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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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travel
LaGuardia Airport Is Serving Up Personalized Short Stories to Passengers
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In between purchasing a neck pillow and a bag full of snacks, guests flying out of the Marine Air Terminal at New York City's LaGuardia Airport can now order up an impromptu short story. As Hyperallergic reports, Landing Pages is an art project that connects writers to travelers looking for short fiction written in the time it takes to reach their destination.

The kiosk was set up as part of the ArtPort Residency, a new collaboration between the Queens Council on the Arts and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which sponsors different art projects at the Marine Air Terminal for a few months at a time.

Artists Lexie Smith and Gideon Jacobs set up the inaugural project at the terminal earlier this month. To request a story from Landing Pages, travelers can visit the kiosk and leave their flight number and contact information. While the passenger is in the air, Smith and Jacobs churn out a custom story, in the form of poetry, illustration, or prose, from their airport terminal workspace and send it out in time for it to reach the reader's phone before he or she lands.

The word count depends on the duration of the flight, and the subject matter often touches upon themes of travel and adventure. As Smith and Jacobs continue their residency through June 30, the pieces they complete will be made available at Landingpages.nyc and in hard copy form at the airport kiosk.

Landing Pages isn't the first airport service to offer à la carte short stories. In 2011, a French startup debuted its short story-dispensing vending machine at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. Those stories come in three categories—one-minute, three-minute, and five-minute reads—and are printed out immediately so travelers can read them during their flight.

[h/t Hyperallergic]

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats 'Blep'?
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As pet owners are well aware, cats are inscrutable creatures. They hiss at bare walls. They invite petting and then answer with scratching ingratitude. Their eyes are wandering globes of murky motivations.

Sometimes, you may catch your cat staring off into the abyss with his or her tongue lolling out of their mouth. This cartoonish expression, which is atypical of a cat’s normally regal air, has been identified as a “blep” by internet cat photo connoisseurs. An example:

Cunning as they are, cats probably don’t have the self-awareness to realize how charming this is. So why do cats really blep?

In a piece for Inverse, cat consultant Amy Shojai expressed the belief that a blep could be associated with the Flehmen response, which describes the act of a cat “smelling” their environment with their tongue. As a cat pants with his or her mouth open, pheromones are collected and passed along to the vomeronasal organ on the roof of their mouth. This typically happens when cats want to learn more about other cats or intriguing scents, like your dirty socks.

While the Flehmen response might precede a blep, it is not precisely a blep. That involves the cat’s mouth being closed while the tongue hangs out listlessly.

Ingrid Johnson, a certified cat behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the owner of Fundamentally Feline, tells Mental Floss that cat bleps may have several other plausible explanations. “It’s likely they don’t feel it or even realize they’re doing it,” she says. “One reason for that might be that they’re on medication that causes relaxation. Something for anxiety or stress or a muscle relaxer would do it.”

A photo of a cat sticking its tongue out
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If the cat isn’t sedated and unfurling their tongue because they’re high, then it’s possible that an anatomic cause is behind a blep: Johnson says she’s seen several cats display their tongues after having teeth extracted for health reasons. “Canine teeth help keep the tongue in place, so this would be a more common behavior for cats missing teeth, particularly on the bottom.”

A blep might even be breed-specific. Persians, which have been bred to have flat faces, might dangle their tongues because they lack the real estate to store it. “I see it a lot with Persians because there’s just no room to tuck it back in,” Johnson says. A cat may also simply have a Gene Simmons-sized tongue that gets caught on their incisors during a grooming session, leading to repeated bleps.

Whatever the origin, bleps are generally no cause for concern unless they’re doing it on a regular basis. That could be sign of an oral problem with their gums or teeth, prompting an evaluation by a veterinarian. Otherwise, a blep can either be admired—or retracted with a gentle prod of the tongue (provided your cat puts up with that kind of nonsense). “They might put up with touching their tongue, or they may bite or swipe at you,” Johnson says. “It depends on the temperament of the cat.” Considering the possible wrath involved, it may be best to let them blep in peace.

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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