The Quick 10: Rain, Rain, Go Away

So it's been raining here in Des Moines pretty much since Friday night. On and off, but it's so random that you don't want to risk going outside for long periods of time because one second it's sunny and the next second dark clouds are rolling in and the sky opens up and spews forth torrential rains. We've been preoccupied with rain all weekend - my husband with the gutters and me with getting optimal sleep time (sleeping to the sound of rain is the best), so now I'm going to make you preoccupied with it too!

rain1. Seattle is known for being rainy, but it's by far not the rainiest town in the U.S. Washington isn't even the rainiest state in the U.S. or the rainiest state on the west coast! Portland, Oregon, is currently winning that battle with about 45 inches a year. Seattle gets an average of 37.1 inches. The state that gets drenched the most is technically Alaska with 160 inches every year, but if you're going for contiguous states, it's Alabama - Mobile spends nearly two months of every year pulling on galoshes and hoping they know where they left the umbrella.
2. Although you often see rain depicted as teardrop-shaped, it's anything but. What it looks like depends on how big it is. Small drops of rain are just about spherical, bigger ones are rounded on top and flat on the bottom, and really big ones are kind of parachute-shaped. Any bigger than about five mm and they fragment.

3. The biggest rain ever recorded happened in 2004 over Brazil and the Marshall Islands and clocked in at about 10 mm.

4. "Rain Rain, Go Away" has a few different versions. The one I know is "Rain, Rain, Go Away, come again another day." But "Raine raine goe to Spain: faire weather come againe," dates back to the 17th century; "Rain raine goe away,
Come againe a Saturday," was noted in a 1687 book by John Aubrey; and "Rain, rain, go away, Come again another day, Little Arthur wants to play," was published in the mid-19th century. Do you use a different version??

5. If you like the scent after a rain storm, what you really like the aroma of is petrichor. A bunch of plants secrete the oil during dry spells; the oil dries on the ground and rocks around it. When it rains, the drops hit the dry oil, which releases it into the air along with another compound called geosmin. But go ahead and say you love the smell of rain - I don't think anyone is going to correct you. And as a side note, I bet Dwight Schrute could tell you what geosmin is - it's also what makes beets taste earthy.

rain26. Lloró, a town in Chocó, Colombia, is the world's wettest place. Spanish speakers will get the joke - "llorar" means "to cry" in Spanish and is also sometimes used as a metaphor for rain. The town gets an average of 523.6 inches of rain every year - how crazy is that? It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for Lloró to get nearly 20 inches in a single day.
7. Bigger cities are more likely to get rain on Saturdays than small towns or rural areas. Why? In a word: people. All of the pollution humans generate with car exhaust and traffic and stuff like that collects during the week; by Saturday, the likelihood of rain is much higher than any other day of the week (as much as 22% in some places on the Eastern Seaboard).
8. The Mackintosh has been around since 1824. Charles Macintosh patented rubberized fabric in 1823 and his coats were being sold in stores just a year later. No one really knows why the "k" got added in - it seems to have just been an arbitrary marketing decision by a couple of writers somewhere down the line.

9. The maximum speed a raindrop can reach is 18 mph. At this point, the speed friction will make the raindrop break up into smaller particles, so it can't fall any faster.

10. A shower is officially classified as precipitation from a broken, bubble-like cloud. That's why they are so brief. If a shower lasts for more than 20 minutes, it's probably rain, which is precipitation from a layered cloud.

Maybe writing about rain will appease the gods and the sun will break through, but if the forecasters are right, we're in for more rain for the next week on and off. Booooo. So here's where you can help me - what do you do to salvage a rainy day? Looks like I'll have lots of opportunity to put your suggestions to the test over the next seven days or so!

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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski
The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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