Q. Why isn't Greenland considered a continent? Australia is a continent, so why is Greenland merely an island? -- Gwynne McGrady, of Swansea and Wolf Branch fifth-grader
A. Did you ever ask your mom why she told you to do something and she replied, "Because I said so!"?
Well, when you press geographers on the difference between large islands and small continents, that's sort of what their answer finally boils down to.
It's like the ongoing controversy over Pluto. I grew up learning that it was the ninth planet in our solar system. But then a few years ago, astronomers began finding similar objects nearby so many downgraded the tiny ball of rock and ice to a "dwarf planet" or "plutoid." Yet even after "The Great Planet Debate" at Johns Hopkins University in 2008, no consensus was reached and the dispute lingers.
As you are obviously bright enough to realize, Greenland often is the subject of a similar argument.
In general, geographers say it is simply too small to be a continent. With an area of just 836,000 square miles, it is less than a third the size of Australia (2.9 million) and only one sixth as large as Antarctica (5.1 million).
Geographers figure you have to make a cutoff point somewhere. If Greenland is a continent, where do you draw the line? Why not Cuba or Guam? Well, uh, because I said so.
Of course, experts do have reasons -- scientific and otherwise -- to back their decision. Perhaps you know that the earth's crust is broken into large pieces known as tectonic plates, which move very slowly. You normally don't notice this movement until it produces earthquakes and tsunamis from these plates colliding with and grinding against each other.
Australia is generally considered a continent because it is on its own plate, independent of other continents. But even though it was under Danish-Norwegian rule for centuries, Greenland is actually part of the North American tectonic plate. Scientists speculate that if glaciers hadn't carved out the waterway that now exists between us and Greenland, you might still be able to walk there today. That's one strike against continent status.
A second strike comes when you look at the biological distinctiveness of the two areas: Does it have unique plants and animals? If you've ever seen a hopping kangaroo or a cute, cuddly koala, you know Australia has creatures seen nowhere else. Again, Greenland shares most of its flora and fauna with northern North America.
The same is true when you look at human culture. You only have to read about Australia's Aboriginal people to know that the country has unique, ancient cultures. Greenland's are considered part of the North American Arctic culture.
Usually, three strikes and you're out, but geographers point to a fourth reason: How do the people who live there think of themselves? In polls, Australians are divided on the subject, but the few people who live on Greenland -- just about 57,000 -- reportedly think of their country as an island.
Now, these rules are not set in stone. For example, by scientific definition, Madagascar and several other islands might be considered continents. Much of Siberia is actually part of the North American tectonic plate yet it obviously is considered part of Asia. Europe might be considered just a bunch of peninsulas off western Asia.
But for now, Greenland remains the world's largest island.
Because they say so.
Q. Every time I watch the opening credits to the CBS comedy "Mike & Molly," there's a tall building in the nighttime Chicago skyline. About two-thirds of the way up, there are several floors of lighted windows that look like they may spell out something, like "W-B." Did they do this on purpose or am I imagining things? -- B.V., of Belleville
A. "Photoshopping" -- the manipulation of photos -- can be done so easily these days that you never know whether something you're seeing is real or faked.
After studying the intro on YouTube, I also can make out something that resembles WB for Warner Brothers. But the "M&M" publicity folks swear that the configuration of lights you see shining in the Aon Center means nothing.
First, they say, the show is actually produced by Bonanza Productions only in association with Warner Brothers. More important, they probably would have had to pay the Aon folks a pretty penny to use the building for a sneaky advertisement, which they say they didn't do.
So, in short, the light pattern is as random as the water you see moving offshore.
What was Smokey Bear's wife's name?
Answer to Tuesday's trivia: Long before the days of 16-game seasons, Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns founded the 10,000-yard rushing club when he crossed the mark in 1964, just his eighth season. He would retire a year later with 12,312 rushing yards and a 5.2-yard average. His 1,863 yards in 1963 remains a Browns record.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org