Silly Questions: Mike Atherton gets caught in a Catch-23 situation

TO BEGIN at the bottom: a surprisingly large number of readers have written to tell us why our bottoms are half-way up our bodies. Several point out that the feet are at the foot and the head at the head, so there's nowhere else for it. John Kelly believes it is for 'symmetry and elegance of design', a view supported by Jo Owen, who points out that its position is constant even when standing on one's head. 'Upright, the bottom is at the bottom of the top, while upside down it is still at the bottom of the bottom half.' James Royal- Lawson says that the bottom is indeed at the bottom, with legs being 'a bit like roots of a tree'. He says that the concept of legs lying under the body is not definitive but more a rule of thumb.

Des Waller says that God originally designed man with the bottom below the feet but it was inconvenient for walking, cycling, bungee jumping and getting a pair of Levis to fit. Claire Paul offers us 32 words for bottom. She likes 'bum' best, followed by derriere. R J Pickles says bottoms should not be understood literally but figuratively, as the organs at the end of the digestive process.

Suzanne Smith, of the stunningly gorgeous navel and ear- lobes, now writes to tell us that she has a 'phantasmagorically beautiful bottom' which her boyfriend considers is the tops.

What happened to Catch 21 and Catch 23? We may have stumbled on something important here. Milo Minderbinder writes from the mayor's office in Pianosa, Elba: 'Catch 21 is in the possession of General Scheisskopf, who is now in Malta. He is offering to sell it at seven cents a line, but I can beat him down to five cents. Dr Orr of Jokkmokk University, Sweden, has Catch 23. He brought it in an inflatable dinghy after an oborted mission in the Mediterranean. I can buy it for eight cents a line provided you can secure a shipment of zinc from Flint and cedarwood from Lebanon. Payment in US dollars or Egyptian chocolate-covered cotton.'

Len Clarke says Catches 21 and 23 are 'the ones Mike Atherton dropped because he had his hands in his pockets to stop people filling them with soil'. Paul Clark says that Catches 1 to 21 were prototypes that didn't work, while Catch 23 was never invented because its predecessor worked so well. Nicholas Gough refers us to the 'Catch-22 Casebook' by Kiley and MacDonald, which contains the intriguing information that the first chapter of Heller's Catch- 22 was first published in 1955 under the title Catch-18.

We shall return to both these themes next week. Meanwhile, you might like to think about the following: Why are there so many 'z's in Polish? (James McLaren). Whatever happened to the exploration of Inner Space, or was I on holiday when it happened? (Rufus Isaacs). Why are gentlemen's trousers measured in even numbers for waist and odds for leg length? (Geoffrey Langley).

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