George Mason University physics professor Robert Ehrlich may sound like a bit of a nebbish, and God knows he’s 10 times brainier than the lot of us, but give him cool points for this: He’s anything but a boring teacher. In his new science-can-be-fun book, What If You Could Unscramble an Egg?, Ehrlich asks, and subsequently answers, such curveballs as “What if species could interbreed?,” “What if black were white?,” “What if everyone knew the date of their death?,” and, my girlfriend’s favorite, “What if males died right after mating?”
Sounds like a perfect tool to get little Dick and Jane interested in school, right? Well, maybe not. Accompanying Ehrlich’s question-and-answer format are illustrations by his twentysomething son, Gary, including one of a woman, a man, and a member of a third gender in bed smoking cigarettes, and another in which the punch line is a hearty “…and our sex life is no more than a 3 on the Richter scale.” This might not be Richard Pryor, but it’s not Bill Cosby, either.
In fact, Ehrlich’s first two categories of queries are “Sex” and its obvious companion topic…“Aliens.”
“Well, you’re always reading about people having sex with aliens,” Ehrlich chuckles uncomfortably, refusing to expound on the hazy correlation between the two.
When asked if he considers Unscramble a book for grown-ups, Ehrlich says, “I think the book is aimed at the layperson who is interested in science. I don’t know if I had a particular education level in mind. I try to make my classes more of a dialogue than a lecture, and that’s pretty much the way it is here.” But even if Unscramble is not necessarily for kids, Ehrlich says a children’s version is in the works, and should be out sometime later this year.
By the way, what would happen if guys bit the dust after doing the nasty (well, besides the fact that it’d be bad news for ESPN)? Ehrlich says not to worry. In fact, we Homo sapiens have it pretty easy: The male Australian marsupial mouse apparently gets so geared up after finding his mate that he dies right after losing his virginity. And I thought I had a rough first outing.—Sean Daly