12 Amazing Balancing Stones Around the World

Balancing rocks are truly stellar (and indeed interstellar) features that attract tourists, geologists, and increasingly, artists.

1. BALANCED ROCK // COLORADO, USA

A few hundred million years ago, Colorado was covered by a shallow inland sea that eventually turned into sandstone. As the area rose during the creation of the Rocky Mountains, the softer areas of sandstone eroded away, while the areas of the sandstone that were harder stayed put, giving us Colorado’s Garden of the Gods. Eventually, the erosion and weathering around the base will cause Balanced Rock (see photo above) to lose its balance and collapse.

2. BALANCING ROCKS // SEVERAL PLACES AROUND ZIMBABWE

Carine06, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

As in Colorado, these features were originally surrounded by softer rock that eroded away. As the rocks warmed and cooled, they cracked into nice geometric patterns. When the surrounding rock and dirt disappeared, they fell onto each other, just like bricks would if you removed the mortar [PDF]. Zimbabwe so appreciates these features that they have the rare geologic distinction of being featured on the 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note.

3. BIG BALANCED ROCK // CHIRICAHUA NATIONAL MONUMENT, ARIZONA

Al_HikesAZ, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Around 27 million years ago, the Turkey Creek volcano (now a caldera) erupted, covering areas of modern Arizona with over 1600 feet of ash and pumice that fused into a soft rock called welded tuff. But tuff isn’t very tough, and it began eroding away along the weaker areas at the rate of two thirds of an inch per thousand years [PDF]. Thankfully, the USGS says there is no risk to these rocks from erosion for the next several thousand years. A much bigger concern for the rocks is earthquakes, although they came through a recent 7.2 quake with only minor damage (nearby buildings weren't so fortunate).

4. PRECARIOUSLY BALANCED ROCKS // NEAR SAN ANDREAS FAULT, NEVADA AND CALIFORNIA

Nick Hinz // Nevada Bureau of Mines & Geology

If there's any place in the country where balancing rocks shouldn’t exist, it's near the San Andreas fault, where you'd think earthquakes would topple them like dominoes. Yet they are there, and have been for at least 10,000 years, through at least 50 large earthquakes. An attempt to address the mystery of how the rocks stay put was published in August, suggesting a theory that since the rocks are between the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults, there might be an interaction between the faults that protects the balanced rocks by lessening ground vibration in the area. This idea would fit into geologic theory—but would mean all our current models of the San Andreas fault are incomplete.

5. IDOL ROCK // YORKSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM

The strange Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire, of which Idol Rock is the most famous, were formed around 400 million years ago when the area was under a river. During the last glacial maximum, the nearby mountains were covered in glaciers, and where there are glaciers, there are glacial winds. The winds blew sand across the rocks at great speed, carving them into their odd new look—think of it like a natural form of sandblasting.

6. KUMMAKIVI BALANCING ROCK // FINLAND

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The name translates as “strange rock,” but in English we have our own name for these features: erratics. As glaciers advanced, they picked up boulders from the surrounding countryside, and carried them along—sometimes for hundreds of miles. But when the glacier began retreating, the rocks didn’t make the trip back, and instead were set down on the surrounding countryside—sometimes perfectly balanced on top of another rock.

7. BALANCING ROCK // HOLLISTON, MASSACHUSETTS

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

What makes this rock interesting is less the rock (it's a standard glacial erratic) than who attempted to knock it over. According to local legend, George Washington was traveling through and tried to push the rock down. Obviously, he failed.

8. RUGGESTEINEN // NORWAY

Sometimes a rock is so perfectly balanced that it can be rocked with just a bit of effort. This is the case with Ruggesteinen in Norway, also known as the Rocking Stone. Despite being over 70 tons, a couple of people pushing can move it.

9. KRISHNA'S BUTTER BALL // MAHABALIPURAM, INDIA

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

This one is mysterious. It might be a glacial erratic, it might have been eroded out of the surrounding rock, or it may have been placed there by ancient Indians. According to legend, in 1908 the local British Governor decided that it was dangerous and needed to be removed. Seven elephants supposedly weren’t able to budge it. While the elephant story might be a myth, glaciers can transport extremely heavy rocks—there’s one in Canada that weighs 16,500 tons.

10. GOLDEN ROCK PAGODA // MYANMAR

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This 25-foot-tall rock is also mysterious. Myanmar does have glaciers, so that is always a possibility, but according to Buddhist tradition, the rock was placed there to enshrine a hair from the Buddha’s head.

11. MANMADE BALANCING STONES // AROUND THE WORLD

Recently, rock balancing has become a popular art. Based on traditional cairns (stacks of rocks that are either memorials or landmarks) they can become extremely intricate. But the craze is not without its critics. The removal of the rocks for the balancing act can cause the underlying soil to erode faster, as well as destroy the homes of small animals. In addition, building them in areas where cairns are used as trail markers is a quick way to get a lot of people very lost. Because of this, modern rock balancers prefer to place their rocks back where they found them after they take a few photos.

12. 67P/CHURYUMOV-GERASIMENKO // OUT OF THIS WORLD

ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

In 2014, the European Space Agency landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In the images sent back to Earth was a picture of what look like balancing rocks on the surface of the comet. Their origin is mysterious: it could be that as the comet neared the Sun, ice melted away around these more impervious objects, leaving them behind. It could be that various interactions cause these boulders to move. Or it might even be camera perspective, and better imaging will reveal nothing out of the ordinary. Until then, any tour of the best balancing stones will require a space suit.

What Do the Numbers and Letters on a Boarding Pass Mean?

iStock.com/Laurence Dutton
iStock.com/Laurence Dutton

Picture this: You're about to embark on a vacation or business trip, and you have to fly to reach your destination. You get to the airport, make it through the security checkpoint, and breathe a sigh of relief. What do you do next? After putting your shoes back on, you'll probably look at your boarding pass to double-check your gate number and boarding time. You might scan the information screen for your flight number to see if your plane will arrive on schedule, and at some point before boarding, you'll also probably check your zone and seat numbers.

Aside from these key nuggets of information, the other letters and numbers on your boarding pass might seem like gobbledygook. If you find this layout confusing, you're not the only one. Designer and creative director Tyler Thompson once commented that it was almost as if "someone put on a blindfold, drank a fifth of whiskey, spun around 100 times, got kicked in the face by a mule … and then just started puking numbers and letters onto the boarding pass at random."

Of course, these seemingly secret codes aren't exactly secret, and they aren't random either. So let's break it down, starting with the six-character code you'll see somewhere on your boarding pass. This is your Passenger Name Reference (or PNR for short). On some boarding passes—like the one shown below—it may be referred to as a record locator or reservation code.

A boarding pass
Piergiuliano Chesi, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

These alphanumeric codes are randomly generated, but they're also unique to your personal travel itinerary. They give airlines access to key information about your contact information and reservation—even your meal preferences. This is why it's ill-advised to post a photo of your boarding pass to social media while waiting at your airport gate. A hacker could theoretically use that PNR to access your account, and from there they could claim your frequent flier miles, change your flight details, or cancel your trip altogether.

You might also see a random standalone letter on your boarding pass. This references your booking class. "A" and "F," for instance, are typically used for first-class seats. The letter "Y" generally stands for economy class, while "Q" is an economy ticket purchased at a discounted rate. If you see a "B" you might be in luck—it means you could be eligible for a seat upgrade.

There might be other letters, too. "S/O," which is short for stopover, means you have a layover that lasts longer than four hours in the U.S. or more than 24 hours in another country. Likewise, "STPC" means "stopover paid by carrier," so you'll likely be put up in a hotel free of charge. Score!

One code you probably don’t want to see is "SSSS," which means your chances of getting stopped by TSA agents for a "Secondary Security Screening Selection" are high. For whatever reason, you've been identified as a higher security risk. This could be because you've booked last-minute or international one-way flights, or perhaps you've traveled to a "high-risk country." It could also be completely random.

Still confused? For a visual of what that all these codes look like on a boarding pass, check out this helpful infographic published by Lifehacker.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Taco Bell is Opening a Taco-Themed Hotel in Palm Springs This Summer

Taco Bell Corp.
Taco Bell Corp.

For some, having a Taco Bell and its cheese-filled menu within driving distance is enough. For others, only a Taco Bell destination vacation will do. This August, the popular fast food chain is going to convert an existing Palm Springs, California, hotel into a burrito-filled Taco Bell getaway for a limited time.

The Bell Hotel will have all the usual amenities—rooms, food, gifts, and a salon—operating with a taco-themed cosmetic facelift. The nail salon, for example, will feature Taco Bell-inspired nail art. (Though we're not entirely sure what that consists of—possibly nails that resemble hot sauce packets.) The gift shop will feature Taco Bell apparel. Guests can also enjoy the standard variety of Taco Bell menu items. According to Thrillist, some new additions to their line-up are expected to be unveiled.

The as-yet-undisclosed hotel in Palm Springs will be operating as a Taco Bell partner for five nights total. As with pop-up stores and other publicity campaigns, the expectation is that guests will share their bizarre Taco Bell resort experience on social media and create some buzz around the brand. Taco Bell is no stranger to audacious marketing, as in the case of their Taco Bell Cantina in Las Vegas, which books weddings. Recently, the company also began making home deliveries via GrubHub.

The Bell Hotel website is now accepting sign-ups so fans can be notified when reservations open. The facility is expected to open August 9.

[h/t CNBC]

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