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5 Things You Didn't Know About the NYC Subway (not relating to that mysterious smell)

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by Tess Baldwin, Hunter College

Ah, public transportation. In the wake of skyrocketing oil prices, it has become a welcome alternative for people across the world. New York City's subway system registers as one of the largest and most complex. However, we all have heard horror stories of the underground world. Thefts, incredible crushes during rush hours, leaky roofs, train cars without air conditioning... the list can go on forever. But rest assured, the NYC subway system has tricks up its winding, extensive sleeve, tricks that can make even the most hardened commuters, sweaty, tired and just a bit uncomfortable from the person across the train staring at them, appreciate the uniqueness of the subway.

1. Connecticut Turnpike Connection

tokenOne of the lasting public images of the New York Subway is it's icon token. The tokens were first introduced in 1953. The tokens were adopted due to the fare increase to fifteen cents (the fare had remained at five cents for 44 years, almost bankrupting the subway system in the progress); the fare collection machines at the time couldn't handle both a nickel and a dime. However, people were determined to avoid paying the fare. Tokens were also used for turnpikes, and it just so happened that their tokens from the 1980s fit perfectly, and fooled the fare machines. It is thought that this error occurred because the Connecticut Turnpike tokens and the New York Subway tokens were made by the same manufacturer. This virtual "token war" continued for a few years, until Connecticut took out their tolls. The subway system phased out tokens in 2003.

2. Manhattan to Manhattan

One of the oddest things about the system can be seen when you are riding the 1 train, which goes from the southernmost tip of Manhattan to near the end of The Bronx. In its journey, it goes over the Harlem River, but here is where one of New York's greatest idiosyncrasies can be seen: this connection features the only place in New York where you can travel from a Manhattan station over a bridge and water to another Manhattan station. The station on the mainland is on ground that was once part of Manhattan. In the early 20th Century, a ship canal was built, leaving this area an island, surrounded by the river and the ship canal. When the river was filled in, the area became a part of the mainland and, as one would believe, The Bronx. However, the residents campaigned to remain under Manhattan's jurisdiction, and this area is today considered politically Manhattan. The next stop on the northbound train, six blocks away, is contained in The Bronx.

3. Media! Media!

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The original architects of the subway loathed advertising and countless people have had much to say on the subject in the hundred-plus years since. Advertising is seen in every station and is featured in the cars. However, the subway system has been represented in all types of media, from "Take the A Train" and the famous "Subway Series", to backgrounds on Sesame Street and, most recently, influencing the new Grand Theft Auto game. In can be argued that almost any movie taking place in New York will involve the subway in some way - it is that much a part of the lifeline of New York City. If a movie is being filmed, crews usually use an abandoned station (of which there are many to choose from in the system). The famous Taking of the Pelham 1-2-3 is currently being remade and features stars such as Denzel Washington, John Travolta and James Gandolfini. A popular staple in train cars for 30 years were the Miss Subways, women who graced placards with their images as a form of advertising. Interestingly, the program featured women of all backgrounds, artfully reflecting the diversity of the city from the 1940s to the 1970s. The new incarnation, Ms. Subways, coincided with the centennial of the subway in 2004, although it only lasted one year.

4. Right out of 1904

There are 468 stations in the system, but several more have slipped beneath the radar, glimpsed only through the windows of a passing train or by noting grates, tiles or columns that could indicate where a station used to be. Several stations have abandoned platforms or areas, which are there for all to see. The subway, which was once comprised of three separate systems, features a few relics of the past for each system. People often wonder about the ghost stations, and why they were abandoned. Some, such as the once-heralded "crown jewel" of the original system, the City Hall Station, were closed because of low passenger volume, while others were closed because of close proximity to other stations (usually due to platform lengthening when longer train cars were needed). There are a few that are just mysteries, such as the lower level of the 42nd St. Station, shrouded in speculation. Few people have seen an abandoned station up close, but they, like any other forbidden entity, draw attention nonetheless.

5. Art Cards

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To an untrained eye, the subway stations themselves are just places to wait for the train, but they are awash with art and, often, music. There are many unique stations within the system. Many stations feature art from well-known artists, thanks to the Arts for Transit program that helps make the commute more colorful. In the system, you can find flowers, birds, fossils, eyes and even Alice in Wonderland. There are also posters from this program in the subway cars, appropriately known as art cards. In addition, many of the original stations feature beautiful tiling and plaques, put in place so that the stations would be light and airy and would encourage people to travel underground and relieve surface traffic. The Arts for Transit program also sponsors a music program, which features some really talented musicians who make the subway a more pleasant place to be.

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Richard Bouhet // Getty
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science
4 Expert Tips on How to Get the Most Out of August's Total Solar Eclipse
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Richard Bouhet // Getty

As you might have heard, there’s a total solar eclipse crossing the U.S. on August 21. It’s the first total solar eclipse in the country since 1979, and the first coast-to-coast event since June 8, 1918, when eclipse coverage pushed World War I off the front page of national newspapers. Americans are just as excited today: Thousands are hitting the road to stake out prime spots for watching the last cross-country total solar eclipse until 2045. We’ve asked experts for tips on getting the most out of this celestial spectacle.

1. DON’T FRY YOUR EYES—OR BREAK THE BANK

To see the partial phases of the eclipse, you will need eclipse glasses because—surprise!—staring directly at the sun for even a minute or two will permanently damage your retinas. Make sure the glasses you buy meet the ISO 12312-2 safety standards. As eclipse frenzy nears its peak, shady retailers are selling knock-off glasses that will not adequately protect your eyes. The American Astronomical Society keeps a list of reputable vendors, but as a rule, if you can see anything other than the sun through your glasses, they might be bogus. There’s no need to splurge, however: You can order safe paper specs in bulk for as little as 90 cents each. In a pinch, you and your friends can take turns watching the partial phases through a shared pair of glasses. As eclipse chaser and author Kate Russo points out, “you only need to view occasionally—no need to sit and stare with them on the whole time.”

2. DON’T DIY YOUR EYE PROTECTION

There are plenty of urban legends about “alternative” ways to protect your eyes while watching a solar eclipse: smoked glass, CDs, several pairs of sunglasses stacked on top of each other. None works. If you’re feeling crafty, or don’t have a pair of safe eclipse glasses, you can use a pinhole projector to indirectly watch the eclipse. NASA produced a how-to video to walk you through it.

3. GET TO THE PATH OF TOTALITY

Bryan Brewer, who published a guidebook for solar eclipses, tells Mental Floss the difference between seeing a partial solar eclipse and a total solar eclipse is “like the difference between standing right outside the arena and being inside watching the game.”

During totality, observers can take off their glasses and look up at the blocked-out sun—and around at their eerily twilit surroundings. Kate Russo’s advice: Don’t just stare at the sun. “You need to make sure you look above you, and around you as well so you can notice the changes that are happening,” she says. For a brief moment, stars will appear next to the sun and animals will begin their nighttime routines. Once you’ve taken in the scenery, you can use a telescope or a pair of binoculars to get a close look at the tendrils of flame that make up the sun’s corona.

Only a 70-mile-wide band of the country stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will experience the total eclipse. Rooms in the path of totality are reportedly going for as much as $1000 a night, and news outlets across the country have raised the specter of traffic armageddon. But if you can find a ride and a room, you'll be in good shape for witnessing the spectacle.

4. PRESERVE YOUR NIGHT VISION

Your eyes need half an hour to fully adjust to darkness, but the total eclipse will last less than three minutes. If you’ve just been staring at the sun through the partial phases of the eclipse, your view of the corona during totality will be obscured by lousy night vision and annoying green afterimages. Eclipse chaser James McClean—who has trekked from Svalbard to Java to watch the moon blot out the sun—made this rookie mistake during one of his early eclipse sightings in Egypt in 2006. After watching the partial phases, with stray beams of sunlight reflecting into his eyes from the glittering sand and sea, McClean was snowblind throughout the totality.

Now he swears by a new method: blindfolding himself throughout the first phases of the eclipse to maximize his experience of the totality. He says he doesn’t mind “skipping the previews if it means getting a better view of the film.” Afterward, he pops on some eye protection to see the partial phases of the eclipse as the moon pulls away from the sun. If you do blindfold yourself, just remember to set an alarm for the time when the total eclipse begins so you don’t miss its cross-country journey. You'll have to wait 28 years for your next chance.

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HBO
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Pop Culture
IKEA Publishes Instructions for Turning Rugs Into Game of Thrones Capes
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HBO

Game of Thrones is one of the most expensive TV shows ever produced, but even the crew of the hit HBO series isn’t above using an humble IKEA hack behind the scenes. According to Mashable, the fur capes won by Jon Snow and other members of the Night’s Watch on the show are actually sheepskin rugs sold by the home goods chain.

The story behind the iconic garment was first revealed by head costume designer Michele Clapton at a presentation at Los Angeles’s Getty Museum in 2016. “[It’s] a bit of a trick,” she said at Designing the Middle Ages: The Costumes of GoT. “We take anything we can.”

Not one to dissuade customers from modifying its products, IKEA recently released a cape-making guide in the style of its visual furniture assembly instructions. To start you’ll need one of their Skold rugs, which can be bought online for $79. Using a pair of scissors cut a slit in the material and make a hole where your head will go. Slip it on and you’ll look ready for your Game of Thrones debut.

The costume team makes a few more changes to the rugs used on screen, like shaving them, adding leather straps, and waxing and “frosting” the fur to give it a weather-worn effect. Modern elements are used to make a variety of the medieval props used in Game of Thrones. The swords, for example, are made from aircraft aluminum, not steel. For more production design insights, check out these behind-the-scenes secrets of Game of Thrones weapons artists.

[h/t Mashable]

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