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THE Y-FILES, Part I: Answers to Satisfy the Most Inquisitive 4-year old

I keep my office like I keep my coffee: dark. So when the door creaked open, and the light streamed in, I knew it was trouble. The dame walked toward me and started firing off questions. She was the pushy sort, and she shot "˜em off rapid-fire: "Why's the sky blue? Why are tennis balls fuzzy? Why do llamas spit? Why? Why? Why?" The gal was merciless, and she didn't take "Go ask mom" for an answer. This was a four-year-old who needed explanations, and she needed "˜em fast. I looked over my shoulder, took a long swig of courage, then opened the drawer. I could see it was time to crack open this case.

THE WHY FILES

WHY DOES THE UNITED STATES PRINT $2 BILLS?
two.jpgAfter 1963, the government pretty much gave up on trying to popularize the $2 bill. However, they did reissue the denomination (with newly-designed back) in 1976 to commemorate the nation's bicentennial. And even though about $1 billion of them were still in circulation in 1996, the Treasury decided to print $200 million worth of new ones. Why? Profit, of course. The bills cost about four cents each to print, and, if collectors buy them and put them away for safe-keeping, the government "earns" $1.96 on each one. Incidentally, this is the same reason the government loves making "state quarters" and commemorative postage stamps.

WHY DO TONGUES STICK TO METAL IN COLD WEATHER?

tongue_stuck_on_pole.jpg Few things could be funnier than the infamous tongue-on-a-flagpole scene in "A Christmas Story," but if it happened to you, you probably wouldn't be laughing. The scary reality is that your tongue is not the only body part that can bond to a cold, metal surface. Any moist, warm part of the skin can succumb to this cruel twist of nature, so even a sweaty palm on a cold doorknob can be a recipe for disaster. Metal makes a great conductor, which means it instantly responds to the heat of a person's body and crystallizes any moisture caught in between. If you're ever caught in this humiliating situation, a cup of warm water can help save your skin cells, but few things can save your reputation.

WHY DO WE CHRISTEN SHIPS BY BREAKING A BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE?

The whole thing may seem like a waste of a perfectly good bottle of bubbly, but a quick overview of early boat-christening practices should have you smashing bottles of Cristal in no time. Back in the day, Vikings used to christen a boat by splattering it with blood, which, like most asinine rituals, was meant to "please the gods" and thus guarantee a safe voyage. Seems like some sheep blood would have worked just fine, but the Vikings chose to use the blood of a young maiden. The practice, known as "roller reddening," involved strapping the victim onto the shipyard rollers that guided boats into the water, and then lowering the ship to sea. Luckily, someone convinced the Vikings that the gods might be just as happy with red wine, which eventually led to the usage of champagne in the late 17th century. Still think the tradition is silly? Consider this: No one performed the ritual on the Titanic upon its departure in 1912, and you know how that story ended.

WHY ARE TENNIS BALLS FUZZY?
tennis_ball.jpgThe five o'clock shadow on a tennis ball is necessary; otherwise, the game would be too difficult to play. The textured edge helps to slow the ball down as it hits the surface of the court and the players' racquets. Without the gripping fuzz, a tennis ball would bounce too high and travel too fast, and the game wouldn't be nearly as much fun to watch.

WHY ARE OCEANS SALTY BUT NOT LAKES?
Oceans act like big dumping grounds for all the minerals (including salt) that wash off the land and get carried by rivers into the sea. As salt collects in the ocean, some of it evaporates with water, but most of it stays put. Evaporated salt and water take a ride in the clouds back over land, and the cycle continues. This means that rainwater does contain some salt, so, in truth, lakes are a little salty too. So why are the Great Salt Lake in Utah and the Dead Sea in the Middle East excessively salty? It's because they don't have an outlet. All lakes are fed by a water source (usually a river), and, in most lakes, the water flows out through a river as well, eventually reaching the sea. Salt lakes take water in from rivers or rain, but since they can only lose water by evaporation, some of the salt is left behind. Over time, these lakes have developed a high percentage of salt (even more than that of the world's oceans).

WHY DO LIGHTNING BUGS LIGHT UP?
When a male firefly larva finally gets old enough to develop wings, he does what every other male in the animal kingdom does when he can finally get away from home: He goes cruising for chicks. Fireflies can't entice the ladies with fancy dinners or nice cars, but they can emit glowing signals from their bodies because they have a bioluminescent enzyme known as luciferase, which the women just go crazy for. The downside is that fireflies only live for about seven days, which means their nighttime glowing expeditions are particularly frantic. So think twice before stuffing a bunch of those guys into a Mason jar; you may be ruining their one and only chance to "get it on" or, at the very least, seriously cramping their mojo.

More essential answers after the jump...

WHY DOES IT HURT SO BADLY TO CHEW ON ALUMINUM FOIL?
Sure, you're probably not snacking on balls of Reynolds Wrap every day, but most of us have had a little foil trespasser make it into our mouths every now and again. And when it happens, it can hurt really badly, but only if you have fillings in your teeth. Terrible as it is to imagine, when the silver in a tooth filling chomps down on aluminum, the reaction of the two elements creates a tiny electrical charge.

WHY IS YAWNING CONTAGIOUS?
Hippo-Yawn.jpgFirst things first: Yawning is not triggered by a lack of oxygen in the body. These days, the prevailing theory claims that yawning is a primal behavior meant to signal the body's transition from one mental state to another, like moving from a sleep state to an awake state. So why's it contagious? Nobody's certain, but most believe that it used to be the way our animal ancestors would motion to their clans that it was time to move on to new territory or to start hunting for the day. Consequently, clan members would follow suit by repeating the transitional signal. Others claim that whatever stimuli would cause one person to yawn makes bystanders who view the act more susceptible to behaving in the same way.

WHY DOES IT HURT SO BADLY WHEN YOU HIT YOUR FUNNY BONE?
Because your funny bone isn't a bone, that's why. It's actually the ulnar nerve, which runs from your shoulders to your hands and is responsible for things like dexterity. The ulnar nerve sits rather close to the skin in the area around the elbow, so—like contact with any exposed nerve—it hurts really bad when you hit it. It's actually one of the body's biggest design flaws because we really could have used some more padding around that nerve. Primates like orangutans and chimpanzees have the same problem. So maybe the person who came up with the nonsensical name saw a chimp hitting his ulnar nerve, because, really, that's just funny.

WHY DO SOME PEOPLE HAVE "INNIE" BELLY-BUTTONS AND SOME PEOPLE HAVE "OUTTIES"?
No, it's not a conspiracy. The disappointing (i.e., boring) answer is that it's pretty random. Only seconds after you were dragged into this world, a doctor placed two clamps on your umbilical cord and cut it off a few centimeters away from your belly-button. Though this was probably your first emotionally scarring experience, the first scarring experience of a physical kind occurs when that little piece of umbilical cord still attached to your body eventually deadens and falls off, leaving—normally—a concave scar, or an innie belly-button. People with outties simply healed differently during this process. If you're bummed about your outtie status, mental_floss would like to remind you that things could be a lot worse: Several conditions, usually developed later in life, can cause urine, blood or, yes, even intestinal parts to leak out of the body by way of the navel.

>> Be sure to come back tomorrow for part II of the Y-Files. Oh, and if you enjoyed this piece, back issues are available for purchase here.

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Food
Hate Red M&M's? You Need a Candy Color-Sorting Machine
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iStock

You don’t have to be a demanding rock star to live a life without brown M&M's or purple Skittles—all you need is some engineering know-how and a little bit of free time.

Mechanical engineering student Willem Pennings created a machine that can take small pieces of candy—like M&M's, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, etc.—and sort them by color into individual piles. All Pennings needs to do is pour the candy into the top funnel; from there, the machine separates the candy—around two pieces per second—and dispenses all of it into smaller bowls at the bottom designated for each variety.

The color identification is performed with an RGB sensor that takes “optical measurements” of candy pieces of equal dimensions. There are limitations, though, as Pennings revealed in a Reddit Q&A: “I wouldn't be able to use this machine for peanut M&M's, since the sizes vary so much.”

The entire building process lasted from May through December 2016, and included the actual conceptualization, 3D printing (which was outsourced), and construction. The entire project was detailed on Pennings’s website and Reddit's DIY page.

With all of the motors, circuitry, and hardware that went into it, Pennings’s machine is likely too ambitious of a task for the average candy aficionado. So until a machine like this hits the open market, you're probably stuck buying bags of single-colored M&M’s in bulk online or sorting all of the candy out yourself the old fashioned way.

To see Pennings’s machine in action, check out the video below:

[h/t Refinery 29]

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Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.

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