Brain Game: "It is Balloon!"

balloon.jpgYesterday morning, I saw one of the odder scenes I've experienced in a while. I was entering my favorite morning haunt, the Seattle's Best coffee shop at a local bookstore, and I saw three men staring up to the ceiling, looking at a small helium balloon. Just a standard balloon, mind you, with a short curly sting or "tail" made out of thin ribbon. The ceilings in the store, mind you, are maybe 16 feet high - too high to be reached standing on a chair.

The problem was that they needed to retrieve the balloon safely. (No, I don't know why this particular latex globule was so important, and I didn't ask.) So throwing a dart at it or shooting it with a BB gun was out of the question. I guess they could have brought out a ladder to do it, but this would have potentially put someone at risk, since you're always vulnerable when you're standing on something with latches.

The clever solution that they devised worked right away, brought the balloon safely to the ground, and put no one in danger.

Here's how they did it. Please comment to advise us how you might solve the problem, with minimal risk to personnel and safe retrieval of the balloon.

THEIR ANSWER: The store's maintenance man brought a vaccum cleaner with a long "wand" attachment. They plugged it in, turned it on, and he reached up with the attachment. It drew the ribbon in just slightly, and he gently lowered the balloon just enough to reach it - smoothly, like he'd done it a thousand times before.

How would you have gotten the balloon down without risking damage to the balloon or the person retrieving it?

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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