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Can a Foil Hat Keep People From Reading Your Thoughts?

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Let’s say that the conspiracy theorists are right. Let’s say some malevolent group—the government, powerful corporations, extraterrestrials—really is trying to read and/or control the thoughts of the Average Joe with radio waves. Would the preferred headgear of the paranoid, a foil helmet, really keep The Man and alien overlords out of our brains?

The scientific reasoning behind the foil helmet is that it acts as a Faraday cage, an enclosure made up of a conducting material that shields its interior from external electrostatic charges and electromagnetic radiation by distributing them around its exterior and dissipating them. While sometimes these enclosures are actual cages, they come in many forms, and most of us have probably dealt with one type or another. Elevators, the scan rooms that MRI machines sit in, “booster bags” that shoplifters sometimes use to circumvent electronic security tags, cables like USB or TV coaxial cables, and even the typical household microwave all provide shielding as Faraday cages.

While the underlying concept is good, the typical foil helmet fails in design and execution. An effective Faraday cage fully encloses whatever it's shielding, but a helmet that doesn’t fully cover the head doesn’t fully protect it. If the helmet is designed or worn with a loose fit, radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation can still get up underneath the brim from below and reveal your innermost thoughts to the reptilian humanoids or the Bilderberg Group.

Opposite Effect

In 2005, a group of MIT students, prodded by "a desire to play with some expensive equipment,” tested the effectiveness of foil helmets at blocking various radio frequencies. Using two layers of Reynolds aluminum foil, they constructed three helmet designs, dubbed the Classical, the Fez, and the Centurion, and then looked at the strength of the transmissions between a radio-frequency signal generator and a receiver antenna placed on various parts of their subjects’ bare and helmet-covered heads.

The helmets shielded their wearers from radio waves over most of the tested spectrum (YouTube user Mrfixitrick likewise demonstrates the blocking power of his foil toque against his wireless modem) but, surprisingly, amplified certain frequencies: those in the 2.6 Ghz (allocated for mobile communications and broadcast satellites) and 1.2 Ghz (allocated for aeronautical radionavigation and space-to-Earth and space-to-space satellites) bands.

While the MIT guys’ tongue-in-cheek conclusion—“the current helmet craze is likely to have been propagated by the Government, possibly with the involvement of the FCC”—maybe goes a few steps too far, their study at least shows that foil helmets fail at, and even counteract, their intended purpose. That, or the students are aliens or government agents who fabricated these results in an effort to get you to take your perfectly functional helmet off…

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Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
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CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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