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A Woman With Number/Color Synesthesia Explains Her Brain

Alex Dainis has grapheme to color synesthesia, meaning that within her brain, numbers have strong associations with colors -- "each number has its own color, or personality," she explains. We've covered synesthesia previously, but this is the first time I've seen a synesthete sit down and describe concretely, in a non-artsy-fartsy way, what's going on in her brain.

It's really interesting how Dainis tries to explain the logic behind the number-coloring. This logic isn't entirely consistent, it just kind of is, because it happens at some level deeper than cognition -- but now she is applying cognitive logic to it. Her brain's system has a lot to do with multiples, though there are obviously logical problems with certain digits (like 6) that are early multiples of prime numbers like 2 and 3. In her case, 6 is lumped in with the 3,6,9 grouping, while 2,4,8 have their own set. Don't get me started on the prime numbers 5 and 7 (5 is part of a grouping with 0 -- which, I agree, makes sense in Base 10). Anyway, the whole thing is fascinating, largely because it doesn't try to get us to feel the swirly whoop-de-doo arty part of synesthesia -- it's just a person breaking it down for us, performing a sense-making exercise on her own brain. Have a look:

Representative quote: "The 5 often overpowers whatever other colors are in the digits."

Bonus points: she can also "see" music to some extent. This is the same woman who just made internet waves with a lip-sync six years in the making. Dainis is apparently one of us, my geek friends. So Alex -- do you read Mental Floss?

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science
Geological Map Shows the Massive Reservoir Bubbling Beneath Old Faithful
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Yellowstone National Park is home to rivers, waterfalls, and hot springs, but Old Faithful is easily its most iconic landmark. Every 45 to 125 minutes, visitors gather around the geyser to watch it shoot streams of water reaching up to 100 feet in the air. The punctual show is one of nature’s greatest spectacles, but new research from scientists at the University of Utah suggests that what’s going on at the geyser’s surface is just the tip of the iceberg.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, features a map of the geological plumbing system beneath Old Faithful. Geologists have long known that the eruptions are caused by water heated by volcanic rocks beneath the ground reaching the boiling point and bubbling upwards through cracks in the earth. But the place where this water simmers between appearances has remained mysterious to scientists until now.

Using 133 seismometers scattered around Old Faithful and the surrounding area, the researchers were able to record the tiny tremors caused by pressure build-up in the hydrothermal reservoir. Two weeks of gathering data helped them determine just how large the well is. The team found that the web of cracks and fissures beneath Old Faithful is roughly 650 feet in diameter and capable of holding more than 79 million gallons of water. When the geyser erupts, it releases just 8000 gallons. You can get an idea of how the reservoir fits into the surrounding geology from the diagram below.

Geological map of geyser.
Sin-Mei Wu, University of Utah

After making the surprising discovery, the study authors plan to return to the area when park roads close for the winter to conduct further research. Next time, they hope to get even more detailed images of the volatile geology beneath this popular part of Yellowstone.

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Animals
Why Do Female Spotted Hyenas Give Birth Through Their Pseudo-Penises?
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At the zoo, you can sometimes tell the difference between male and female animals by noting their physical size, their behavior, and yes, their nether regions. Hyenas, however, flip the script: Not only are lady spotted hyenas bigger and meaner than their male counterparts, ruling the pack with an iron paw, they also sport what appear to be penises—shaft, scrotum, and all.

"Appear" is the key word here: These 7-inch-long phalluses don't produce sperm, so they're technically really long clitorises in disguise. But why do female hyenas have them? And do they actually have to (gulp) give birth through them? Wouldn't that hurt … a lot?

The short answers to these questions are, respectively, "We don't know," "Yes," and "OW." Longer answers can be found in this MinuteEarth video, which provides the full lowdown on hyena sex. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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