12 Secrets of Video Game Testers

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iStock

Video game testers are an essential part of making sure that products in the $91 billion gaming industry are as bug-free as possible before (and even after) they hit shelves. Testers, who may work for game studios, publishers, or console companies, find glitches and report them to the game’s developers. We spoke to a few testers to find out what the job really entails, from the insanely long hours and lack of job security to the reason they need to embrace imperfection.

1. THEY ANSWER TO MANY NAMES.

Companies use a variety of titles to refer to video game testers: testers, game testers, or the slightly more elaborate Quality Assurance (QA) testers. Testers who also write computer code to automate parts of the testing process are called Software Development Engineers in Test (SDETs). The title “play tester,” however, refers to an entirely different job, as Jason W. Bay, the author of Land a Job as a Video Game Tester, tells Mental Floss. “That’s when a game company brings in non-employees for a few hours to try a game that's under development and give their feedback to the designers,” he says. “It’s more like what standard software companies call usability testing.”

2. IT'S NOT NECESSARILY FUN.

If testing video games seems like a fun, easy job, think again. In reality, testers need huge doses of patience and diligence to deal with the repetitive and often tedious nature of the job. “Testers spend most of their time testing the game long before it’s finished, and long before it starts to become a fun experience,” Bay says. “Even after the game is developed enough to start being fun, the testing assignments often aren’t fun at all,” he explains.

Testers may have to walk their character around a forest, for example, to look for any trees that have missing textures. They then record the coordinates in a spreadsheet so an artist can fix them later. “It’s mind-numbing work and can take days to accomplish,” Bay says. Additionally, most game testers don’t get to choose the games they work on, so they may be working for months on a game they don’t like. And if the game crashes in a specific spot due to a programming error, testers have to start the game over to try to recreate the steps that led to the crash.

3. THEY OFTEN WORK INSANELY LONG HOURS.

A man in a darkened room playing a video game with a pizza box nearby

Because video game companies adhere to tight release schedules, game testers are usually extremely busy in the months leading up to a game’s release. Bayaar Lo-Borjiged, a former QA Tester who’s now the CEO of Skull Fire Games, tells Mental Floss that late hours and terrible diets are very common, especially during crunch time. “It is not uncommon to work from 9 a.m. to 9 a.m. the next day,” he says. Besides sitting in front of screens all day (and night), many game testers suffer from sleep deprivation. They may chug caffeine and eat junky convenience foods to stay awake and endure the stress. “I hated crunch time so much. During crunch time you have no life, even less so than before,” Lo-Borjiged says.

4. THEY DON’T NEED ANY SPECIALIZED EDUCATION.

Although some game testers have college degrees or certificates in fields such as computer science, software testing, or game design, most testing jobs don’t require any higher education background. Besides having knowledge of how to play video games, game testers only need good vision, fast reflexes, and suitable writing skills. Because game testing is an entry-level job, most game testers start their video game industry careers in testing but hope to eventually work their way up to more advanced software development or design roles.

5. THEIR JOB SECURITY ISN’T GREAT …

“The biggest thing about being a game tester is that there is no job security at all,” Lo-Borjiged says. “As a game tester you are expendable. At any point in time for any reason whatsoever [your employer] can replace you.” Many game testers work as contract-to-hires, meaning that a company will only hire them as a full-time employee after a few months of satisfactory work performance. And a large pool of young and eager aspiring game testers means that companies often fire workers or choose not to hire them as full-time employees. So many game testers work at multiple video game companies throughout a calendar year, moving to a new company once a project ends.

6. … AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR PROMOTION ARE LIMITED.

A group of developers brainstorming an augmented reality game.

Although Lo-Borjiged worked his way up from game testing to UI design, his experience is not common. “A lot of people will probably work as a game tester their entire careers,” he says. “To work your way out of testing you really, really have to stand out and that is hard given how many other testers there can be from company to company.” After several years of working in testing, some game testers take on more responsibilities (and a higher salary) as testing leads or managers, become game designers or producers, or decide to leave the video game industry altogether.

7. THEY’RE AN UNUSUALLY TIGHT-KNIT GROUP.

The long hours and office politics make it easy for game testers to befriend one another and create a tight-knit community. “Testing groups are often separated from the rest of the game development team both physically and socially, and frankly the dev teams often treat them like second-class citizens,” Bay says. “That shared sense of feeling like outsiders can build a strong camaraderie.”

When he was working on a Harry Potter game for Windows, Bay and his fellow testers had to return to the office each night (after working a full day) to perform tests before the game was sent to the publisher. “To lift our spirits, I started bringing a 12-pack of beer each time, and that made it feel more like an evening of hanging out with friends rather than an evening of working overtime,” Bay says. “I’m still in touch with people that I tested games with 15 years ago, and some of them are life-long friends.”

8. PERFECTIONISTS NEED NOT APPLY.

The back of a man's head with a video game on his monitor in front of him.

If you buy a new video game and it has glitches, don’t be so quick to blame game testers. “Most games are tied to a strict release deadline, and development teams rarely have time to fix everything. Occasionally, they don't even have time to fix all of the crashes, which is one reason so many games receive several patches in the weeks immediately after they’re released,” Bay says.

Even if game testers spot and report glitches, there’s no guarantee that the development team will have the time or desire to fix the errors. And the process of fixing errors can introduce entirely new bugs to the game. Nevertheless, after a game is in stores many testers work long hours to recreate errors reported by players so the development team can fix them and release patches that players at home can download.

9. THEY MIGHT MEET THEIR GAMING HEROES.

Despite the stresses of the job, game testers do enjoy some gaming-related perks. “My favorite part of the job was the ability to see how new games were made, everything from the planning process to the early stage of development to the final finished product,” Lo-Borjiged says.

Besides getting to play games that haven’t yet been released, testers might also learn about a game’s cheat codes, Easter Eggs, and secret levels. But they generally can’t share this information with anyone else—most companies make them sign NDAs when they’re hired.

Some game testers also get to enjoy bigger perks. A huge Metal Gear fan, Lo-Borjiged had a Metal Gear shrine on his desk and got the thrill of a lifetime when Hideo Kojima, the game’s creator, visited his office one day. “I was able to meet one of gaming's biggest legends, and he saw my Metal Gear shrine. It was a great moment for me,” Lo-Borjiged says.

10. THERE WAS A REALITY SHOW DEDICATED TO THEM.

In 2010, the first season of The Tester debuted on PlayStation Network. The reality show depicted contestants competing with one another for a job as a QA game tester at Sony Entertainment. Each episode featured challenges and competitions that tested contestants’ communication skills, hand-eye coordination, and even willingness to get cockroaches dumped on their heads. The show ran for three seasons, and most contestants said it was a good opportunity to network and try to begin their gaming careers.

11. SOMETIMES THEY GET TO USE MORE UNUSUAL SKILLS.

Computer and gaming skills are vital, but some game testers get the opportunity to use less-obvious skills for their job. In 2003, Michael Larsen was hired as a game tester for Karaoke Revolution, in part due to his singing skills. “None of the testers were able to test the game at the Expert mode level. For this purpose, they needed to hire testers that could, well, really sing,” he writes on his blog. Larsen also lent his singing skills to the game when he recorded the guide vocal for “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers—players who choose to sing along to that song's guide vocal can hear his voice.

12. SOME OF THEM LOSE THEIR LOVE OF VIDEO GAMES.

Do the countless hours working on video games make game testers lose their love of gaming? Yes and no. An anonymous QA tester revealed in a Reddit AMA that game testers typically go through phases of playing games for fun and avoiding them. “Sometimes you are really excited about a game you are working on, a type of game you have never played before, so you go home and play a bunch of other similar games for research,” she writes.

During crunch times, though, most game testers have neither the time nor the desire to play games for fun, and they may get burned out on gaming. “A lot of us would still play video games in our spare time despite working on them,” Lo-Borjiged says. “I have, however, met a few people that did get burnt out and those people would leave game testing and never play another video game again.”

All photos via iStock.

11 Secrets of Restaurant Servers

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iStock.com/andresr

If you enjoy eating at restaurants, it's worth getting to know the waitstaff. Servers are the face of the establishments where they work, and often the last people to handle your food before it reaches your table.

"People think it’s an easy job, and it’s really not," Alexis, a server who’s worked in the business for 30 years, tells Mental Floss. She says, jokingly, "You want a professional handling your food, because we have your life in our hands."

Even if they don't spit on your plate (which thankfully they almost never will), a waiter can shape your dining experience. We spoke with some seasoned professionals about how they deal with rude customers, what they wish more customers would do, and other secrets of the job.

1. Server pay varies greatly.

The minimum wage changes from state to state, but for tipped workers like servers, the difference in pay can be even more drastic depending on where you work. In over a dozen states, if a worker typically makes a certain amount per month in tips (often $20-$30), their employers are only required to pay them a minimum of $2.13 an hour. That’s how much Jeff, a video producer who’s held various jobs in the restaurant industry, made when serving tables in New Jersey. “Usually, if I had a full paycheck of serving I could just put a little bit of gas into the tank,” he tells Mental Floss.

Waiters and waitresses in many states rely almost entirely on tips to make a living—but that’s not the case everywhere. California, Oregon, and Washington each pay tipped employees minimum hourly wages over $10. Jon, who currently works at a casual fine dining restaurant in Portland, Oregon, gets $12 an hour from his employer. Including tips, he typically earns $230 a day before taxes, and brings home about $34,000 a year on a 25-hour work week.

2. They split up tips among the restaurant staff.

Here’s another reason to be generous with your tips: Whatever extra money you leave on the table may be going to more than one person. If you ordered a drink from the bar, or if there was anyone other than your server bringing your food and clearing it from the table, that tip will likely be split up. At one restaurant job, Jeff says he paid food expeditors (workers who run food from the kitchen to tables) 10 percent of whatever tips he earned.

3. Waiters and waitresses know how to handle rude customers.

In addition to taking orders and serving food, servers are often forced to de-escalate conflicts. For many people waiting tables, this means acting sweet and professional no matter how angry customers get. Jon’s strategy is to “treat them like a child, smile, tell them everything they want to hear and remind yourself that it’ll be over soon.” Similarly, Mike (not his real name), a server at a farm-to-table restaurant in Texas, likes to “kill them with kindness." He tells Mental Floss he tries to “be the bigger man and [not] return sour attitudes back to people who don’t treat me with respect. If nothing else I can hold my head high knowing I did my job to the best of my ability and didn’t let their negativity affect my day with other, more pleasant patrons.”

Alexis, who currently waits tables at a family-owned restaurant in California, goes beyond faking a smile and makes a point to practice empathy when serving rude guests. “There’s a hospital near my restaurant, and people come there for comfort food with hospital visitor stickers on their clothes all the time. And I know then that they’re going through something traumatic usually. So when people are acting badly, I put imaginary hospital stickers on their clothes and try to remove my ego.”

4. Your waiter (probably) won’t spit in your food.

While most servers have had to deal with a customer who treats them poorly, they rarely retaliate. On the old urban legend of servers spitting in their customer’s food, Alexis says, “Never seen anybody mess with anybody’s food out of spite or malicious intent. I’ve never seen it happen and I’ve never actually done it. I don’t need to get back at people like that.”

5. Servers do more than wait tables.

Most customers just see one aspect of a server's jobs. When they’re not refilling your drinks and bringing you condiments, they're doing side work—either before the restaurant opens, after the last guest leaves, or in between waiting tables. “It could be rolling silverware, filling sauces, cutting lemons, rotating salad bars, stuff like that,” Jeff says. “It’s not just serving and you leave; there’s usually something else behind the scenes that the server has to do.”

Alexis says that in addition to hosting and serving, she has to prep to-go orders, bus tables, and wash dishes. "We’re expected to be working every moment,” she says.

6. Waiters have some wild stories.

Though parts of the job are tedious, servers are bound to see interesting things. Alexis recalls a husband and wife who were regulars at the restaurant where she worked in the 1990s; the man was later arrested for murder. “I found out when a newspaper reporter started asking me questions about them,” she says. “I’m quoted on the front page of the LA Times as saying ‘A waitress in a local coffee shop said they were a nightmare!’”

Other stories are lighter. “When I worked at Red Robin there was a lady that came in every morning and would ask to sit in the same booth," Jon says. "She carried a bag [of] stuffed animals (mostly dragons) and situated them around the booth, always in the same spots, she’d talk to them throughout her dining experience.”

7. Waiters hate it when you don't know what you want.

The simplest way to get on your server’s good side is to know exactly what you want when you tell them you're ready to order. That means not wasting their time stalling as you speed-read the menu. If you haven't decided on a dish, let your server know and trust that they'll return to your table in a few minutes. “Don’t tell your server you’re ready to order if you’re not ready to order,” Alexis says. “I’m like ‘Come on, I know you’re not ready. I’m going someplace else and I’ll be back.’”

It also means not asking your server to make several trips to your table in the span of a few minutes. Mike says that customers asking for items one at a time is one of his biggest pet peeves. “[Customers will say] ‘I need salt. I need hot sauce. I need another [...] drink.’ I was away from the table for 30 seconds each time. Those requests could easily be fulfilled in one trip to the kitchen.”

8. Waiters hate when you ask to move tables.

Next time you get seated in a restaurant, think twice before asking your server to switch tables. Restaurants divide their floor plan into sections, and each server is responsible for a different group of tables. The hosts in charge of seating rotate these sections to distribute guests evenly to servers; by asking to move, you may be depriving one server of an hour’s worth of tips while creating extra work for a server who’s already swamped. According Jon, the worst time to complain about where you were seated is when a restaurant is busy: “Sometimes this isn’t a problem if we’re slow, but if it’s a Friday/Saturday chances are you were put there for a reason.”

9. Servers work when everyone else gets the day off.

Servers have to be prepared to work a different schedule every week, work late into the night, and work on weekends. This can make maintaining a normal social life challenging. “My schedule can be troublesome, my girlfriend/friends have the opposite schedule as me so I’m never able to make it out on weekends or holidays,” Jon says.

And on the days many 9-to-5 workers go out to celebrate, servers have to wait on them. “Where I currently work I have worked Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve, New Years Day, and I will have to work on Mardi Gras (in the South),” Mike says. “I was leaving for work as my family arrived at my house for Christmas. I missed a New Years party in my house. If I hadn’t requested if off as soon as I began working there I’m almost certain I’d have to work 15 [hours] on my birthday.”

10. Your server might give you a free drink if you order it at the right time.

Asking your server for a free stuff likely won’t get you anywhere, but there is one thing you can do to possibly have a drink taken off your bill. If you wait until after your meal is served to order something cheap like a soft drink, Alexis says there’s a chance you won’t get charged for it all. “Not alcoholic drinks, but I’m talking about a cup of coffee or a soda or something like that, especially if you’re already paying for other beverages,” she says. “The server might get too busy or might not be inclined to go back to the POS [point of sale] system and add them on to your bill. It’s more trouble than it’s worth sometimes.”

11. Waiters want you to learn their names.

There’s a reason most servers introduce themselves before taking your order: They’d much rather you use their real names than a demeaning nickname. “Don’t call me sweetheart! I’m wearing a damn name tag,” Alexis says. “Sometimes I respond well, and other times no.”

And if your server doesn’t introduce themselves and isn’t wearing a name tag, Jon says it doesn’t hurt to ask. “Ask what the servers name is and refer them by name when you’re talking to them.” He says it’s “refreshing when a guest does this.”

11 Secrets of Perfumers

Orlando/Three Lions/Getty Images
Orlando/Three Lions/Getty Images

Perfumers are a rare breed. These half-artist, half-scientist hybrids undergo rigorous training, memorize the smells of hundreds of ingredients, and spend decades honing their craft—which might explain why there are reportedly more astronauts than perfumers in the world, according to the BBC.

For many, the job isn't merely about peddling bottles of sweet-smelling stuff to consumers; the goal is to convey an emotion, create a beautiful moment, or jog a childhood memory. To find out what it takes to create top-notch fragrances, Mental Floss spoke with three perfumers who broke into the industry through very different paths.

1. Perfumers can identify hundreds of ingredients by smell alone.

A large perfume organ with hundreds of fragrance bottles
Mandy Aftel's perfume organ
By Joel Bernstein // Courtesy of Mandy Aftel

Master perfumers are sometimes called a nez—the French word for "nose"—for good reason. They commit hundreds of scents to memory and can distinguish between ingredients that would smell identical to the untrained nose. Many perfumers can also tell an essential oil from a synthetic material, which is no small feat. “You’re talking maybe 200 essential oils and about 1500 synthetic materials,” Jodi Wilson, a classically trained perfumer who now works as a fragrance sales manager for Orchidia Fragrances in Chicago, says of the ingredients perfumers typically employ.

The trick, she says, is to associate each smell with a distinct memory. “The more experiences you have in your life, the more memories you create, and that’s really how you remember these raw materials when you first start studying, because it reminds you of your grandmother or a flower shop or a bakery or a certain gum,” Wilson tells Mental Floss. (The link between smell and memory has actually been proven by science—one 2018 study by neurobiologists at the University of Toronto revealed that the brain not only stores information about certain scents, but also memories of when and where you first encountered them.)

2. Having a good sense of smell isn't enough to make a good perfumer.

Many perfumers have a heightened sense of smell. Jersey City-based perfumer Christopher Brosius, who founded the rebellious fragrance brand CB I Hate Perfume (a reference to his distaste for most commercial fragrances) is one of them. He realized just how strong his nose was while working briefly as a New York City cab driver—he had to roll the window down every time an “offensive” perfume wafted in his direction and made his stomach churn.

However, many aspiring perfumers mistakenly believe that a “good nose” will get them far. “That’s like saying that if you have 20/20 vision you’re the next Picasso,” Brosius tells Mental Floss. “A keen nose is very useful, but at the end of the day I have met perfumers who were extremely talented who didn’t smell anything more sharply than anybody else. They just had the capacity to think in a different way about what they were doing with scent and combining it in unique and interesting ways.” More important than a good sense of smell is creativity, a natural talent for recognizing scents that work well together, and the “dedication to building a very particular base of knowledge and skill,” Brosius says.

3. France's Givaudan Perfumery School is the goal for many would-be top perfumers.

Jodi Wilson picks roses
Jodi Wilson picks roses for distillation while studying at the Roure Perfumery School (now called the Givaudan Perfumery School) in Grasse, France, during the 1991-92 academic year.
Courtesy of Jodi Wilson

Like many professional perfumers, Wilson was educated at what's now the Givaudan Perfumery School in France. Founded in 1946, it only accepts one or two promising students each year out of thousands of applicants—and sometimes none at all, if that year’s crop of candidates don’t live up to the school’s high standards. Former director Jean Guichard has said he hand-selected students based on their personality, talent, and motivations. “The perfumer should be a mixture between a scientist and a poet,” Guichard told the BBC. “When I meet people, I know if they have talent or not. I don’t want to have people who say, ‘I’m going to be a perfumer because they make a lot of money.’ That doesn’t interest me at all.” (And speaking of pay, Wilson says the starting salary for entry-level perfumers is about $45,000, but perfumers in New York City tend to start off a bit higher. It's not unheard of for the world's top perfumers to make six figures.)

The now-four-year Givaudan program is rigorous. First, students have to memorize about 1500 raw materials, Wilson says. Next, they learn how to build accords, which are the fragrance notes (like rose or jasmine) that form the heart of a perfume. They move on to perfume schemas (the “skeleton” of a fine fragrance, which contains 10 to 12 materials) and also learn about the culture and history of perfume. “It takes a long time to learn all of that, and that’s what you’re doing all day from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. It’s intense,” Wilson says. If and when they graduate, they’ll have a job waiting for them at the Givaudan fragrance company, which is where they’ll learn how to make perfumes under the guidance of a seasoned professional.

4. perfume school isn’t the only way to break into the industry.

Mandy Aftel holding perfume blotters
Perfumer Mandy Aftel at work
By Foster Curry // Courtesy of Mandy Aftel

Brosius says “99.9 percent” of aspiring perfumers would benefit from attending a perfume school. However, he personally did things a little differently and learned the fundamentals of perfume-making by landing a job at Kiehl’s and completing the company’s in-house training program.

It’s even less common for a perfumer to be self-taught, but it’s not impossible. The latter camp includes Mandy Aftel, a perfumer in Berkeley, California, who dropped a fulfilling career in psychotherapy to pursue a budding passion for perfume-making. For information about natural materials, she turned to fragrance books from the early 1900s, before synthetic materials started to saturate the market. Now, her Aftelier Perfumes business uses hundreds of natural ingredients—no synthetics—to create unique fragrances, and she has a loyal clientele. Regardless of the career paths they took, all of the perfumers agreed that this career is “a continuous learning process,” as Aftel tells Mental Floss. Both Brosius and Wilson said it takes 20 to 25 years to truly master the art of perfume-making, and Aftel still calls herself a “beginner” after 30 years of working in this field.

5. Not all perfumers work with fine fragrances.

Fragrance is used in many different ways, some of which we encounter on a daily basis without realizing it. Some perfumers specialize in creating scents for “industrial application,” which could include anything from children’s toys to paint to fabric, Brosius says. In the case of toilet-bowl cleaners, cat litter, and asphalt, the goal is not necessarily to create a pleasant aroma; instead, the challenge is to mask an unpleasant one. However, many of the perfumers working on the industrial side have scientific backgrounds and tend to work for a chemical company rather than a perfume label, Wilson says.

6. Some of the materials perfumers work with are hazardous.

Some undiluted ingredients—such as cinnamon—can cause severe chemical burns if they get on one's skin. Brosius wears gloves and goggles while blending materials and says some ingredients in his studio come with a "do not open without authorization" label attached. He says, “We have a protocol here that if anything new comes in, it’s opened in specific parts of the building or even sometimes outside on the terrace so that we don’t have an accident where it’s like, ‘Oops I just spilled one single drop of aldehyde [an organic compound] and now the entire building is uninhabitable, although next week it will smell like ginger ale!”

7. They want you to know your aromatherapy lotion might not be made of rose, jasmine, or whatever the bottle claims it contains.

Labels can be deceptive. If you’re buying an “aromatherapy” lotion or shower gel that claims to have rose, sandalwood, or jasmine in it but costs $15, that’s a red flag. According to Wilson, these ingredients can cost many thousands of dollars per pound. Wilson says it’s far more likely that cheaper products contain just a drop or two of the natural oils advertised—for the sake of being able to list them on the label—plus a host of synthetic ingredients that mimic the smell.

8. They're not always working on fragrances they like.

Marketing is a huge part of the cost of the perfume, especially on the higher end; the perfume industry spent around $800 million on marketing in 2016, according to Bloomberg. “Ninety percent of the time, the cost of the juice in that bottle is fractional,” Brosius says.

Marketing demands are also one reason why perfumers don't always get to follow their nose—and their creativity. “Most perfumers who work at large houses are not so happy with their job all the time,” Brosius says. “For every fine fragrance they get to work on, they’re compelled to work on a ton of crap fragrances as well. Much of it is entirely dependent on the whim of the marketing company.”

Companies are also more risk-averse, Wilson says—and the perfumes themselves now aren’t always built to last. “It used to be that a ‘classic’ was considered to last for 20 years—so your Chanel 5 and things of that nature,” Wilson says. “Now, it’s very rare to have a perfume that stays around for even 10 years.”

9. The smell of puppies is impossible to replicate—but perfumers are trying.

A bottle of Soaked Earth accord from CB I Hate Perfume
Kevin O'Mara, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Brosius has taken on some ambitious projects over the years, including fragrances imitating the smells of snow and wet earth, but some scents are harder to capture than others. That’s because the aroma chemicals needed to replicate certain smells haven't been created yet. This can be said of gasoline, champagne and certain wines, and some animal smells. “Particularly with puppies and kittens, the molecules needed to accurately reproduce those smells don’t exist in the perfumer’s palette. You can’t solvent extract puppies and kittens for their smell," Brosius says, describing a method that involves applying a chemical solvent to a raw material—such as a flower—to extract its aroma.

However, he’s had success creating "a context that’s so strong that people are convinced that they’re smelling something that isn’t there," he says. For instance, his roast beef fragrance doesn’t contain roast beef or anything like it, but it does contain notes of parsley and black pepper. That scent in particular, and a few others like it, aren't meant to be worn on the body. Brosius says some of his fragrances are more like modern-day "smelling salts," where the goal is to revive you, in a sense, by relieving stress. "All you have to do is open the bottle, breathe in, and your system will automatically reset to calm," he says.

10. Perfumers sometimes work with whale poop.

A small bowl with ambergris in it
Peter Kaminski, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Perfume-makers work with some unusual ingredients, and ambergris is certainly at the top of the list. This rock-like material comes from the excrement of sperm whales and occasionally washes up on shore. Aftel is fortunate enough to have some on display at the olfactory history museum she operates, called the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents. To convert the solid mass of crushed up squid and cuttlefish bits into an aromatic oil, she had to mash it up with a mortar and pestle, then add alcohol, heat it, and let it age. So what does it smell like in liquid form? “Heaven,” Aftel says. “It’s just ambery and shimmery. It’s a miracle of transformation.” Besides, Herman Melville mentioned it in Moby Dick and it used to be a 17th-century ice cream flavor, so you know it has to be good.

11. They keep wool nearby to combat nose fatigue.

Wool is the olfactory equivalent of eating sorbet in between courses. If you’re smelling the same scent for a prolonged period of time, or sniffing too many perfumes in a row, your odor receptors will habituate and stop sending those signals to your brain. This is officially called olfactory fatigue, and it explains why you might stop noticing a smell after a couple of minutes.

“If you smell a lot of scented materials, a lot of times your nose will just kind of conk out,” Aftel says. She keeps some wool nearby to help reset her sense of smell, and three big whiffs does the trick. So why does this work? Aftel says one theory is that the lanolin in wool absorbs and neutralizes odors, giving the brain a rest from sensory overload. As for those coffee beans you might see in some perfume shops? Those "definitely don't work," Aftel says.

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