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How Far Does Mario Have to Run (and Swim) in Super Mario Bros.?

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In Super Mario Bros., Mario has a pretty rough day. He's forced to rescue a princess completely on his own, which seems suspicious given the fact that most royal families have designated security details at their disposal. What kind of third-rate dynasty hires a plumber to save an heiress?

Despite being woefully under-qualified, Mario agrees to transport to a magical world where he runs, jumps, swims, and kills everything in sight to get to a castle where a smartass toadstool tells him the princess isn't there. He does this seven different times before getting it right. Besides the psychological damage of all that growing and shrinking, killing, and repeated dying, what kind of physical toll is Mario subjected to?

As brilliant reader John D. asked, how many miles does Mario have to travel before he finally gets to Princess Peach?

To figure this out, I took Ian Albert's level maps that he painstakingly stitched together from screenshots (check out his website and amazing maps here) and measured their width. In the NES version of the game, Mario's relative size (in his smaller, pre-mushroom ingestion phase) was then calculated as if he were a normal human man. He stands astride, so the measurements were based on an approximation of someone with their feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, or 26 inches.

If we assume Mario takes a route with no bonus areas or warps, the total distance from his initial starting point to the final castle is about 17,835 feet, or 3.4 miles.

But what about the water levels? If you isolate these, Mario swims an estimated 1218.5 feet, or 371 meters, during his ordeal, which is about 7 and a half laps in an Olympic-sized pool.

The longest single level is the eighth world's first stage, and it comes in at about 1039 feet. The shortest is world four, stage three, which is around 425 feet long.

If Mario does in fact visit every bonus area, the total distance he travels increases by 1574 feet, and his full journey becomes about 3.7 miles. Of those bonus areas, 344 feet are underwater, so Mario tacks on another 105 meters to his swim total.

Mario doesn't go in a straight line and he is occasionally transported to different locations and worlds, so these numbers are just an approximation. But think about all the time you spent toiling away at your NES. All those hours and days spent mashing buttons—jumping on Goombas, falling into abysses, ducking projectiles—all that work resulted in little more than Mario completing a 5K to raise awareness for princess theft.

Thanks to reader John D. for the question and idea. All screengrabs are from ian-albert.com.

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Big Questions
Why Is Soda Measured in Liters?
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Never a nation to fall in line, America is one of the few countries to resist the metric system. We stubbornly measure distance in miles and weight in pounds. So what’s with those two-liter bottles of soda?

First, a clarification: Soda is far from the only substance we measure in metric units. Heck, it’s not even the only beverage. Wine, liquor, and bottled water are sold by the milliliter. The healthcare field is all about metric units, too, from cholesterol levels to prescription, over-the-counter, and supplement dosages. We run 5-kilometer races, ride on 215-millimeter tires, and use 8-millimeter cameras, or at least we used to.

In most other things, we determinedly cling to our imperial measurements. Attempts to convince Americans to join the rest of the metric-measuring world have been met with great resistance.

Ken Butcher of the National Institute of Science and Technology has been working with the government’s tiny Metric Program for years. Speaking to Mental Floss back in 2013, Butcher explained that we’re so entrenched in our way of doing things that switching measurement systems now would be both chaotic and expensive.

"If we were going to start a new country all with the metric system, it would be easy," he said. "But when you have to go in and change almost everything that touches people’s everyday life and their physical and mental experience, their education, and then you take that away from them—it can be scary."

Here and there, though, when it’s convenient, we have been willing to budge. The soda bottle is a good example. Until 1970, all soft drinks in the U.S. were sold in fluid ounces and gallons, mostly in glass bottles. Then the plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle came along, and soft drink makers decided it was time for a product redesign.

The redesign process coincided with two key factors: a short-lived wave of government interest in going metric, and the burgeoning environmental movement.

The folks at PepsiCo decided to meld all three into its exciting new vessel: a lightweight, cheap, recyclable, metric bottle, with built-in fins so it could stand up on supermarket shelves. Two liters: the soda size of the future.

The two-liter bottle took off. The rest of the soft drink world had no choice but to get on board. And voila: liters of cola for all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Where Is the Hottest Place on Earth?
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The summer of 2017 will go down as an endurance test of sorts for the people of Phoenix, Arizona. The National Weather Service issued an extreme heat warning, and planes were grounded as a result of temperatures exceeding 120 degrees. (Heat affects air density, which in turn affects a plane’s lift.)

Despite those dire measures, Phoenix is not the hottest place on Earth. And it’s not even close.

That dubious honor was bestowed on the Lut Desert in Iran in 2005, when land temperatures were recorded at a staggering 159.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The remote area was off the grid—literally—for many years until satellites began to measure temperatures in areas that were either not well trafficked on foot or not measured with the proper instruments. Lut also measured record temperatures in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009.

Before satellites registered Lut as a contender, one of the hottest areas on Earth was thought to be El Azizia, Libya, where a 1922 measurement of 136 degrees stood as a record for decades. (Winds blowing from the nearby Sahara Desert contributed to the oppressive heat.)

While the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) acknowledged this reading as the hottest on record for years, they later declared that instrumentation problems and other concerns led to new doubts about the accuracy.

Naturally, declaring the hottest place on Earth might be about more than just a single isolated reading. If it’s consistency we’re after, then the appropriately-named Death Valley in California, where temperatures are consistently 90 degrees or above for roughly half the year and at least 100 degrees for 140 days annually, has to be a contender. A blistering temperature of 134 degrees was recorded there in 1913.

Both Death Valley and Libya were measured using air temperature readings, while Lut was taken from a land reading, making all three pretty valid contenders. These are not urban areas, and paving the hottest place on Earth with sidewalks would be a very, very bad idea. Temperatures as low as 95 degrees can cause blacktop and pavement to reach skin-scorching temperatures of 141 degrees.

There are always additional factors to consider beyond a temperature number, however. In 2015, Bandar Mahshahr in Iran recorded temperatures of 115 degrees but a heat index—what it feels like outside when accounting for significant humidity—of an astounding 163 degrees. That thought might be one of the few things able to cool Phoenix residents off.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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