. Their reputation for cheerful belligerence stems from the assault on the Heights of Dargai on the North-West Frontier of India in 1896, when Piper Findlater (later awarded the VC) continued to play lively regimental pibrochs though shot in both legs.

They were earlier known as the Cheesy Highlanders, after the distinctive yellow line added to their tartan by the 4th Duke of Gordon. The Duchess Jean of Gordon offered the King's shilling to any recruit who would take it from her lips with a kiss.

Sources: David Griffin, Modern British Army Regiments and Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.

One is said to be as happy as Larry. Who is Larry and how happy is he? (Christopher Hobbs, Leicester)

No one is sure. It may have been Larry Foley (1847-1917), an Australian boxer. The first recorded use of the expression comes from Australia in 1905. Why Mr Foley was happy remains a mystery.

Sources: Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and Oxford English Dictionary.

Finally, Richard Blythe of Stansted poses the Ultimate Question: Why is there anything; why isn't there nothing?

This is a tricky one. Plato reasoned that non-being, or nothingness, must in some sense be, otherwise what is it that is not? In other words, you can't have nothingness without there being something not to exist. Martin Heidegger, in his famous essay, Was ist Metaphysik? (1929), pointed out that 'human existence cannot have a relationship with being unless it remains in the midst of nothingness', but Rudolf Carnap in 1931 criticised the hypostatisation (making real) of Nothingness as one of the grosser fallacies of metaphysics. As Sartre wrote: 'The possible is the something which the For-itself lacks in order to be itself.' So there you are.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica and W V Quine, Quiddities.

Further requests for enlightenment will be welcome at: Good Question, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

Compiled by William Hartston

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments