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No one spoils fun like the IRS

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A few moons ago, we blogged about the strange development of virtual economies in massively multiplayer online games -- which are, it turns out, becoming real economies. It wasn't long after the release of the hugely popular Ultima Online that people were buying and selling virtual property — for real money. ("These days it's tough to tell the real from the virtual on eBay," we wrote. "There are auctions going for virtual items of furniture, clothes, jewelry and even money (100 million gold pieces for just $145 — now that's inflation!)"

Apparently, the IRS is reading our blog, because now they're looking into taxing such virtual economies. In games like Second Life, players can exchange real money for virtual scrip in the game, and vice versa, a kind of barter system that generates about $5 million in transactions per month.

Are there tax implications in numbers like that? You betcha. But the downside to levying taxes on such economies, according to economist Edward Castronova, is that most likely players will simply stop playing. "In a fantasy world, if you go in and start taxing, you would destroy it," he says. "Fantasy places need to be treated as fantasy places." (Hmm, can I declare my home office a "fantasy place?")

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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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 bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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science
Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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