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The Amateur New York Subway Riding Committee

During spring break at MIT in 1966, Peter R. Samson saw this quote on the back of a New York City subway map:

"A Flushing youth, who wanted his money's worth, rode all lines of the subway on a single token. With doubling back as needed, the trip totaled over 400 miles - more than the train journey from New York to Pittsburgh. It took him 25 hours and 36 minutes."

This set in motion Samson's extensive efforts to duplicate the feat. Enlisting other students and some serious MIT hardware (including a PDP-6, the use of which was authorized by Marvin Minsky himself), Samson dedicated himself to the task of mapping the subway system and determining ideal routes through it. Using artificial intelligence (after manual calculation failed to produce a satisfactorily fast outcome), the team of MIT hackers engaged in a realtime subway race assisted by computers back at home base, relaying information via payphone.

Along the way, the Amateur New York Subway Riding Committee was formed. Samson organized the group in order to decide upon rules and definitions, in order to help regulate the nascent "sport" of subway racing. Here's a selection of the official rules from Samson's personal history, The Rise and Fall of the Amateur New York Subway Riding Committee:

Regulations Regarding Amateur New York Subway Riding

Definitions

  1. This document sets forth the rules of the competition
    with the name “Amateur New York Subway
    Riding.”
  2. There are three Classes of Competition:
    1. Class A: Covering all Lines
    2. Class B: Touching all Stations
    3. Class C: Passing all Stations
  3. In general, the object of the competition is to set a
    record minimum time for a given Class of Competition by
    1. planning a route through the New York City Transit
      System subject to the qualifications of that Class; and
    2. making a timed run over that route.
  4. These rules, and all records of the competition, are
    maintained by the Amateur New York Subway Riding Committee,
    referred to herein as the Committee.
  5. Each person who intentionally participates in the run,
    or who attempts specifically to expedite the run by his actions
    during the run, or who participates in the selection of lines and
    stations to be followed during the run, is considered a contestant
    with regard to that run.
  6. ...

The rules go on for quite a while. Read Samson's article for the whole story, including information about the artificial intelligence program used in the stunt (ahem, "hack"), schematics of the subway system, original logs, and other documents. See also: Wikipedia entry on Samson.

(Via Anarchaia.)

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Applying for TSA PreCheck Will Soon Be as Easy as Heading to Staples
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TSA PreCheck is about to get a lot easier to access. The program, which allows pre-approved passengers to go through dedicated express lines at airport security, will no longer require hoofing it to an airport or other inconvenient sign-up center to file an application. Instead, you can head to your nearest Staples store, which will soon be offering PreCheck services, according to the frequent flyer blog View From the Wing.

Through PreCheck and Global Entry (its sister program for international flyers), travelers who go through a background check can speed through security lines at the airport without removing their shoes, belts, jackets, liquids, or laptops. After you pay the $85 application fee and get approved, you’re covered for five years. TSA says that most of its PreCheck passengers spend less than five minutes per airport trip waiting in security lines, so it essentially pays for itself as long as you run late for a flight at least once a year (or just really hate waiting in line).

Though the PreCheck program has expanded its locations in the past few years, offering application services in some H&R Block storefronts, DMVs, and other easily accessible public places, it’s still harder than it should be to enroll. From my hometown in California, for instance, the nearest enrollment center is almost 50 miles away. Even in big cities like New York, high demand and few enrollment centers mean you could be stuck waiting weeks for an appointment, depending on the location and time of year.

This summer, Staples will become one of the few national businesses to host PreCheck enrollment centers. The Staples PreCheck application program will be administered by the security agent IdentoGO, which already provides PreCheck application services at places like H&R Block, and will begin in Boston, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, and Los Angeles. The first wave of the program will encompass 50 new centers, but eventually, the company hopes to expand it even further.

The lack of accessibility might be one reason the program initially fell short of its enrollment goals, signing up just 2.7 million members in its first three years. Now it has 6 million people on board, but that’s still a far cry from the 25 million the agency hopes to get enrolled in its trusted traveler programs by 2019.

It looks like you’ll only be able to apply for the domestic PreCheck program at Staples, not the Global Entry program. The latter, while a bit more expensive, comes with domestic PreCheck benefits as well as express service at U.S. customs.

[h/t View From the Wing]

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The Sky Was No Limit: The WASP Women Pilots of WWII
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Shirley Slade sat on the wing of a plane and looked off into an uncertain future. Slade—clad in her flight suit with pigtails guarding against Texas wind—was posing for the July 19, 1943 issue of Life magazine, and the composition between the aircraft and its operator was a juxtaposition spelled out in the cover headline: "Air Force Pilot."

Slade was one of more than 1000 women who had been solicited by the U.S. government to enter an intensive seven-month training course that would make them the first female pilots to enter the Air Force. What had been a boy's club was being forced into a kind of reluctant gender neutrality as a result of World War II and severe pilot shortages. By recruiting women, the Air Force could maintain delivery of aircraft, ferry supplies, and perform other non-combative functions that fueled the war efforts. Collectively, the group would become known as WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots.

While all of these women risked their lives—and more than a few lost them—they were not perceived as equals. Because they were designated as civilians, they were denied military honors and compensation. As the war wound down, men returning from combat jockeyed to take the WASPs' places as active-duty pilots. Occasionally, the women would be used in target practice. It would be decades before the women of WASP would finally get their due.

 
 

America's entry into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor heralded a new policy of rationing. Food, materials, and manpower were doled out carefully, but demand for pilots quickly exceeded the available personnel. By 1942, the Air Force realized they would have to tap into new sources in order to continue their campaign.

Jacqueline Cochran had a solution: A pilot in her own right and a contemporary of Amelia Earhart, Cochran knew there was a strong contingent of female fliers who had licenses and had logged air time who could be recruited for support missions. She petitioned the Air Force, including commanding general Henry Harley "Hap" Arnold, to approve a training program that would ultimately relocate volunteers to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. Another pilot, Nancy Harkness Love, submitted a similar proposal.

WASP pilot Elizabeth Remba Gardner looks out from her plane while on a Texas runway
WASP pilot Elizabeth Remba Gardner
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Cochran and Love were up against considerable resistance to involving women in military efforts. General Dwight D. Eisenhower once admitted he was "violently against" the idea (before concluding that none of his concerns came to light and women were an integral part of the effort). Internally, there was concern as to whether women would even be capable of handling a massive aircraft like the B-29 bomber, so superiors hedged their bets by creating two organizations.

Love was put in charge of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS)—an organization to ferry planes—while Cochran was put in charge of the Women's Flying Training Detachment, which did whatever the Army Air Corps required of it. A little under a year later, these two groups were merged into a single organization: the WASPs. This new group demanded that incoming women logged at least 35 hours of flight time before coming to Sweetwater. More importantly, the women would be considered civilians, not military personnel.

Roughly 25,000 women applied; around 1900 were accepted and 1100 completed training. On their own dimes, these women streamed into Texas to begin the seven-month program that taught them every aspect of military flying except for gunnery duty and formation flying. Every day in the barracks included intensive lessons, physical fitness training, and studying. At night, the women would dance, sing, or play ping-pong. Life described their ambitions as "piloting with an unfeminine purpose" and noted that some of the women needed cushions in order to sit comfortably in planes designed for male bodies. Their mascot, a tiny winged sprite named Miss Fifinella, was designed by Disney, and the patch appeared on many of their jumpsuits and plane noses.

According to Life, the Air Force reported that the women were faster on instruments while the men "had better memory for details." But in virtually every way that counted, the magazine wrote, there was no practical difference in ability.

Graduates were dispatched to bases around the country, though the most pressing job was ferrying new aircraft from factories to places like Newark, New Jersey, where the planes would make the jump overseas. The women shuttled 12,000 of these planes during the war. They also escorted military chaplains from base to base on Sundays for religious services and operated test flights for repaired aircraft to make sure they were safe to fly in combat. Sometimes, they'd be tasked with towing targets behind them so soldiers could use live ammunition for combat practice.

Simulated combat may have been nerve-wracking, but it was no more dangerous than the actual flying and the very real possibility that the WASPs would experience equipment malfunction or fuel issues. In the two years the squad was active, 38 women perished during missions. At the time—and for decades afterward—the families of those women were denied many of the basic privileges afforded to the families of their male counterparts. When a WASP died, her colleagues—not the government—would pitch in to pay for her burial. Their families were prohibited from putting a gold star in their windows, a sign of a military casualty, nor were they "allowed" to drape the American flag over their coffins.

 
 

On December 20, 1944, the WASPs were sent home. The war wasn't yet over, but men returning from the front lines were dismayed that jobs they expected to find waiting for them were being occupied by women. Despite Cochran's petition to have the WASPs permanently incorporated into the Air Force, Congress turned her down.

WASP pilots are photographed circa 1943
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The pride the women had felt serving their country turned to confusion. By being classified as "civilians," the WASPs found little respect for their efforts. When entering the workforce after the war, some even became flight attendants, as no commercial airline would hire a female pilot.

In the 1970s, the Air Force announced they'd be accepting female recruits for the "first time," a proclamation that angered the surviving WASPs. Their efforts had largely gone unheralded, and now it seemed like the government was wiping them from history completely. Petitioning for recognition and receiving aid from fellow war ferry pilot Senator Barry Goldwater, they were finally granted military status on November 23, 1977.

As the WASPs aged, a handful got the chance to enjoy another honor. In 2010, the women were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their efforts. After flying 77 different types of planes over 60 million miles during wartime and being largely ignored for decades, it was recognition that was long overdue.

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