Foil vs. Epee vs. Saber: What's the Difference?

bvb1981/iStock via Getty Images
bvb1981/iStock via Getty Images

The Explanation: To the uninitiated, fencing can be a bit baffling. For instance, in modern fencing, the touches are registered electronically but there's still a referee (also called a president) who can call hits that didn't register electronically or overrule ones that did. But all that's beside the point. To begin with, fencing can be broken down into three major categories.

The first is foil, the lightest and most flexible of the fencing weapons. In foil, the only valid target is the opponent's trunk (roughly from the top of the collar to the crotch in front, and to the top of the hipbones in the back). The arms, legs, and head are no good, and only hits with the foil's tip are counted. Basically, foil fencing is a modernized form of what was, traditionally, sword-fighting practice—like, if someone made a sport out of hitting tackling blocks.

If you are really dueling with a seriously sharp rapier, any touch anywhere on the body would smart. And that's the origin of the épée, a heavier, more rigid version of the foil, with a triangular blade and a larger, "bowl-shaped" blade guard (to protect the hand). In épée, a person's whole body is fair game, including the head. Like foil, épée touches must be made with only the tip, and both disciplines require the fencers to stop after each touch is made, whether on a valid target area or not.

The last discipline is saber, an incredibly fast-paced whack fest that's a hand-me-down from the days of cavalrymen slashing away on horseback. The fencing saber is heavier and has a large, curved hand guard. The target area is anything from the waist up (the parts you'd be swinging at if you and your opponents were both on horses). But two big differences make saber the most frenetic of the disciplines. First, the edge of the saber can be used as well as the point, so slashes are valid hits; and second, the bout does not stop after an off-target hit, so the opponents will whack and slash at each other until a legal hit is registered, making it a hoot to watch.

Vocab Lesson
Like ballet, fencing is of (mostly) French origin and uses a list of French words longer than the average baguette. For instance, the strip on which the bouts take place is the piste. An attack that strongly grazes the opponent's blade is a froissement. One that starts before a stoppage in play but lands after is called a coup lancé. And a leaping, running attack is called a flèche.

This post was excerpted from the mental_floss book What's the Difference?

What's the Difference Between Cement and Concrete?

Vladimir Kokorin/iStock via Getty Images
Vladimir Kokorin/iStock via Getty Images

Picture yourself walking down a city block. The sidewalk you follow may be obscured by shuffling feet and discarded gum, but it’s clearly made from something hard, smooth, and gray. What may be less clear is the proper name for that material: Is it concrete or cement? Is there even a real difference between the two words?

Though they’re often used interchangeably, concrete and cement describe different yet related elements of the blocks, flooring, and walls that make up many everyday structures. In simple terms, concrete is the name of the gray, gritty building material used in construction, and cement is an ingredient used in concrete.

Cement is a dry powder mixture that looks much different from the wet stuff poured out of so-called cement trucks. It’s made from minerals that have been crushed up and mixed together. Exactly what kind of minerals it’s made from varies: Limestone and clay are commonly used today, but anything from seashells to volcanic ash is suitable. After the ingredients are mixed together the first time, they’re fired in a kiln at 2642°F to form strong new compounds, then cooled, crushed, and combined again.

Cement
Cement
lior2/iStock via Getty Images

This mixture is useless on its own. Before it’s ready to be used in construction projects, the cement must be mixed with water and an aggregate, such as sand, to form a moldable paste. This substance is known as concrete. It fills whatever mold it’s poured into and quickly hardens into a solid, rock-like form, which is partly why it’s become the most widely-used building material on Earth.

So whether you’re etching your initials into a wet sidewalk slab, power-hosing your back patio, or admiring some Brutalist architecture, you’re dealing with concrete. But if you ever happen to be handling a chalky gray powder that hasn’t been mixed with water, cement is the correct label to use.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Why Do You Stop Feeling Tired As Soon As You Climb Into Bed?

tommaso79/iStock via Getty Images
tommaso79/iStock via Getty Images

There are few situations more frustrating: After a day spent nodding off at your desk, on the train, and on your couch, you suddenly can't sleep the moment you crawl into bed. It's not that you aren't tired or have insomnia, necessarily. Like a curse designed just to torture you, the sleeplessness only seems to occur when you're in your own bed at home, a.k.a. the place where you'd prefer to do your sleeping.

This maddening problem isn't in your head. According to TIME, many people have more trouble falling asleep in their own beds than they do elsewhere thanks to a phenomenon called learned or conditioned arousal. Conditioned arousal develops when you inadvertently train your body to associate your bed with being awake. In many cases, this results from doing stimulating activities in bed. For instance: If you like to slip under the covers and spend 40 minutes watching Netflix before closing your eyes, you're teaching your brain that your bed isn't for sleeping. That means the next time your head hits the pillow, your body will respond by preparing for the next episode of Friends instead of releasing the chemicals that help you fall asleep. The same goes for scrolling through apps, eating, and even reading in bed.

Doing things that aren't sleeping in bed isn't the only way to develop conditioned arousal. If there are other factors keeping you up at night—like thoughts about your day, or that cup of coffee you had at 8 p.m.—they can lead to the same result. Your brain starts to associate being in bed with tossing and turning all night, so even if those mental and physical stimulants go away, the muscle memory of being awake in bed remains.

Conditioned arousal is a vicious cycle that can't be broken in one night. The only way to manage it, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), is to minimize behaviors that contribute to poor sleep habits and to reserve your bed for sleeping (though sex is OK, according to the APA).

If you're a nighttime scroller, browse apps in a different room before getting into bed, or skip checking your phone at the end of the day altogether. When you spend more than 20 minutes struggling to fall asleep in bed, get up and move to a different part of the house until you get sleepy again; this will stop your brain from strengthening the association between your bed and feeling restless. The results won't be instant, but by sticking to a new sleep routine, you should eventually train your body to follow healthier patterns.

Of course, combating conditioned arousal alone isn't always effective. In people with conditions like anxiety and insomnia, intrusive thoughts and genetic factors can prevent them from falling asleep even under ideal circumstances. In such cases, the help of a medical professional may be required to sleep more soundly.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER