13 Secrets of Pet Groomers

iStock
iStock

Pet grooming is a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s growing each year. More and more pet owners have come to rely on groomers, who—in addition to top-notch trimming and clipping skills—must know animal anatomy, calming techniques, and the best way of avoiding potentially dangerous scratches and bites. We spoke to several to get the inside scoop.

1. PET GROOMING CAN BE RISKY BUSINESS.

Whether it’s an aggressive dog who bites or a nervous cat who scratches, groomers must be constantly aware of potential threats.

“Even the sweetest and most docile cat has the potential to scratch or bite,” says Jared Gorton, who owns Rhode Island Cat Grooming with his wife, Mandi. Most groomers are able to keep themselves and their animal clients safe by wearing gloves and using muzzles when necessary, but some groomers also protect themselves by turning away animals with a history of aggressive behavior.

2. THEY PREFER DOGS (USUALLY).

A black schnauzer dog near grooming tools

While some pet groomers focus exclusively on cats, most avoid them. There’s one big reason: In general, cats are more unpredictable, and many groomers don’t want to risk a scratch or bite.

According to Mandi Gorton, that’s why most groomers start out working with dogs only. “There are many feline-exclusive groomers who started as dog-exclusive groomers; I was one of them. I thought ‘cats groom themselves’ and didn’t want to be one of those groomers who had a career-ending bite by a cat,” she explains. “Some [groomers] will shave cats or offer to brush cats, but don’t understand the basics of cat behavior, breeds, or grooming. They see it more as a necessary evil than a field to thrive in.”

Mel Brink, the owner of Club Meow, a cat boarding and grooming facility in Iowa, explains that in his region, many grooming shops won’t take cats at all. “And the ones that do [groom cats] only take easy cats and are primarily dog-oriented,” she says. “There are a dozen Petsmart and Petco stores here, and only one takes cat clients!”

3. THE CONDITIONS ARE QUIETER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.

A fluffy dog being blow-dried.

Barking dogs, running water, and blow dryers can make pet grooming shops noisy places to work. But keeping the volume as quiet as possible is integral to making sure the animals feel safe. “Animals feed off the energy of others and easily go into flight or fight mode,” Brink says. “I keep my shop very quiet and peaceful. I diffuse essential oils and keep my own energy low.” Some cat owners also prefer to patronize feline-exclusive groomers because the smells and sounds of dogs can stress out their cats.

4. CATS AND WATER AREN’T A BIG PROBLEM.

A black-and-white cat being bathed.

While most dogs jump eagerly into the water to swim, cats are more timid, and there’s a common belief that cats have a phobia of water. But the pet groomers we spoke to insist that’s just not true. “Most cats are not afraid of water like so many people believe,” Brink says. “They are actually afraid of loud noises, so if you keep your spray nozzle low, especially at first, most cats tolerate water with no issue.”

According to Mandi Gorton, cats are afraid of drowning, rather than water per se. “Cats drink water every day, lots of cats even play with water or follow people into the shower. Getting a cat to trust you enough to bathe in it is a cat groomer's super power,” she notes.

And there’s another pro trick when it comes to pets and water: Many dogs dislike when soap and water get in their eyes and ears, so good groomers are careful to wash an animal’s face last and rinse it first. This method ensures that soap and water have the least time to irritate an animal’s sensitive eyes.

5. THEY’RE EXPERTS AT GETTING ANIMALS TO TRUST THEM.

Pet groomers are often called dog and cat whisperers for good reason. Their ability to quickly connect emotionally with a new animal, establish control, and convince the animal to trust them takes a great deal of skill, knowledge, and experience. Like horses, cats and dogs read people and pick up on body language cues. A calm, confident groomer will encourage pets that they’re not in any danger. “The first step is to begin with that feeling that the cat can trust you not to harm him in any way. After that, you have to be compassionate and understanding,” Jared Gorton says. “Most cats are fairly compliant when treated with kindness, mutual respect, and a ‘matter of fact’ attitude,” Mandi Gorton adds.

6. LOVING ANIMALS IS KEY, BUT PEOPLE SKILLS ARE ALSO A MUST.

A woman on the phone next to a dog on the floor.

As Massachusetts pet groomers Kathy and Missi Salzberg explain, many people enter the profession because they prefer to spend time with animals rather than people. But although pet groomers have a rapport with animals, they must also be able to converse and connect with their owners. “People skills are a necessity,” the Salzbergs write. Besides having customer service capabilities, successful pet groomers must effectively communicate with pet owners about what type of hair cut they want and clearly instruct pet owners how to take care of their pet between grooming sessions.

7. COMBS ARE THEIR SECRET WEAPONS.

A pile of pet hair in between two grooming combs.

While groomers may reward good behavior with dog treats or distract insecure cats with catnip, their number one secret weapon is a simple comb. As animal groomer Margaret Campbell tells Angie’s List, most brushes only reach the top of an animal’s coat, but combs get further down to the skin, where tangles and mats can hide. Besides bathing an animal and applying a conditioner, groomers comb the animal’s hair from head to toe, gently working out any tangles. That’s crucial, because if fur gets too matted, the animal may have to be shaved or buzzed in order to safely remove the knots—a process that can be painful.

8. THEY CHUCKLE AT THEIR CUSTOMERS’ LIMITED PET VOCABULARY.

Much like hairdressers, pet groomers work to fulfill their client’s wishes and create a cut that is aesthetically pleasing. Grooming styles vary based on breed and range, from a puppy cut to a lion cut. But pet owners often don’t have the vocabulary to describe exactly what kind of style they want for their pets. “I laugh at times to myself when a client tries to describe what they want done,” Brink says. “I recently had a lady call and ask for a ‘backsplash.’ I was perplexed until I realized she meant a sanitary trim around the bum. We both had to giggle about that and I may just use her terminology!”

9. THE CERTIFICATION PROCESS CAN BE INTENSE.

A cute dog being dried with an orange towel.

Depending on the state and city in which they work, some pet groomers may need to be licensed and certified. Organizations such as the National Dog Groomers Association of America and the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists teach groomers about everything from clipping styles and cutting nails to anatomy and behavior. According to Certified Feline Master Groomer Lynn Paolillo, who works as an instructor and certifier for the National Cat Groomers Institute of America, cat groomers who want to become certified learn about feline temperaments, how to recognize breeds, correct color terminology, handling techniques, and common health concerns and symptoms. “This information combines to create a cat groomer who is knowledgeable, confident, and proficient with cats of varying temperaments and needs,” she says.

Groomers who certify with the National Cat Groomers Institute of America must also pass four written exams and five practical exams, proving that they have mastered clipper skills, bathing and drying, and safety. “I think most people would be surprised to know how creative cat groomers need to be. Working with cats is primarily about problem-solving, so the groomer must be able to think quickly on their feet in order to keep both cat and groomer safe and as low-stress as possible,” Paolillo says.

10. THEY PROBABLY SUFFER FROM VARICOSE VEINS.

Working as a pet groomer can be extremely physically demanding. “Groomers are prone to back problems from lifting heavy dogs and carpal tunnel syndrome from the repetitive motion of scissoring, brushing, and hand stripping,” the Salzbergs write. “A groomer’s legs can suffer from standing all day over a long period of time. Circulation problems, varicose veins, overstressed tendons and ligaments—these are common ailments in this profession.” To counteract the physical demands of their job, pet groomers may learn to groom while sitting on a stool and/or hire assistants to help with lifting heavier dogs. For many, staying physically fit is also a priority.

11. THEY MIGHT SAVE YOUR PET’S LIFE.

It’s essential to take your pet to the veterinarian for regular check-ups, but groomers also use their knowledge of animal anatomy to observe your pet’s health. Besides looking out for ticks, fleas, and ringworm, they can often spot infections and life-threatening lumps. One groomer who tried to empty a cocker spaniel’s anal sacs (small pockets used for scent communication) noticed that the dog was unusually distressed, so the groomer told the owner to take the dog to the vet. The dog was diagnosed with anal sac carcinoma, a malignant cancer that disproportionately affects cocker spaniels. Because the cancer was caught and removed early, the cocker spaniel survived her illness, all thanks to an observant and knowledgeable pet groomer.

12. THEY WISH PET OWNERS WOULD BETTER EDUCATE THEMSELVES.

A white cat on a black-and-white pillow.

Because pet groomers love animals, it can be particularly difficult to see cats and dogs in bad shape. Whether a cat is severely matted or a dog has sores on his skin, animals in distress are a troubling reality of the job. Paolillo laments that many cat owners hold common misconceptions about grooming, such as that cats hate water, they groom themselves, and they shouldn’t be bathed. “[Grooming] doesn’t have to be stressful, and cats definitely benefit from regular bath and grooming appointments. However, when a cat has never been groomed or bathed, and then it becomes severely matted at an elderly age, the groom becomes not only difficult but dangerous,” she says. “It can be frustrating to be working against many myths involving cat grooming.”

Jared Gorton echoes Paolillo's point, explaining that matting is entirely preventable. “Matting hurts, plain and simple. While we don’t have magic wands to just make the mats disappear, we have tools and skills to get rid of them,” he says. “After that, it's about educating the owner because matting is entirely preventable. Once that education has been given and received, there are no excuses for it to happen again.”

13. THEY FORM DEEP ATTACHMENTS TO THEIR CLIENTS.

Pet groomers love making a living by caring for animals, and receiving affection and gratitude from their animal clients gives them true joy. “The best thing about being a cat groomer is when the cats realize how much we are helping and how appreciative they are,” Paolillo says. “Getting head butts, purrs, and kisses from our kitty clients is the best part of the job!" Some pet groomers even form bonds with more difficult, less appreciative animals and mourn their passing. “I had a cat who was Satan to groom, just a hissing, spitting, biting, baiting devil. But when he passed away his mom called me and we both cried hysterically,” Mandi Gorton admits. “When cat owners share their furry treasures with you there is a bond that is deep and profound.”

All photos via iStock.

11 Secrets of Storm Chasers

Drew Angerer, Getty Images
Drew Angerer, Getty Images

Every year, people around the world board up windows, stock up on essential supplies, and flee their own homes in anticipation of severe weather events. But for storm chasers, tumultuous weather is an invitation to move toward the danger. Some endure precarious conditions during hurricanes, tornadoes, and other storms in order to take readings that might later prove useful to meteorologists. Others are simply attracted to the beauty of the storms, capturing nature’s violent expressions in what could be considered an extreme form of landscape photography.

There's no shortage of opportunities for storm chasers. The U.S. each year sees an average of 1253 tornadoes—a massive column of spinning air borne out of thunderstorms and creating winds up to 250 miles per hour. Hurricanes are fueled by heat from oceans and threaten coastal regions with heavy rain and wind. Though it doesn’t have quite the same reputation, even a simple, raging thunderstorm can produce enough hail and high winds to cause chaos. Each is dangerous, devastating—and, in the eyes of storm chasers, beautiful.

To better understand what motivates these individuals to seek out cataclysmic events, Mental Floss spoke to three extreme weather specialists. Here’s what they had to say about airborne houses, armored trucks, and why you won’t usually see any of them wearing a helmet.

1. For storm chasers, a hurricane can feel like an acid trip.

A satellite image of Hurricane Irene in the Caribbean Sea in August 2011 is pictured
Hurricane Irene is shown over the Caribbean Sea in a satellite image from August 2011.
NOAA via Getty Images

With just 13 hurricanes hitting the continental U.S. since 2010, chasing hurricanes requires a passport and a willingness to spend days making connecting flights to international destinations. As a result, hurricane hunters are a small subgroup of the storm chaser demographic. Why do they do it? For Josh Morgerman, a hurricane chaser based in Southern California and star of the Science Channel’s upcoming Hurricane Man, being exposed to hurricanes on Long Island in his youth created an association between a severe storm and excitement. “My whole life is hunting that feeling again and again,” he tells Mental Floss. While he still pursues that rush, Morgerman's chief objective is to measure air pressure and log observational data that can assist meteorologists in analyzing storms. (Chasers can also measure factors like humidity, wind speed, and temperature.)

Unlike tornadoes, which have a very clear visual identity as they spin in a cone shape over land, hurricanes just look like a fierce concentration of weather. That combination of heavy rain, wind, and flying debris can be hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it firsthand. As fierce weather rages in the area known as the eyewall, the eye, or center, inside is peaceful. Morgerman says that jarring contrast is a little like an acid trip. “In a severe hurricane [the eyewall] is quite incredible,” he says. “Some sound like a train or like wolves howling. Hurricane Michael, the building I was in was shaking. The windows were breaking. With storms like that, you can’t see anything. Everything just turns white. You just see flying wreckage. It’s an unbelievable spectacle to behold." In the eye, though, "It gets calm. The sky is blue ... There’s something very acid-trippy about that.”

2. The movie Twister influenced a lot of storm chasers.

A publicity photo from the 1996 film 'Twister' depicts actor Bill Paxton looking at a tornado
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1996’s Twister, Bill Paxton plays a tornado chaser who braves a series of severe weather events. For many chasers, the movie was a milestone, prompting a lot of people to get into the field themselves. “It’s the reason I got into it,” says tornado chaser Greg Johnson, who now collects footage to sell to news outlets. “There was this romantic notion of storm chasing. There are a lot of things the movie got right."

There was one exception. "One thing it didn’t get right is the human toll. The damage associated with these storms. The movie underplayed the destruction and death. In real life scenarios, it’s far worse than anything they show in the movie.” A chaser’s first priority, he says, is to stop and help anyone who might need assistance.

3. Storm chasers don’t spend much time actually inside the storms.

Support scientist Tim Marshall stands outside of a vehicle to observe a supercell thunderstorm in Lamb County, Texas in May 2017
Drew Angerer, Getty Images

The life of any storm chaser is supposed to be thrilling, and it is—for a few minutes or hours at a time. Most chasers spent the majority of their careers traveling toward a storm, either by driving toward it or, in Morgerman’s case, flying. He might be in a hurricane for hours; a tornado might touch down for just a few minutes. Johnson also says he spends much of his time traveling. “When you see videos on YouTube of incredible tornado events, recognize what you’re seeing is the 1 percent of the time,” Johnson tells Mental Floss. “You’re not seeing countless hours at truck stops sleeping on the hood of a truck doing nothing.”

4. The real danger for storm chasers isn’t the weather. It’s the traffic.

Traffic is redirected during a tornado in Linwood, Kansas in May 2019
Kyle Rivas, Getty Images

Severe weather can cause high winds and flooding, but it’s not always nature that winds up being physically threatening, especially because chasers spend so much of their time traveling. (In fact, there’s been only one fatal incident as a direct result of a tornado, when chaser Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and colleague Carl Young were trapped in their vehicle and picked up by 200 mile-per-hour winds during the El Reno tornado in 2013. All three died.)

According to Montana-based storm chaser and National Weather Service meteorologist Cory Mottice, experienced chasers know to fear traffic more than the weather. “In a more highly populated area, you have to worry about traffic congestion,” he says. “A storm might be coming down through Oklahoma and you might be out of danger initially. But as the storm is getting closer, people are worrying and start panicking. They’ll pull under overpasses and get stuck on the road with a tornado coming at them.”

Johnson agrees, adding that injury from storms can often take a back seat to traffic accidents. “The thing that keeps me up at night is the driving, not the tornado,” he says. “The tornado will generally go from point A to point B along a defined path. It’s very well-behaved. The quickest way is a straight line. It’s very visual. You can see where it is and you can avoid it. Driving is a completely different story. Put enough miles on and you’re bound to see a bad accident.”

5. Storm chasers drive armored vehicles.

A reinforced vehicle is pictured near a tornado
Courtesy of Greg Johnson // @tornadogreg, TornadoHunter.com

Driving in pursuit of a tornado requires a little more than simple guts and a willingness to get close to a massively powerful weather event. Chasers need their version of a Batmobile. According to Johnson, professionals usually opt for an armored truck to help insulate them from the destructive power of the storm. “We’re not just driving around in a pick-up truck,” he says. “I have a roll cage to prevent it from being crushed. It’s designed to go off-road. It’s heavier than a normal truck. The steel roll cage adds weight. There’s exterior coating to prevent punctures in the vehicle.”

While the roll cage is heavy, the goal isn’t to make the vehicle heavier so it's harder for a tornado to pick up. “At the end of the day, if you’re caught in a tornado capable of throwing the vehicle, a weight difference of 500 or 800 pounds won’t matter. Tornados can pick up combiners. Those things do happen. I’d rather the truck be lighter and easier on gas.”

6. Storm chasers have seen flying houses.

A weathervane is mounted on the roof of a house
Lobro78/iStock via Getty Images

Storm chasers don’t want to drive directly into a tornado or other severe weather event. They just want to get close enough to obtain readings or to take photographs. Johnson tries to get within 200 or 300 yards to snap photos, which is still close enough to see how intense wind speeds can be. “I’ve seen a house flying through the air,” he says. “I saw a truck flying across the road 50 yards in front of me.”

7. Storm chaser equipment can take a beating.

Jan Dutton of WeatherBug.com tracks Hurricane Isabel in Ocean City, Maryland in September 2003
Mark Wilson, Getty Images

Most chasers hit the road with doppler radar, laptops, cameras, and other equipment to help them analyze data and capture images. If you’ve wondered how they can do that without putting themselves at risk, the answer is simple. For still photography, Mottice puts the camera on a tripod outside while he remains in the truck. That keeps him out of danger—but his equipment is another story. "I have my camera and gear on a tripod. I’m in the vehicle taking remote pictures. The hail can hit the camera. Wind is an issue.” Some chasers bring back-up equipment in case their gear gets pummeled.

8. Storm chasers know they should wear helmets. (But they usually don’t.)

A storm warning sign is pictured
arcady_31/iStock via Getty Images

With flying wreckage cutting through the air, it would stand to reason storm chasers should equip themselves with helmets. Few do, however. “I’m embarrassed to say I don’t wear a helmet,” Morgerman says. “Fans have been pushing me to wear one for years … the whole [television] crew is wearing helmets. I don’t want anything to encumber the experience.”

9. Storm chasers can suffer physical effects.

Hurricane Ike is seen over Cuba in a photo taken by the International Space Station in September 2008
Hurricane Ike is seen over Cuba in a satellite image taken by the International Space Station in September 2008.
NASA via Getty Images

An experienced chaser knows how to plan routes that keep them safely away from tornadoes. For hurricanes, they scope out buildings able to withstand the force of the storm. All that planning, however, doesn’t mean they always walk away unscathed. Morgerman says the violent winds of a hurricane’s eyewall can leave enduring effects. “The intense gustiness can cause rapid pressure changes that can really hurt your ears,” he says.

10. Storm chasers know that thunderstorms can be incredibly destructive.

A storm chaser drives a car with a smashed windshield
Courtesy of Greg Johnson // @tornadogreg, TornadoHunter.com

Most people assume hurricanes and tornadoes represent the pinnacle of danger when it comes to storm-chasing. But according to Mottice, a severe thunderstorm can match or exceed them in destructive power. “Some people think a severe thunderstorm warning with 80 mile-per-hour winds is no big deal, that the tornado is the big deal,” he says. “But winds produce more damage than some tornadoes. In Montana, a storm produced 120 mile-per-hour winds. They can do a lot of damage.”

Mottice also tends to be wary of hail during storms. Once, he says, “I didn’t know a storm was blowing up behind the one we were chasing. We got caught in the core of that one. It threw golf ball-sized hail on us. The vehicles on the roads had broken windows.”

11. Storm chasers worry they might be setting a bad example for amateurs.

Hunter Anderson, a meteorology student at St. Cloud University, films a storm near Limon, Colorado in May 2017
Drew Angerer, Getty Images

In the storm-chasing community, there’s much debate over what separates a professional from an amateur. Generally speaking, professional storm chasers get paid for their work, whether that be compensation for footage or photography. But there's no licensing necessary to chase a storm, and anyone can pursue extreme weather. Morgerman, who has likely been in more hurricanes than anyone alive—he says the Science Channel verified the claim for his television series—believes amateurs who follow chasers on social media might get the wrong idea. “I remember being a 15-year-old weather nerd wanting to have these experiences. I worry I’m setting a bad example. I worry some kids will watch what I do and try to do it but without the experience and knowledge that I have.”

12 Secrets of Roller Coaster Designers

People ride a spinning roller coaster in the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Park
People ride a spinning roller coaster in the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Park
hanusst/iStock via Getty Images

Back in the early 20th century, engineers attempting to push the limits of roller coaster thrills subjected riders to risky upside-down turns and bloody noses. A century later, coaster designers rely on computer software, physics, and psychology to push the limits of the roughly 5000 rides in operation worldwide. To get a sense of what their job entails, Mental Floss spoke with several roller coaster specialists about everything from testing rides with water-filled dummies to how something as simple as paint can influence a coaster experience. Here’s what we learned.

1. Getting strapped in might be the most exciting part of the roller coaster ride.

Known as a “thrill engineer,” UK-based Brendan Walker consults with coaster manufacturers and parks on the psychology of riding the rails. In his experience, riders getting secured into their seats are at the peak of their excitement—even more so than during the ride itself. “The moment the lap bar is being locked down and you have that feeling of things being inescapable, that you have to suffer the effects of the ride, is the highest moment of arousal,” Walker says. “The actual ride might only achieve 80 percent of that excitement.”

2. Designers test roller coasters with water-filled dummies.

Bill Kitchen, founder of U.S. Thrill Rides, says it can take anywhere from two to five years for a coaster to go from idea to execution. Part of that process is devoted to the logistics of securing patents and permits for local site construction—the rest is extensive safety testing. “We’re subject to ASTM [American Society for Testing Materials] standards,” Kitchen says. “It covers every aspect of coasters. The rides are tested with what we call water dummies, or sometimes sandbags.”

The inanimate patrons allow designers to figure out how a coaster will react to the constant use and rider weight of a highly trafficked ride. The water dummies—which look a bit like crash test dummies, but filled with water—can be emptied or filled to simulate different weight capacities. Designers also sometimes use the kind of crash-test dummies found in the auto industry to observe any potential issues prior to actual humans climbing aboard.

3. Every foot of roller coaster track costs a lot of money.

Thrill seekers go upside-down while riding on the Mind Eraser roller coaster in Agawam, Massachusetts
Thrill seekers go upside-down while riding on the Mind Eraser roller coaster in Agawam, Massachusetts
Kirkikis/iStock via Getty Images

There is absolutely nothing random about the length of a coaster’s track. In addition to designing a ride based on the topography of a park site, designers take into account exactly how much space they’ll need to terrorize you and not an inch more. When England’s Alton Towers park was preparing to build a ride named TH13TEEN for a 2010 opening, they asked Walker exactly how much of a drop was needed to scare someone in the dark. “It was a practical question,” Walker says. “For every extra foot of steelwork, it would have cost them £30,000 [roughly $40,000].”

4. Rollercoaster Tycoon brought a lot of people into the business.

The popular PC game, first released in 1999, allowed users to methodically construct their own amusement parks, including the rides. As a proving ground for aspiring engineers and designers, it worked pretty well. Jeff Pike, President of Skyline Attractions, says he’s seen several people grow passionate about the industry as a direct result of the game. “I remember when the game first got popular, I would go to trade shows and there would be kids looking to get into it using screen shots of rides they designed. The game definitely brought a lot of people into the fold.”

5. Paint makes a big difference in coaster speed.

A group of tin metal cans with colorful paint
scanrail/iStock via Getty Images

For all of their high-tech design—the software, fabrication, and precise measures of energy—a good coaster ride can often come down to whether it’s got too much paint on it. “The one thing that will slow down a steel coaster is a build-up of paint on the track rails,” Pike says. “It softens where the wheel is rolling and hitting the track, which increases the drag.” A good, worn-in track will have gray or silver streaks where the wheel has worn down the paint, making it move more quickly.

6. A roller coaster’s skyline is key.

Brian Morrow, former Corporate Vice President for Theme Park Experience at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, says that the looming curvature of coasters spotted as guests drive toward and enter the park is very purposeful. “It’s like a movie trailer in that we want you to see some iconic coaster elements, but not the whole thing,” he says. “You approach it with anticipation.”

7. Some coasters arrive as giant model kits.

Whether a coaster’s theme or design comes first is largely left up to the end user—the amusement park. But for some rides, manufacturers are able to offer pre-fabricated constructions that designers can treat like the world’s biggest Erector Set. “Sometimes I work on rides that have already been built,” Walker says. “They’re produced by a company and presented almost like a kit with parts, like a model train set. There’s a curve here, a straight bit here, and you can pick your own layout depending on the lay of the land.”

8. Wooden roller coasters are weather-sensitive.

If you’ve ever been on a wooden coaster that seems a little shaky from one trip to the next, check the forecast: It might be because of the weather. Pike says that humidity and other factors can shrink the wood, affecting how bolts fit and leading to a slightly shakier experience. “The structure itself can flex back and forth,” he says. It’s still perfectly safe—it just takes more maintenance to make sure the wood and fasteners are in proper operating condition. A well-cared-for wooden coaster, Pike says, can usually outlast a steel model.

9. The time of day can affect the coaster experience.

“A coaster running in the morning could run slower when cooler,” Morrow says. “The wheels are not as warm, the bearings are warming up. That could be different by 2 p.m., with a slicked-up wheel chassis.” Coasters experiencing their first-ever test runs can also be slightly unpredictable, according to Pike. "Those first trial runs [during the testing phase] can be slow because everything is just so tight," he says. "A lot of coasters don't even make it around the track. It's not a failure. It's just super-slow."

10. Roller coaster designs can come from unusual places—like Jay Leno’s chin.

The twisting, undulating tracks of coasters can often be the result of necessity: Pike says that trees, underground piping, and available real estate all inform designers when it comes to placing a ride in a specific park. But when they have more freedom, coasters can sometimes take on the distinctive shape of whatever happens to be around the designers at the time of conception. “We had a giant piece of land in Holland that just had no constraints, and we were sitting around talking," Pike says. “And we started talking about Jay Leno’s chin.” The ride was a “loose” representation of the comedian's jaw, but “it is there.”

11. Roller coaster riders double as performers.

A woman taking a ride on a rollercoaster at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
A woman taking a ride on a rollercoaster at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
exithamster/iStock via Getty Images

For Walker, the best advertising for a coaster is having spectators watch riders de-board after an exhilarating experience. “It’s all about that emotion,” he says. “A spectator basically asks, ‘What’s making them so aroused? What’s giving them such pleasure?’ The line for the ride is the audience. Imagining yourself on the structure becomes a very powerful thing."

12. The future of coasters is vertical.

Biggest, fastest, longest—coasters are running out of superlatives. Because rides can only be designed with so many drips, rolls, or G forces, some companies are looking to the sky for their next big idea. Kitchen has been overseeing design of the Polercoaster for years: It’s a sprawling, skyscraper-esque ride that uses electromagnetic propulsion to carry riders upwards instead of across horizontal tracks. “We want to put it in places where land is very expensive, like the Vegas strip,” he says. “You can only do that if it takes up a lot less space.” The project is set to exceed the 456 feet of the current tallest ride, Kingda Ka at Six Flags in New Jersey. “It’ll be the world’s tallest—and hopefully the most fun.”

This list first ran in 2017.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER