Things I Learned In Utah

I started this post three weeks ago, on the way back from a whirlwind weekend in Park City, Utah. If you're looking for stuff to do in the Beehive State, a better source of suggestions came from readers in response to my initial entry, "When in Utah..." For now, let me offer a few tidbits picked up on my journey, live on tape delay.

If you're reading this near the Wyoming-South Dakota border, I'm 37,000 feet above your head. My left foot is tapping furiously to Rick Allen's contagious and odds-defying drumbeat from Def Leppard's "Let's Get Rocked." This is one of 1,600 songs made available to me through Delta's in-flight entertainment system.*

This foot tapping was not a problem until the in-flight beverage service placed a Coke precariously close to my trusty iBook. I'm very worried about a spill and the subsequent stickiness.

adrenalize.jpgLet me pause to pound my soda.

This rendition of "Let's Get Rocked" is from Rock of Ages, a Def Leppard anthology I didn't know existed. My last Def Leppard CD was Adrenalize, off which "Let's Get Rocked" was the first single. They played this number at A Concert for Life, the 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute "“ a strange choice for an AIDS benefit unless you think "rocked" means "educated on the finer points of HIV transmission."

I know I possessed this album from 1992 to 1997, but don't remember bringing it to college. Ten years is a long time to not own something, and so I've ascribed Adrenalize a possibly unwarranted sense of nostalgia.

Adding to the list of entities about which I'm overly nostalgic: the state of Utah. I was only there for parts of three days, and only left an hour ago. Most of the weekend was dominated by scripted activities: rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, cocktail hour, reception, passing out completely winded seconds after returning to our hotel, brunch. These were all a great deal of fun, but not fodder for an article on a trivia website. We did manage to squeeze in some sightseeing between family obligations, so let me show you what I saw.


Utah's state bird is the sea gull. As the legend goes, these birds saved Mormon pioneers from the horrors of crop-eating crickets in 1848. There is some debate over this story's legitimacy, but it's a far cooler reason to anoint a state bird than my own state of New Jersey's reasoning. In 1935, the Eastern Goldfinch earned this status because, as the NJ Senate resolution puts it, "Forty-four of the States have already designated State birds."


Utah has some interesting alcohol laws. According to, "if a restaurant derives more than 30% of its profit from alcoholic beverage sales, it can lose its (liquor) license." Real beer can only be purchased at state-owned liquor stores "“ and is marked up 75% (a six-pack can cost $10). More widely available is "near beer," with 3.2% alcohol by volume. This drives a lot of traffic to Wyoming, where prices are normal. (By the way, that is not my hand holding the Polygamy Porter. I found that image on Allan Willis' blog, "Are You My Wife?")


A luge is tiny. As Jerry Seinfeld joked, "The luge is the only sport I've ever seen that you could have people competing in it against their will, and it would be exactly the same." One of many lessons learned at Utah Olympic Park, a shrine to the Games of the Nineteenth Winter Olympiad.


Ski jumping is just as cool without snow. I spent much of my free time watching the Australian Ski Team doing flips into a swimming pool during practice. I submit that this variation on ski jumping be incorporated in the Beijing Games.


Dumb & Dumber was actually filmed in Park City, not Aspen. Though we now know the beer here does not, in fact, flow like wine. The Aspen scenes were a combination of Park City, Utah, and Breckenridge, Colorado.

behindeveryman.jpgFellow mental_floss writer David Israel is a great novelist. During my trip, I read Behind Everyman "“ and you should, too. Worthy of all the great press it received. Polish this off before the movie comes out.

Thanks again for all your recommendations and advice. We did get to see the Mormon Temple, the Great Salt Lake, Saltair and Karl Malone Toyota. But I'll have to make it out that way again.

*This might sound like paid product placement; I assure you it is not. I would much rather be watching the Yankees-Red Sox game, but the satellite TV portion of the in-flight entertainment package is not working right now. Nevertheless, Delta landed sky miles ahead of my expectations. Before last week, I did not know they were still in business, let alone streaming Def Leppard's greatest hits..

Which Terrestrial Planet?
You Can Sip Coffee and Play Games While This Helmet Scans Your Brain

Brain scanning is a delicate operation, one that typically involves staying very still. Researchers use imaging techniques like magnetoencephalography (MEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging to get an idea of how the brain functions and what neurons are being activated, but it's not an easy task. Current scanners are huge, requiring patients to sit unmoving inside them, lest their head movements mess up the data. There may soon be a better way—one that would allow patients to act normally while still getting reliable data.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK report in Nature that they've developed a prototype brain scanner that can be worn like a helmet, one that can generate reliable data even if the subject moves.

It uses lightweight quantum magnetic-field sensors held against the scalp by a 3D-printed helmet that's custom-made for the patient. For the study, one of the researchers volunteered to be the patient and was fitted with a white plastic helmet that looks kind of like a cross between a Roman Centurion helmet and a Jason Voorhees Halloween mask. She was positioned between two large panels equipped with electromagnetic coils that cancel out the Earth's magnetic field so that it doesn't interfere with the magnetic data picked up from the brain. As long as the patient stayed between the panels, she was free to move—nod her head, stretch, drink coffee, and bounce a ball with a paddle—all while the scanner picked up data about on par with what a traditional scanner (seen below) might gather.

A man sits inside an MEG scanner.

The more flexible scanning system is exciting for a number of reasons, including that it would allow squirmy children to have their brains scanned easily. Since patients can move around, it could measure brain function in more natural situations, while they're moving or socializing, and allow patients with neurodegenerative or developmental disorders to get MEG scans.

The current helmet is just a prototype, and the researchers want to eventually build a more generic design that doesn't require custom fitting.


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