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9 Cruise Ship Activities for Sports Enthusiasts

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Until the International Maritime Organization signed a treaty in 1990 banning the dumping of plastics by cruise ships into the ocean, hitting golf balls off the back deck was as synonymous with onboard entertainment as shuffleboard and skeet shooting. An inventor in California spent the next two years developing fish-friendly, water-soluble golf balls, but the cruise industry never took to the idea. While deck-based driving ranges remain a thing of the past, modern cruise passengers aren't exactly lacking for things to do. Here's a sampling of some of the more interesting offerings.

1. Virtual Golfing

The unrivaled fun of driving balls into the world's largest natural water hazards may be gone for good, but there are several other ways for golf enthusiasts to enjoy their time at sea. In addition to golf nets and driving mats, many cruises now offer high-tech simulators that enable users to play virtual rounds at some of the world's most famous courses, and in a fraction of the time. Using real balls and clubs, plastic grass, and a video screen, simulators combine the feel of hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range with the thrill of teeing off in a PGA tournament. For the kids and more casual golfers, several ships now feature miniature golf courses and putting greens.

2. Surfing

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One of the most unique onboard activities is surfing at the FlowRider surf park, which is featured on several of Royal Caribbean's ships. The 32-foot by 40-foot FlowRider pool uses constant water flow to generate waves for passengers to surf or body board. Other ships offer kid-friendly water parks with slides, including Royal Caribbean's H2O Zone.

3. Bowling

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Norwegian Cruise Line rolled out the first 10-pin bowling alley at sea in 2007 with the launch of the Norwegian Pearl. The alley is the centerpiece of Bliss, the ship's full-deck sports bar and nightclub. In addition to four bowling lanes, Bliss features foosball and air hockey tables, and multiple flat screen televisions. Passengers would be wise to avoid any of the staterooms near the bowling alley, and as for the concern that bowling balls won't roll perfectly true on a moving ship, consider these words of wisdom from the testimonials page at bowlingatsea.com: "You could always balance out whatever roll the waves cause with an extra martini!"

4. Rock Climbing

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It's not exactly scaling a cliff in the Grand Canyon, but the rock-climbing walls that have become standard features on Royal Caribbean ships provide exhilarating views and a good way to work off that pizza from the midnight buffet. The grips on some of the walls, which debuted in 1999, are color coded by degree of difficulty, but a rocking ship is enough to make even the easiest route to 200 feet above sea level a challenge.

5. Ice Skating

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Royal Caribbean debuted the first permanent ice rink at sea when Voyager launched in 1999, and passengers can now practice triple-axels on several of the cruise line's ships. The rinks are typically open to passengers during the day and are used to host shows featuring experienced skaters at night.

6. Bungee Trampolining

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It used to be that kids who wanted to join the circus ran away from home. Now they can go on a cruise. P&O Cruises unveiled the Cirque Ventura circus-training school on its Ventura vessel in 2008. For a small fee, passengers can bounce around on trampolines on the ship's highest deck, all under the supervision of trained acrobats. In addition to bungee trampolining, the Cirque Ventura offers workshops and instruction in tight-rope walking, clowning, break-dancing, juggling, stilt-walking, and the flying trapeze.

7. Horse Racing

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It's probably only a matter of time before live thoroughbred racing takes place on a cruise ship. Until then, passengers looking to satisfy their gambling itch outside of the ship's casino or bingo room will continue to empty their wallets to wager on cardboard cutouts of horses that move according to the roll of the dice. There are countless variations of this classic horse racing game, but most ships that feature the game will sell or auction off the horses at the end of the week. Passengers who purchase a horse often decorate and name their cutout before watching it compete against the rest of the field for a large payout.

8. Walking in the Park

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One of the main attractions on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, which will launch later this year, is Central Park. Spanning the length of a football field, the park will be surrounded by 300 staterooms and feature tropical grounds, seasonal flower gardens, and canopy trees. The enormous, 16-deck ship will also feature a zip-line cable and a full-size carousel.

9. Wii

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As competing cruise lines continue to roll out new and exciting onboard activities to lure travelers, it's fun to speculate what the next gee-whiz attraction will be. Roller coasters? Bobsled courses? Soccer fields? One recent addition to several ships is the Nintendo Wii. Norwegian Cruise Line added large screens and Wii consoles to its ships, while passengers on some Princess Cruise Line ships can enter Wii Fit competitions. The competitions are shown on giant poolside screens, which are also used to screen movies under the stars.

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

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

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