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

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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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Need to Calm Yourself Down? Try This Military-Approved Breathing Technique
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Whether you’re dealing with co-worker chaos or pressure to perform on a project, it’s difficult to excel at work when you're extremely stressed. Can’t escape the office? Take a cue from real-life soldiers and try a technique called tactical breathing—also known as combat breathing, four-count breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing—to lower your heart rate and regain control of your breath.

“It’s one you can use when things are blowing up around you”—both literally and figuratively—“and you need to be able to stay calm,” explains clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, who demonstrates a version of tactical breathing in Tech Insider’s video below.

Vranich is the author of 2016’s Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health. Watch, learn, and—of course—inhale and exhale along with her until you feel zen enough to salvage the remainder of your workday.

[h/t Business Insider]

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10 Creepy Candles to Get You in the Halloween Mood
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Candles are always a handy household accessory, but they're especially useful around Halloween, when they can be used to light jack-o'-lanterns, summon spirits, or simply brighten a long, dark night. These spooky lights are more suited for tabletops than pumpkins, or soirees than seances, but they'll still make your upcoming costume shindig extra festive (and fragrant, to boot).

1. KISA CANDLE

PyroPet’s cat-shaped Kisa candle looks like an ordinary wax feline. But as it melts, a hidden surprise reveals itself: a macabre metallic skeleton with charred bones and bared fangs.

The Kisa candle costs $34 and comes in three colors: pink, gray, and an ultra-spooky black. Not into cats? Additional PyroPet offerings include birds, bunnies, reindeer, owls, and dragons, all with the same silver framework.

2. BRAIN CANDLE

Brain candle by Creepy Candles
Creepy Candles

This specimen-inspired candle by Etsy seller Creepy Candles would look equally at place in a mad scientist’s laboratory as it would at a Halloween soiree. A wax brain is suspended in green-tinted gel that resembles formaldehyde, but the candle itself thankfully smells like grapefruit. The Brain Candle costs $25 and is handmade to order.

3. HUMAN SPINE CANDLES

Beeswax human spine candles, set of three, by Grave Digger Candles
Grave Digger Candles

Grow a spine this Halloween—or at least buy one. These notched beeswax pillar candles are inspired by the Victorian Era, a period in which physicians created detailed wax models of flayed corpses to teach medical students the literal ins and outs of anatomy. Etsy seller Grave Digger Candles sells them in sets of three for $76.

4. OUIJA BOARD CANDLE

LED battery-operated Ouija board candle by Twisted Nightmares
Twisted Nightmares

This Ouija board-inspired, LED battery-operated candle probably won’t summon spirits, but it’s still spine-tinglingly spooky. Sold by Etsy user Twisted Nightmares, it costs $20 and requires three AAA batteries, which aren’t included with purchase.

5. BLEEDING HEART CANDLE

Bleeding Heart Candle by Cozy Custom Candles
Cozy Custom Candles

Love guts, blood, and Gothic romance? Your heart might bleed for this candle, which turns into a gushing heart when lit. Sold by Etsy seller Cozy Custom Candles, the heart-shaped light source has a white outer shell made from a high-melt point paraffin wax, while its core is made of a red-colored wax blend with a low melting point. The candle hemorrhages vital fluids as it burns, making it the perfect accessory for a bloody good time.

The Bleeding Heart Candle costs $17 and comes in multiple autumnal scents, including caramel apple, pumpkin pie, and sweet cinnamon-pumpkin.

6. PICK YOUR POISON CANDLES

Pick Your Poison candle by Mr. Toad's House of Wax
Mr. Toad's House of Wax

The “Pick Your Poison” candles by Etsy seller Mr. Toad’s House of Wax appear to have been snatched from the shelf of a Victorian apothecarist. But while labeled “Poison Hemlock Oil” and “Tincture of Wolfsbane Poison,” they smell like fresh fallen leaves, pumpkin spice, and other autumnal scents when lit. Both candles cost $21, and are embellished with a sparkly jewel and black velvet ribbon.

7. CREEPY WOODS & GRAVEYARD DIRT CANDLE

Woods & Earth candle by Geeky Girl Scents
Geeky Girl Scents

There’s nothing quite like the aroma of trees and fresh graveyard dirt on a fall night. With hints of wood and earth, this candle by Etsy seller Geek Girl Scents will make your living room smell like a haunted cemetery. An eight-ounce jar costs $15, and a 16-ounce version is also available.

8. WITCH FARTS CANDLE

Witch Farts Scented Soy Wax Candle by The Candle Crate
The Candle Crate

If you’ve ever wondered what witch gas smells like (who hasn’t?), you can find out by purchasing The Candle Crate’s flaming ode to supernatural flatulence. The Etsy seller’s “Witch Farts” candle is more Glinda the Good Witch than Elphaba, with top notes of peach, apricot, and blackberries and middle notes of mandarin, cinnamon, and rose.

The soy wax candle costs $12, and is sold alongside other witchy, Harry Potter-inspired products like “Number 12 Grimmauld Place” and “The Leaky Cauldron.”

9. GHOST REPELLENT CANDLE

Ghost Repellent candle by Nola And Neighbors
Nola And Neighbors

Even if you ain’t afraid of no ghosts, you can still keep them at bay with this “Ghost Repellent” candle by Etsy sellers Nola And Neighbors. It smells like lavender and sage, and comes with an instruction label informing owners to light it “at dusk or dawn” for best results—although the ghost’s removal is “not guaranteed.” At $17, it’s still way cheaper than hiring the Ghostbusters.

10. ZOMBIE GOLDEN GIRLS PRAYER CANDLE SET

Zombie Golden Girls prayer candle set by The Eternal Flame
The Eternal Flame

Golden Girls devotees who’d follow the Fab Four to the grave and beyond can light up their lanais with these zombie prayer candles by Etsy shop The Eternal Flame. They come in sets of four (one for each Girl, naturally) and cost $40. Color choices include white, orange, and purple.

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