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The Great Penny Debate

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Over the years, media coverage occasionally ramps up around what I think of as the Great Penny Debate: whether to discontinue the U.S. one-cent denomination. The issue was covered on 60 Minutes a few weeks back, and now it's showing up in an excellent New Yorker article. The heart of the issue is that pennies cost more than one cent to make, so why not stop making them? There's also some disagreement as to the efficiency (and thus cost) of counting out change using pennies -- wouldn't rounding to the nearest five cents be faster? Given the prevalence of "take-a-penny" dishes at many checkout counters, it seems that cashiers already prefer rounding than dealing with pennies.

Countries (including the U.S., with the 1857 elimination of the half-penny) have discontinued low-denomination coins before, so it's not a far-fetched notion to think that the penny's days are numbered. But the actual issue aside, this whole penny discussion is jam-packed with trivia about coins and metallurgy. The New Yorker piece linked above brings us some great tidbits. I've gone ahead and collected some of its best factoids for your reading pleasure:

A penny minted before 1982 is ninety-five per cent copper -- which, at recent prices, is approximately two and a half cents' worth.

...More recent [pennies] are ninety-seven and a half per cent zinc.

Nickels, despite their silvery appearance, are seventy-five per cent copper.

Canadian five-cent coins ... were a hundred per cent nickel most years from 1946 to 1981.

Primarily because zinc [in addition to copper] has soared in value, producing a penny now costs about 1.7 cents.

...The Treasury incurs an annual penny deficit of about fifty million dollars -- a condition known in the coin world as "negative seigniorage."

Breaking stride to pick up a penny, if it takes more than 6.15 seconds, pays less than the federal minimum wage.

...Eliminating pennies would increase our reliance on nickels, which now cost almost ten cents to manufacture....

There's much more to the article than these bits of trivia, so I encourage you to read it in full. Also, the article mentions people "throwing away" pennies. Really? Dear readers, please tell me if you've been throwing away pennies. I toss mine in a jar, but never the trash.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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