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Jeanne Mozier
Jeanne Mozier

Which City Has the Tastiest Tap Water?

Jeanne Mozier
Jeanne Mozier

The process is similar to a wine competition. Each distinguished judge, dressed in their black-tie best, raises a glass and observes the liquid’s appearance, smelling it, taking a taste, and scoring the flavor, mouthfeel, and aftertaste. But unlike wine, the top scorers in this competition have no color, no odor, and little, if any, flavor.

It’s the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, which for 25 years has gathered together city officials, bottlers, researchers, and other H20 enthusiasts to spend a weekend celebrating and sampling hydration. What began as a publicity stunt to draw attention to the mineral water spas of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, has evolved into a respected and heavily attended gathering. Forty-six states and 50 countries have submitted entrants over the years; this year’s competition, held in February, saw entrants from as far away as Greece, South Korea, and New Zealand.

Restaurant consultant and former broadcaster Arthur von Wiesenberger helps give the event legitimacy. He began as a connoisseur of champagne and caviar before turning his attention to a healthier product, writing the books A Pocket Guide to Bottled Water and The Taste of Water.

“Tap water varies from state to state, town to town and even tap to tap,” says von Wiesenberger, explaining what attracted him to the substance. “Not all water is created equally.”

He trains the competition’s 10 or so judges, who are usually amateur tasters when they begin. Von Wiesenberger walks them through the unpleasant elements to look for (particles, cloudiness), smell for (chlorine, plastic, sulfur), and taste for (mustiness, salt, chemicals). They also learn what qualities to seek in the event’s other categories, including bottled and purified water.

A judge from the 2014 competition. Image credit: Jeanne Mozier.

But while minimal flavor is important, the top-performing waters have tended to be those that embrace the natural zest of their source. Jeanne Mozier, vice president of Travel Berkeley Springs, which produces the event, pointed to a string of wins from Canadian waters. She attributed the better flavor of those entrants to the fact that Canada is more flexible than the U.S. in treating its municipal water.

“Last year’s winner, Clearbook, B.C., drew their water from a highly protected spring source but didn’t have to follow the cookie-cutter program that says ‘you must put in this and that,’ which destroys the water’s taste,” Mozier says. “Atlantic City won another year, which surprised us, but it was enhanced because the sand naturally filters the water sourced from there.”

This year’s winner was Hamilton, Ohio. The rest of the top five were as follows:

2nd: Emporia, Kansas
3rd: Clearbrook, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada
4th: Three way tie—
Montpelier, Ohio
Dickinson, North Dakota
Eldorado, Colorado
5th: Independence, Missouri

The tastings are the main attraction, but the gathering also includes seminars and discussions about public health and environmental issues around water. Among the topics this past February were the effect of climate change on water sources, as well as a case discussion of the 2014 contamination of drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians due to a leaky chemical storage tank. That disaster last year led the Water Tasting organizers to introduce a new Clean Water Pledge, asking participants to agree to the statement "Water is for life. I pledge to do all I can to keep our water clean."

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Bob Ross’s Happy Little Menagerie Is Getting the Funko Treatment, Too
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Amazon

Back in August, the pop culture-loving toy fiends at Funko introduced a happy little Pop! Vinyl figurine of beloved painter/television icon Bob Ross, decked out in his trademark jeans and button-down shirt with a painter’s palette in his hand and his legendary perm (which he hated) atop his tiny little vinyl head. This Joy of Painting-themed addition to the Funko lineup proved to be an instant hit, so the company added a couple of additional toys to its roster—this time incorporating members of Ross’s happy little menagerie of pets, who were almost as integral to the long-running series as the painter himself.


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If you’re looking to score one of these toys before Christmas, it’s going to have to be a limited edition one—and it’s going to cost you. In collaboration with Target, Funko paired Ross with his favorite pocket squirrel, Pea Pod, which will set you back about $40. For just a few dollars more, you can opt to have the happy accident-prone painter come with Hoot the owl.


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On Friday, December 8, the company will release a Funko two-pack that includes Ross with a paintbrush and Ross with an adorable little raccoon.


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If you’d prefer to save a few dollars, and are willing to wait out the holiday season, you can pre-order Ross with just the raccoon for delivery around December 29.

So many happy little options, so little time.

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See How to Grow Snowflakes Inside a Soda Bottle
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iStock

While it's too soon to know what the real chances are of having a white Christmas, even if it's 70 degrees and sunny, there’s still a way to experience the seasonal beauty of snow without ever having to put on a winter coat.

In a video for Science Friday, Caltech physicist and snowflake expert Ken Libbrecht illustrated how to grow snowflake-like ice crystals inside a two-liter soda bottle. To start, you need to assemble your materials. Most of the items—including a plastic bottle, bucket, sponge, fishing line, paper clip, and pins—can be easily found around your home. The most important component, though, is dry ice—which also happens to be the hardest one to find (Libbrecht recommends checking your local grocery store).

The dry ice goes around the outside of the bottle, which is outfitted with a string hanging from a wet sponge on the inside. The warm air around the top of the bottle, where the sponge is, creates water vapor, which crystallizes around the string. Within an hour, you'll have cultivated a large, feathery crystal in the center of your makeshift snowflake machine.

Even though the final product resembles a snowflake, it's technically frost (snowflakes form in clouds from thousands of water droplets, not from vapor). Libbrecht has been growing his own snowflakes for years, though the system he uses in his lab is slightly more sophisticated. After learning how to grow a snowflake at home, be sure to check out some of Libbrecht’s own exquisite creations on his website.

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