23 Brilliant Winter Tricks for Warming Your Home

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Your house should be a refuge from frigid weather, not an extension of it. Luckily, raising the temperature in your home a little can be as easy as getting a new rug and some drapes.

1. USE A SCREEN

A red, wooden folding screen with intricate cut outs.
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When people used to gather around their fireplaces at night for warmth and entertainment, they used large, decorative screens to keep as much warmth in the room as possible. The old trick will still work today—and will add some interesting decor to the room as well.

2. GET A SMART THERMOSTAT

A circular thermostat that's silver on the outside with an electronic screen that shows the number 76 on an orange background.
George Frey, Getty Images

While we're talking thermostats, if you have an old model, consider replacing it with a smart thermostat that learns and adjusts itself accordingly. It knows when you've been sleeping (or when you're out of the house), so it automatically turns the temp down. Smart thermostats also know when you're awake, and give you those extra degrees to make sure you stay toasty with zero effort on your part. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lowering the temps when you're not home can save you as much as 10 percent a year on your heating bill.

3. LET THE SUN IN

A woman in a white sweater with her back turned to us is opening heavy curtains, letting the sunlight stream in.
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Pay attention to the way the sun hits certain rooms in your house. Take advantage of its natural warmth by keeping curtains and blinds open during the day to let some rays in.

4. TRIM YOUR TREES

Green ivy almost completely grown over a white-paned window.
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The sun is a great resource for warming your house, sure—but it won't do much good if your windows are blocked by branches and shrubs. Before the cold weather hits, make sure to trim up plants and trees that may be preventing light from getting in.

5. PUT A BALLOON IN YOUR CHIMNEY

Logs burning in a fireplace with large flames licking off of them.
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Not just any old balloon—a chimney balloon designed to block drafts when your flue or damper is broken or missing. You can't light a fire with it in, of course, but if you're not using your fireplace anyway, it's a good way to keep the cold air out.

6. SHRINK WRAP YOUR WINDOWS

Fingers pulling on a sheet of clear plastic wrap.
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According to EnergyStar, adding a layer of clear plastic over your windows really does help better insulate your home during the colder months. The plastic is inexpensive and easy to install, so it's a good DIY project for even the most amateur home improvement enthusiast.

7. MAKE SURE YOUR CEILING FAN IS SPINNING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Looking up at an older wooden ceiling fan with frosted glass sconces.
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Your ceiling fan isn't just for cooling. During the colder months, switch the blades to a forward or clockwise rotation to pull the air up, then push the warm air down the sides of the room.

8. UNBLOCK YOUR HEAT REGISTERS

A white HVAC register set into a tan wall with neutral-colored carpet in the foreground.
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If your couch or your bed is sitting on top of your heat register, the underside of your furniture is probably feeling the heat—but you aren't. Make sure you're not blocking any of that precious heat, rearranging your room layout if necessary (sorry, feng shui). While you're at it, clean those suckers out, too—a blocked register can cause problems with your HVAC system.

9. OPT FOR ENERGY STAR APPLIANCES

A white furnace that is unattached to anything, on a white background.
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If your heating and cooling system is older, replace it with a more energy efficient option. It will cost you upfront, but your overall savings (more than $100 per year) and overall comfort will be worth it.

10. CHANGE YOUR FURNACE FILTER

A hand putting a new furnace filter into a furnace.
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Your filter should be changed every three months at a minimum, but once a month is a better idea during peak times of the year. If your filter is dirty, your system works harder to keep you warm—or may not keep you warm at all.

11. QUIT USING YOUR ATTIC FOR STORAGE

An attic being framed and insulated, with tools splayed out across the floor.
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If your attic floors are just wood (and thus a great place to stack boxes and holiday decorations), you're losing a lot of heat. Pulling up the wood and covering the floor in another layer of material, like blanket insulation, can take as much as 50 percent off your heating bill.

12. OPEN THE BATHROOM DOOR WHEN YOU SHOWER

A clear shower door open to show the tiled wall inside. A white bathtub is off to the left.
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Though it's tempting to keep all of the warmth in the bathroom for when you get out, letting the steam out will help raise the humidity and the temperature in the rest of your dwelling.

13. ONE WORD: RUGS

A white sheepskin rug on a rustic wooden floor.
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The same theory about bare wood floors in the attic applies to the rest of your place. We don't suggest you lay insulation down in the living room, but adding a few rugs will help absorb the cold coming through the floor. Put a pad under the rug for added oomph.

14. ADJUST DOOR THRESHOLDS

A welcome mat with a gold door threshold behind it.
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If you can see light under the bottom of your front door, cold air is definitely getting through. Many times, you can raise the height of your threshold by turning the screws. Otherwise, invest in a new threshold—or at the very least, get a draft stopper.

15. SEAL DUCTWORK

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Making sure your ducts are properly sealed and insulated can make your heating system 20 percent more efficient. Properly sealed ducts will also help keep your house cooler in the warmer months, so you'll still be appreciating your efforts come July.

16. DO A HOME ENERGY AUDIT

A person holding a pencil over a piece of paper with a book open in the background.
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You can have the most efficient furnace in the world, but it won't be able to keep up if your home is full of air leaks. The Department of Energy has a list of places and items you should check for leaks, including some easy fixes. You can also hire a professional to conduct the audit.

17. GO GREEN

Closeup of an indoor houseplant.
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Get ready to work that green thumb! Adding a few key plants to the house will create more humidity, making your house feel warmer. English Ivy, rubber plants, and spider plants are all good choices for this purpose. Bonus: Keeping plants in your home will also help improve the air quality.

18. ADD DRAPES

Heavy turquoise drapes adorn the windows in a modern-looking living room with a low white couch and sunburst mirror.
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Like a good rug, a thick pair of drapes will help block some of the cold air coming in from windows. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy says curtains can reduce your heat loss by up to 25 percent. Choose wisely; sheer or lacy options might look pretty, but they won't be very effective. Just make sure your new drapes don't block any HVAC vents!

19. CLOSE DOORS TO RARELY-USED ROOMS

Heavy wooden doors locked in the middle with a padlock.
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Why waste energy on rooms you don't use? Keep the heat concentrated in the areas you do use by closing the door to that guest room that never gets used or the bathroom down in the basement you haven't set foot in for weeks.

20. THWART AIR LEAKS AROUND OUTLETS

A white outlet with a cord plugged into it on a lime green wall.
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The electrical boxes behind outlets are known for being drafty because they're rarely sealed well. Popular Mechanics recommends removing the cover, then filling the gaps around the boxes with acrylic latex caulk (larger gaps may require foam sealant). Top all of that with a foam gasket, then replace the cover plate.

21. LIGHT SOME CANDLES

A candle in a white candle holder sitting on top of a rustic wood table. A knit blanket and an open book lie nearby.
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It sounds a little facetious, but candles put off a decent amount of heat in a smaller space. Get even more heat by making this mini space heater out of terracotta pots.

22. PLUG ANY HOLES THAT GO OUTSIDE

A hand is holding electrical work that has been pulled through a cement wall.
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Think dryer vents, electrical work, oven vents—any hole that leads to the exterior of your house should be sealed well with caulking. If they're not, you're probably losing heat.

23. SNUGGLE YOUR PETS

Three dog noses stick out from a gap in a colorful knit blanket.
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OK, this one won't keep your house any hotter, but it will warm your lap and your heart. Win-win.

8 Tips for Interviewing a Serial Killer, According to Famed FBI Profiler John Douglas

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iStock/Kritchanut

Over the course of his career, former FBI agent and behavioral analyst John E. Douglas has interviewed criminals ranging from repeated hijacker Garrett Trapnell and cult leader Charles Manson to serial killers Edmund Kemper (a.k.a. the Co-Ed Killer) and Dennis Rader (a.k.a. B.T.K.). In his new book, The Killer Across the Table, Douglas takes readers into the room as he interviews four very different offenders.

In these conversations, “I'm trying to gain [their] trust [to get] information that I'll be able to apply to current cases,” Douglas tells Mental Floss. Here, he outlines how he prepares for an interview with a killer to figure out what makes them tick.

1. Never go into an interview cold.

“Preparation is the number one factor for a successful interview” of this kind, Douglas says. “Before I go in to do an interview, [I] go back into the files and fully look at the case that got him or her incarcerated to begin with. Which means looking at the police reports, the preliminary protocol that the medical examiner did regarding the autopsy, autopsy photographs, and then looking in the corrections reports as well. You want to be totally armed with the case when you go in.”

2. Memorize everything—don’t use notes or a tape recorder.

Early on in his interviews with killers, Douglas used a tape recorder, which he now says was a mistake. “You're dealing with very paranoid individuals. They don't trust you, they don't trust the [corrections] system,” he says. “If my head is down, [they’ll ask], ‘What, are you taping this? Why are you writing these notes down?’” Memorizing the case is key—when he goes in, he won’t have notes or a tape recorder: “It's going to be key [for] me to maintain some eye contact with them.”

3. Make sure the environment is right.

The key in these interviews, Douglas says, is to make the environment feel open so that the killer feels comfortable and like he’s in control. “When you go into a prison, sometimes you're forced to deal with what you've got,” he says. “But if I have time, I try to [make arrangements] depending on the personality.”

Douglas prefers to conduct his interviews at night, relying only on low table lights to create a soothing, stress-free atmosphere. Douglas will even think about seating arrangements. “If I'm dealing with a real paranoid type of individual, I need to put this person near a window—if there's a window—so that he can look out the window and psychologically escape, or I may have him face a door,” he says. Both Charles Manson and Richard Speck chose to sit on the backs of their chairs so they could look down on him. Douglas’s attitude is: “You hate me. I know you hate me, but go ahead and do it. I'm just trying to get a little bit of information now.”

4. Don’t rely on what a killer tells you.

Douglas never takes a killer’s word for anything, which is why memorizing the case is so important. Typically, he knows the answers to the questions he’s asking, and it allows him to call out the offender if he or she lies. “If you don't look deeply into the material, you don't know who in the heck you're talking to,” Douglas says. “You're talking to somebody who's pulling the wool over your eyes … If [an interviewer relies] on self-reporting, they're going to be filled with a lot of lies coming from the person they're interviewing.”

5. Know that this is not an interrogation.

Once he knows who’s committed a crime, Douglas says, his main goal is to find out what motivated them. The best way to get that out of them is to ask his questions “in a very relaxed kind of a format, making the subject—even if it's a guy like Manson or some of the worst killers you'd ever want to meet—feel real comfortable and feel at the same time that they are controlling me during the interview.”

What Douglas ultimately tries to do is have a conversation with the offender. “That means if they're asking me a lot of questions about myself, about maybe my family, my job, and I'm pretty honest with them,” he says. “They will trust me and open up to me as long as they know that I know the case, backwards and forwards. If they start fudging on the case trying to send me down the wrong path, I will confront them, but not in mean [way]. I'll laugh and say, ‘Look, come on. I know what you did. What are you doing here?’ That’s how you gain their trust.”

6. Be mindful of your body language—and the actual language you’re using.

When he’s in an interview, Douglas isn’t sitting there with his arms crossed, looking uncomfortable. “The body language should be just relaxed, not a defensive kind of posture,” he says. “[It should be] very comfortable—like on a date kind of thing.”

Douglas also avoids words like killing, murder, and rape, and, as awful as it might sound, avoids placing the blame on the killer. “I'm trying to get him to talk so we're going to project the blame," Douglas says. "[Some killers] use this projection, never accepting responsibility, not admitting that it was free will, that they had the ability to make choices and they made the wrong choices in their lives, even though they may have come from a very, very bad background.”

This kind of approach is what helped Douglas gain insights from Ed Kemper. When Douglas asked how Kemper—who was 6 feet, 9 inches tall and 300 pounds—would get young women in his car, Kemper revealed that he would pull up next to them and look at his watch, which would give them the impression that he had somewhere to be. “I’ll go with this guy. He’s got an appointment, nothing’s going to happen to me,” Douglas says. “Just a little thing like that was real helpful to me.”

7. Play it cool, no matter what happens.

Being confrontational is no way to get a killer to open up. “In an interview, whether it's a serial killer or any type of violent offender, I'll never challenge them or be negative toward them,” Douglas says. “I'll never do anything like that. If I feel that they're not being truthful, I'll bring it to their attention. But I’m on a fact-finding mission. There are several shows on television right now where celebrity types are going into prisons doing interviews. They get in the guy's face and they call him a liar. [So] the guy, what does he want to do? ‘I want to go back to my cell. Screw you. I'm out of here.’ And you can't hold him there—he's got to go back. So, you never do anything like that.”

8. Don’t be afraid to feign empathy.

Sometimes getting what you need out of an offender means fudging the truth. Sometimes Douglas will tell the killer that he’s earning points with the warden by doing the interview. “There's still always this glimmer of hope that they'll get out of prison one day, even if they're in there for multiple murders,” he says. “The warden doesn't give a damn about him, but I'm just telling them this to try to get him to speak up.”

Sometimes Douglas will play to his subject's pride and narcissism. “They want to be the big daddy,” he says. "'But I'm the main guy, right? You're doing this research and you guys got the real McCoy here. I'm the best and the worst of the worst.'" And sometimes, he feigns empathy—all with the goal of finding out information that will help prevent and solve other crimes.

"Let the person feel they are in control of the interview,” Douglas says. "Be open with yourself. Give them information about yourself to this person and it should go well."

14 Secrets of McDonald's Employees

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

While there’s virtually no end to the number of fast food options for people seeking a quick meal, none have entered the public consciousness quite like McDonald’s. Originally a barbecue shop with a limited menu when it was founded by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald in the 1940s, the Golden Arches have grown into a franchised behemoth with more than 36,000 locations worldwide.

Staffing those busy kitchens and registers are nearly 2 million McDonald's employees. To get a better idea of what many consider to be the most popular entry-level job in the nation—staff members on the floor make an average of $9 an hour—we asked several workers to share details of their experiences with errant ice cream machines, drive-through protocols, and special requests. Here’s what they had to say about life behind the counter.

1. McDonald's employees can't always deliver fast food all that fast.

While McDonald’s and other fast-service restaurants pride themselves on getting customers on their way, some menu items just don’t lend themselves to record service times. According to Bob, an assistant store manager at a McDonald’s in the Midwest, pies take an average of 10 to 12 minutes to prepare; grilled chicken, 10 minutes; and biscuits for Egg McMuffins, eight to 10 minutes. In the mood for something light, like a grilled chicken and salad? That will take a few minutes, too. Bob says salads are pre-made with lettuce but still need to have chicken and other ingredients added.

The labor-intensive nature of assembling ingredients is part of why the chain has more recently shied away from menu items with too many ingredients. “We are trained to go as fast down the line as we can, and if we have to stop to make something that has 10 ingredients, it tends to slow things down,” Bob tells Mental Floss. “Corporate has realized this and has taken many of these items off in recent years, [like] McWraps, Clubhouse, more recently the Smokehouse and mushroom and Swiss and moved to items that can go a lot quicker.”

2. McDonald's workers wish you’d stop asking for fries without salt.

A serving of McDonald's French fries is pictured
Joerg Koch, AFP/Getty Images

A common “trick” for customers seeking fresh fries is to ask for them without salt. The idea is that fries that have been under a heating lamp will already be salted and that the employee in the kitchen will need to put down a new batch in the fryer. This does work, but customers can also just ask for fresh fries. It’s less of a hassle and may even save employees some discomfort.

“People can ask for fresh fries and it's actually way easier to do fresh fries rather than no-salt fries,” Andy, an employee who’s worked at three different McDonald’s locations in the Midwest, tells Mental Floss. “For those, we have to pour the fries onto a tray from the fryer so they don't come in contact with salt. It can get awkward sometimes getting everything into position, especially if you have a lot of people working in close proximity and it's busy, so I've had some scalded hands a couple of times trying to get fries out in a timely way.”

3. McDonald's workers have to pay careful attention to the order of ingredients.

McDonald’s is pretty specific about how their burgers and other items are supposed to be assembled, with layers—meat, cheese, sauce—arranged in a specific order. If they mess it up, customers can notice. “In some cases it has a big impact,” Sam, a department manager and nine-year veteran of the restaurant in Canada, tells Mental Floss. “Like placing the cheese between the patties with a McDouble. If they don’t put the cheese between the patties, the cheese won’t melt.”

4. There’s a reason McDonald’s employees ask you to park at the drive-through.

A McDonald's customer pulls up to the drive-thru window
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

After ordering at the drive-through window, you may be slightly puzzled when a cashier asks you to pull into one of the designated parking spots. That’s because employees are measured on how quickly they process cars at the drive-through. If your order is taking a long time to prepare, they’ll take you out of the queue to keep the line moving. “My store has sensors in the drive-through that actually tell us exactly how long you are at each spot in the drive-through,” Bob says. “We get measured based on something we call OEPE. Order end, present end. [That measures] from the second that your tires move from the speaker until your back tires pass over the sensor on the present window. My store is expected to be under two minutes.” If an order will take longer than that, you'll be asked to park.

5. The McDonald's drive-through employees can hear everything going on in your car.

While the quality of the speakers at a drive-through window can vary, it’s best to assume employees inside the restaurant can hear everything happening in your car even before you place an order. “The speaker is activated by the metal in the car, so as soon as you drive up, the speaker turns on in our headset,” Andy says. “We can hear everything, and I do mean everything. Loud music, yelling at your kids to shut up, etc.”

6. The employees at McDonald’s like their regulars.

Customers eat inside of a McDonald's with an order of French fries in the foreground
Chris Hondros, Getty Images

With hot coffee, plenty of tables, Wi-Fi, and newspapers, McDonald’s can wind up being a popular hang-out for repeat customers. “[We have] a ton of regulars who come into my store,” Bob says. “I'd say at least 75 percent of my daily customers know us all by name and we know them all, too. It makes it nice and makes the service feel a lot more personal when a customer can walk into my location, and we can look them in the eye and say, ‘Hey Mark! Getting the usual today?’ and we've already started making his coffee exactly how he takes it.”

7. McDonald’s staff get prank calls.

Unless they’re trying to cater an event, customers usually don’t have any reason to phone a McDonald’s. When the phone rings, employees brace themselves. In addition to sometimes being asked a legitimate question like when the store closes, Sam says his store gets a lot of prank calls. “Sometimes it’s people asking about directions to Wendy’s,” he says. “A lot of inappropriate ones. Most are pretty lame.”

8. For a McDonald’s worker, the ice cream machine is like automated stress.

A McDonald's customer is handed an ice cream cone at the drive-thru window
iStock/jax10289

The internet is full of stories of frustrated McDonald’s customers who believe the chain’s ice cream machines are always inoperable. That’s not entirely true, but the machine does experience a lot of downtime. According to Bob, that’s because it’s always in need of maintenance. “The thing is, it is a very sensitive machine,” he says. “It's not made to be making 50 cones in a row, or 10 shakes at a time. It takes time for the mix to freeze to a proper consistency. It also requires a daily heat mode, [where] the whole machine heats up to about 130 degrees or so. The heat mode typically takes about four hours to complete, so you try to schedule it during the slowest time.” Stores also need to take the machine entirely apart every one to two weeks to clean it thoroughly.

Bob adds that the machine’s O-rings can crack or tear, rendering the unit inoperable. Seasoned workers can tell if a unit is faulty by the consistency of the shakes or ice cream coming out, and sometimes by the noises it makes.

9. McDonald's employees don't mind if you order a grilled cheese.

Contrary to rumor, there’s no “secret menu” at McDonald’s. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes snag something not listed on the board. Andy says a lot of people order a grilled cheese sandwich. “I've made many a grilled cheese before,” he says. But it’s not without consequences. “Sometimes it can get a bit risky doing it because the bun toaster wasn't designed to make grilled cheeses so sometimes you get some burnt buns or cheese or the cheese sticks inside and it slows down the other buns from getting out on time so that causes more burnt buns.”

Another common request is for customers to ask for a McDouble dressed as a Big Mac, with added Big Mac sauce and shredded lettuce. “I think [it’s] a way more practical way to eat a Big Mac since there's less bun in the way, and it's also way cheaper even if you do get charged for Mac sauce.”

10. McDonald’s workers recommend always checking your order.

A McDonald's employee serves an order
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Nothing stings worse than the revelation that an employee has forgotten part of your food order. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because the employees are being lazy or inattentive. According to Bob, it’s simply due to the volume of customers a typical location has to process in a given day. “We are human,” he says. “Mistakes do happen. We always feel terrible when they do but when we serve 1000-plus people a day, it's bound to happen.”

Bob recommends checking your bag before leaving the restaurant and not taking it personally if there’s an issue. “Be nice to us if you have a problem,” he says. “It's a huge difference between coming to us and saying, ‘Hey, I seem to be missing a fry from my bag,’ and ‘You bastards didn't give me my fries!’” If you want to check your bag at the drive-through, though, he recommends trying to pull ahead so cars behind you can move forward.

11. McDonald's employees don't recommend the grilled chicken.

If a menu item isn’t all that popular, it can wind up experiencing a low rate of turnover. Of all the food at McDonald’s, the most neglected might be the grilled chicken. Because it doesn't move quickly, workers find that it can turn unappetizing in a hurry. “That stuff has a supposed shelf life of 60 minutes in the heated cabinet, but it dries out so quickly that even if it's within an acceptable time frame, it looks like burnt rubber, and probably tastes like it, too,” Andy says.

12. Golden Arches employees aren’t crazy about Happy Meal collectors.

A McDonald's Happy Meal is pictured
David Morris, Getty Images

Happy Meals are boxed combos that come with a toy inside. Usually, it’s tied into some kind of movie promotion. That means both Happy Meal collectors and fans of a given entertainment property can swarm stores looking for the product. “The biggest pain involving the Happy Meals is the people who collect them,” Bob says. “I personally hate trying to dig through the toys looking for one specific one. We usually only have one to three toys on hand. It's especially a pain in the butt during big toys events such as the Avengers one we just had. There was like 26 different toys, and some customers get really mad when you don't have the one that they want.”

And no, employees don’t usually take home leftover toys. They’ve saved for future use as a substitute in case a location runs out of toys for their current promotion.

13. McDonald's employees can’t mess with Monopoly.

The McDonald’s Monopoly promotion has been a perennial success for the chain, with game pieces affixed to drink cups and fry containers. But if you think employees spend their spare time peeling the pieces off cups looking for prizes, think again. Following a widely-publicized scandal in 2000 that saw an employee of the company that printed the pieces intercepting them for his own gain, the chain has pretty strict rules about the promotion. “Monopoly pieces and things like them get sent back to corporate,” Bob says. “We aren't allowed to touch them, open them, or redeem them as employees.”

14. One McDonald's worker admits there have been sign mishaps.

A McDonald's sign is pictured
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

Many McDonald’s locations sport signs under the arches advertising specials or promotions. Some are analog, with letters that need to be mounted and replaced. Others have LED screens. Either way, there can be mistakes. “I've never seen anyone mess around with the letters,” Andy says. “But I do remember one time we were serving the Angus Burgers and the ‘G’ fell off of the word ‘Angus.’ Good times.”

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