Original image
Getty Images

Why Do Nebraska and Maine Split Electoral Votes?

Original image
Getty Images

In the majority of the United States, one candidate gets all of the state’s electoral votes. That holds true whether the state has 55 electoral votes to give, like California, or a scant 3 votes to offer, like Montana. Two states, however, don’t have to go the all-or-nothing route: Nebraska and Maine. Those states have opted to use the Congressional District Method, where electoral votes are distributed according to the state’s congressional districts instead of the state as a whole.

Although Nebraska and Maine adopted this method in 1992 and 1972, respectively, it didn’t really matter until recently, since each state’s congressional districts have historically voted the same way. The first time either of the states split votes was in 2008, when Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district, Omaha, went for Obama and the rest of the state went for Republican candidate John McCain.

But why use the split method when no one else does? First of all, there’s precedent. Way back in the 1804 (Thomas Jefferson), 1812 (James Madison) and 1820 (James Monroe) elections, Massachusetts used the Congressional District Method. Maine seceded from Massachusetts to become its own state in 1820 but kept their split votes method until 1828.

This served everyone just fine until 1968, when people got their feathers ruffled about the Nixon-Humphrey-Wallace race. Reformists thought that a three-way contest made electoral votes an unfair way to decide the state, because a candidate could win the whole pot of electoral votes even if he had just 34 percent of the state’s popular vote (if the other two candidates split 33 percent/33 percent or some variation thereof). Therefore, the electoral votes weren’t necessarily a good indicator of how the popular vote actually felt. Sound like a familiar issue?

As a result of those ruffled feathers, a bill was passed in 1969 (but wasn’t actually used until the ‘72 election) that would allow Maine to split their votes by congressional district as they had more than 100 years earlier. Nebraska followed suit 20 years later. Officials have tried at least three times since then to overturn the Congressional District Method, but so far, Cornhuskers seem content to keep things separate.

Original image
Big Questions
How Does Autopilot Work on an Airplane?
Original image

How does autopilot work on an airplane?

Joe Shelton:

David Micklewhyte’s answer is a good one. There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilots only have some of these features, while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  • Heading Hold: There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account; that’s left to the pilot.
  • Heading and Navigation: In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  • Altitude Hold: Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  • Instrument Approaches: Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination, and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane:

HDG Knob = Heading knob (Used to set the desired heading)

AP = Autopilot (Pressing this turns the autopilot on)

FD = Flight Director (A form of navigational display that the pilot uses)

HDG = Heading (Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob)

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude, controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed (Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate)

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in feet per minute

FLC = Flight Level Change (An easy manual way to set the autopilot)

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Original image
Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
Original image

While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

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


More from mental floss studios