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If You Can’t Smell, Can You Taste?

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I’m perfectly suited to answer the Big Question that reader Katie posed the other day, because I have anosmia, which means I can’t smell. At all. Every diaper my two-year-old has ever filled has been totally odorless to me. I also missed out on her new baby smell, which I hear is pretty fantastic. I can’t tell if I come back to work still stinky from a lunchtime run, which often concerns me, but other people’s B.O. doesn’t bother me either. I’m never tempted by the smell of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels wafting through the mall, and when someone burns popcorn in the microwave at work, I really don’t care. I’m also convinced I’m going to die due to a gas leak sometime when I’m alone in the house.

The first thing people always ask when they find out about my lack of smell is, “Wait, but can you taste?”

As you no doubt already know, taste and smell are very closely related. Food odors engage the olfactory nerves in noses while taste buds react on your tongue, and together the two combine to make your eating experience enjoyable (or not). So, it’s reasonable to say that anosmiacs only get half the experience.

I personally have a preference for things that rank high on the spectrum of salty, sweet, sour and bitter. I’m not totally confident that I taste umami at all. Sauerkraut right out of the can is delicious. I’ve never met a sweet that was “too rich” for me. Bring on the spicy foods. But I find it impossible to distinguish between specific flavors. Jolly Ranchers all taste the same to me, unless I get a sour one like green apple or lemon. I could never taste a homecooked meal and compliment the chef on her unique blend of spices. Sage, basil, oregano - it’s all the same (though cilantro tastes kind of soapy to me).

Researchers think that 1 in 5,000-10,000 people worldwide are afflicted with some form of anosmia. There are lots of ways to lose your sniffer. As some people get older, they find that their sense of smell is less acute simply due to aging. Other causes include head trauma, smoking, nasal polyps and many diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. As far as I know, none of those apply to me: I have Congenital Anosmia, AKA, baby, I was born this way.

Here’s an anosmic trying to differentiate between tastes while blindfolded. The results make me think that every anosmic experiences taste differently, because I’m quite sure I would know the difference between orange juice and cranberry juice.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

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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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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