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Buzz Heard 'Round the World via Facebook

The Real-Life Operation That Works Like Operation

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Buzz Heard 'Round the World via Facebook

Before he became a resident at Johns Hopkins in the late 1980s, Andrew Goldstone, M.D., spent many adolescent hours trying to liberate the funny bone, wish bone, and Adam’s apple from Cavity Sam, the hapless patient plastered on every copy of the Operation board game.

“It had to be floating around in my subconscious,” he tells mental_floss. “But I didn’t make the connection until later.”

The connection Goldstone is referring to is between Operation and his pioneering technique for thyroid surgery—one that works eerily like the game’s anxiety-inducing buzzer after its surgical tweezers lose their precision and touch the edges of Sam's surgical sites.

While observing thyroid surgeries in medical school, Goldstone quickly became aware of the potential to injure the vocal cords. With their nerves running in such close proximity to the thyroid, it’s easy for even highly-skilled surgeons to cause damage that can lead to hoarseness or airway obstruction. What was needed, Goldstone thought, was an alarm that would go off when they got too close.

“I thought if there was a way of reading the electrical signal coming off the vocal cord muscle, to hear a buzzer, it was a way of telling the doctor, ‘Hey, don’t cut that,’” he says.

Because the vocal cords are on either side of the breathing tube that’s placed in the airway during general anesthesia, Goldstone applied an electrode to the tube that would pick up signals sent to the muscles. If a surgeon touched the nerve with a probe—analogous to the game’s tweezers—the electrical signal would pass to the electrode, and a monitor in the operating room would buzz, just like in the game. (Presumably, the patient’s nose would not light up.)

Goldstone’s invention was licensed to the Medtronic medical company in 1991; dubbed NIM, it’s been used in the majority of thyroid surgeries since.

One day, Goldstone’s young son, Alec, asked him how his invention worked. After hearing him explain it, he told his father, “You’ve reinvented Operation.”

“I would say it inadvertently inspired me,” Goldstone says. “It’s the exact same thing. On some level, it had to have played a part.”

In 2014, Goldstone wrote to John Spinello, the game’s creator, after reading news reports about Spinello’s Kickstarter campaign to raise money for oral surgery. (Having sold Operation in 1964 for $500, Spinello never received any royalties from the game.) In it, Goldstone expressed admiration for the game inventor and “how much more than just pure joy can be attributed to your invention.”

The letter, among others, found its way to Spinello, who is now the subject of a documentary: Buzz Heard ‘Round the World is currently raising funds via Indiegogo in the hopes of financing the rest of the production and relating stories about how the game has inspired others to enter the medical field.

“He probably has no idea how many people he’s helped,” says Goldstone, who is now a Clinical Associate Professor of Otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins and was interviewed for the movie. The device, he says, has worked to prevent vocal cord paralysis in hundreds of thousands of patients around the world.

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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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This Just In
Mattel Unveils New Uno Edition for Colorblind Players
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Mattel

On the heels of International Colorblind Awareness Day, Mattel, which owns Uno, announced it would be unveiling a colorblind-friendly edition of the 46-year-old card game.

The updated deck is a collaboration with ColorADD, a global organization for colorblind accessibility and education. In place of its original color-dependent design, this new Uno will feature a small symbol next to each card's number that corresponds with its intended primary color.

As The Verge points out, Mattel is not actually the first to invent a card game for those with colorblindness. But this inclusive move is still pivotal: According to Fast Co. Design, Uno is currently the most popular noncollectible card game in the world. And with access being extended to the 350 million people globally and 13 million Americans who are colorblind, the game's popularity is sure to grow.

Mattel unveils color-friendly Uno deck
Mattel

[h/t: The Verge

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