Earlier today my dad called the Hassle-Free Hotline (also known as my home phone number). The poor guy seems to encounter more than his fair share of inadvertant computer problems.
For example, somehow, while using his laptop's touchpad, he'd made everything in his browser bigger. Consequently, he had to scroll pages left and right, not just up and down.
Welcome to the Curse of the Multitouch Touchpad. Most laptop owners know that dragging a finger across the touchpad moves the cursor. On some systems, dragging two fingers up and down enables scrolling. But there's another "gesture" that's easy to perform by accident, and the results often leave users scratching their heads.
It's the pinch-zoom gesture, which works just like on a smartphone or tablet: you pinch two fingers together to decrease the zoom (i.e. zoom out), or pinch them away from each other to increase the zoom (i.e. zoom in).
This can be useful—unless you're not aware the feature exists and accidentally graze two fingers across your touchpad the "wrong" way. Suddenly everything's bigger or smaller than you want it, and you have no idea why—or how to undo it.
Short answer: Press Ctrl-Minus (or hyphen) to decrease the zoom, or Ctrl-Plus to increase it.
If you want to permanently disable touchpad-powered zooming so this kind of thing doesn't happen again, venture into Windows' Mouse properties and look for a Pinch-Zoom or 2-Finger Gestures setting, then adjust them accordingly.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at email@example.com, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.