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25 Things You Might Not Know About Sledding

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Getty Images

Initially developed to haul loads over snowy terrain, sleds quickly evolved into recreational devices. I can fondly recall many a snow day spent hurtling down the hill in my backyard, inevitably ending up in the hedge, and emerging, scratched and exhilarated, ready for another go. I'm sure many of you have similar memories. So without further ado, here are a few things you might not have known about the history of sledding; many of these facts came from Brice J. Hoskin’s The Sled Book: Notes Concerning Winter’s Favorite Pastime.


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1. The word toboggan comes from either the Algonquin word odabaggan or the Anishinabe word nobugidaban.

2. The Inuit made their toboggans out of whalebone, while other tribes used birch or tamarack. The sleds had a curved front, to ease traveling over difficult terrain, but had no runners. The design has changed little since they were first developed; today, most toboggans are made with seven boards of ash or maple, each about 2 inches wide.

3. The Russians built the first toboggan slide—a high wooden structure with an ice-covered chute—in St. Petersburg in the late 1800s.

4. Tobogganing as a sport began in Canada in the late 1800s and quickly spread. Though it was considered a "sport," tobogganing was also high-fashion: Men wore top hats and ladies donned their best clothes for trips down the chute.


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1. When an unknown inventor took a timber sled—which was used to haul wood out of the forest—and added a handlebar and put iron on the runners, the kicksled was born. They were first mentioned in a Swedish newspaper in 1870.

2. Another name for a kicksled is "spark." (The word for kicking in Scandinavian languages is sparke or sparka.)

3. "Kicksled" is a direct translation of the Finnish word potkukelkka.

4. The first kicksledding club was founded by Captain Victor Balck, one of the original members of the International Olympic Committee, in Stockholm in 1899.

5. Kicksleds can only be used on hard, slippery surfaces, which makes them particularly good for traversing frozen lakes.

6. Average kicksled speed in a race: 18mph.


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1. An unknown inventor created the bobsled by adding a steering mechanism to a toboggan.

2. The sled gets its name because early competitors thought it helped to "bob" their heads on straightaways. (They were wrong—staying low makes the sled go faster.)

3. There are two variations on the bobsled. The skeleton, introduced in 1892, is a metal one-person sled that a rider drives lying head-first. The luge is a one or two person sled that puts riders feet first; they steer by pulling straps attached to the runners. The luge replaced the skeleton in the 1964 Olympics.

4. Top speed in bobsled on a modern course: 80mph.

5. A four-man bobsled race was an event in the first Winter Olympics, held in France in 1924. Only men competed until 2002, when two-woman teams were allowed to compete.

6. Bobsledding has been a part of every winter Olympics except for the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California; too few teams expressed an interest in competing.

7. There are two recreational bobsled tracks in the United States, both at the sites of past Olympic games: Park City, Utah, and Lake Placid, New York. They sleds go through the courses in under a minute, and riders will experience up to 5gs (astronauts experience 3gs on liftoff).

American Clippers and Cutters

Image courtesy Collector's Weekly.

1. Clippers and cutters were the first mass-produced sleds in the United States. They were made by the Paris Manufacturing Company in South Paris, Maine. The company was founded by Henry Morton in 1861; it was also the first company to commercially produce skis.

2. Morton based his sled designs on horse-drawn sleighs.

3. Yankee Clippers have runners that are upturned in the front; they're meant to be ridden face-first. Cutter sleds were longer, with runners that curved over the front of the sled. They were designed to be ridden sitting down. Both were difficult to steer.

4. The most famous sled in pop culture is Citizen Kane's Rosebud—a Yankee Clipper.

The Flexible Flyer

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1. The flexible flyer was patented by Samuel Leeds Allen in 1889. Allen was a prolific inventor who held almost 300 patents; he developed the sleds to keep the workers at his farm equipment factory busy in the off-season.

2. The sled had a slatted wood seat and steel runners which were weakened at one point halfway back with something that resembled a hinge. It was moderately steerable, and worked best on hard snow or ice.

3. In 1915, around 120,000 flexible fliers were sold, with an average of 2000 sold per day. The smallest went for $2.50; the largest, which was 8.5 feet long, weighed 41 pounds and could hold six adults, sold for $12.

4. In 1928, six flexible flyers went to the South Pole with Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

Apple Wants to Patent a Keyboard You’re Allowed to Spill Coffee On

In the future, eating and drinking near your computer keyboard might not be such a dangerous game. On March 8, Apple filed a patent application for a keyboard designed to prevent liquids, crumbs, dust, and other “contaminants” from getting inside, Dezeen reports.

Apple has previously filed several patents—including one announced on March 15—surrounding the idea of a keyless keyboard that would work more like a trackpad or a touchscreen, using force-sensitive technology instead of mechanical keys. The new anti-crumb keyboard patent that Apple filed, however, doesn't get into the specifics of how the anti-contamination keyboard would work. It isn’t a patent for a specific product the company is going to debut anytime soon, necessarily, but a patent for a future product the company hopes to develop. So it’s hard to say how this extra-clean keyboard might work—possibly because Apple hasn’t fully figured that out yet. It’s just trying to lay down the legal groundwork for it.

Here’s how the patent describes the techniques the company might use in an anti-contaminant keyboard:

"These mechanisms may include membranes or gaskets that block contaminant ingress, structures such as brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps around key caps; funnels, skirts, bands, or other guard structures coupled to key caps that block contaminant ingress into and/or direct containments away from areas under the key caps; bellows that blast contaminants with forced gas out from around the key caps, into cavities in a substrate of the keyboard, and so on; and/or various active or passive mechanisms that drive containments away from the keyboard and/or prevent and/or alleviate containment ingress into and/or through the keyboard."

Thanks to a change in copyright law in 2011, the U.S. now gives ownership of an idea to the person who first files for a patent, not the person with the first working prototype. Apple is especially dogged about applying for patents, filing plenty of patents each year that never amount to much.

Still, they do reveal what the company is focusing on, like foldable phones (the subject of multiple patents in recent years) and even pizza boxes for its corporate cafeteria. Filing a lot of patents allows companies like Apple to claim the rights to intellectual property for technology the company is working on, even when there's no specific invention yet.

As The New York Times explained in 2012, “patent applications often try to encompass every potential aspect of a new technology,” rather than a specific approach. (This allows brands to sue competitors if they come out with something similar, as Apple has done with Samsung, HTC, and other companies over designs the company views as ripping off iPhone technology.)

That means it could be a while before we see a coffee-proof keyboard from Apple, if the company comes out with one at all. But we can dream.

[h/t Dezeen]

Google Adds 'Wheelchair Accessible' Option to Its Transit Maps

Google Maps is more than just a tool for getting from Point A to Point B. The app can highlight the traffic congestion on your route, show you restaurants and attractions nearby, and even estimate how crowded your destination is in real time. But until recently, people who use wheelchairs to get around had to look elsewhere to find routes that fit their needs. Now, Google is changing that: As Mashable reports, the company's Maps app now offers a wheelchair accessible option to users.

Anyone with the latest version of Google Maps can access the new feature. After opening the app, just enter your starting point and destination and select the public transit choices for your trip. Maps will automatically show you the quickest routes, but the stations it suggests aren't necessarily wheelchair accessible.

To narrow down your choices, hit "Options" in the blue bar above the recommended routes then scroll down to the bottom of the page to find "Wheelchair accessible." When that filter is checked, your list of routes will update to only show you bus stops and subways that are also accessible by ramp or elevator where there are stairs.

While it's a step in the right direction, the new accessibility feature isn't a perfect navigation tool for people using wheelchairs. Google Maps may be able to tell you if a station has an elevator, but it won't tell you if that elevator is out of service, an issue that's unfortunately common in major cities.

The wheelchair-accessible option launched in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney on March 15, and Google plans to expand it to more transit systems down the road.

[h/t Mashable]


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