Jason English
Jason English

What's the Exchange Rate Between Harry Potter Coins and Muggle Money?

Jason English
Jason English

The world J.K. Rowling constructed in the Harry Potter series raises a lot of questions. For one, what exactly was the value of all that wizard money they were throwing around? If you’ve ever pondered this question but lacked the nerdy ambition to figure it out for yourself, you finally have answer thanks to Reddit user aubieismyhome, who calculated the exchange rate.

By detailing everything that’s been given value in the Harry Potter books, aubieismyhome was able to analyze the worth of wizard money. The in-depth breakdown starts by listing the exchange rates between the three coins that make up wizard currency, which Hagrid lays out for Harry in the first book. According to Hagrid, 1 galleon equals 17 sickles, and 1 sickle equals 29 knuts. From there, the fan used a little extra math to figure out how to convert this value into Muggle currency.

The Reddit user compared the prices of things bought in the wizarding world (for example, hot chocolate, butterbeer, and a potion-making book) to equivalent items from the Muggle world. Based on this information, aubieismyhome was able to approximate that a galleon was roughly equivalent to $25, a sickle to $1.50, and a knut to 5 cents.

To put that in context, the price of a butterbeer comes out to about $3, while Harry’s wand would have cost him $175 (which is not a bad deal, considering it's a wizard's most prized possession). And it looks like even wizards are subject to overpriced textbooks: a copy of Advanced Potion Making would cost more than a wand, according to the Reddit user.

Aubieismyhome went on to look at what this says about the socioeconomic status of the characters in the Harry Potter universe. It’s no secret that Harry was wealthy, but seeing his riches converting into USD helps to put things into perspective. As the user explains, "At the World Cup, he spent $750 to buy he, Ron, and Hermione Omnioculars as Christmas presents ... Not only that, but he gave Fred and George $25,000 of Triwizard Tournament winnings to start their joke shop because he didn't need it.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rowling wasn’t exaggerating when she emphasized the Weasleys’ poverty. When the family empties out their vault at Gringotts in the Chamber of Secrets, they come away with only 1 galleon and a pile of sickles, roughly $50 to $75. One of the largest sums mentioned in the books is the reward offered by the Ministry for Harry’s capture in the Deathly Hallows: They were prepared to pay his captor $2.5 million, which was worth 10 times as much as the bounty placed on Sirius Black’s head.

Check the original Reddit post for the full list of every value mentioned in the Harry Potter series.

[h/t Mashable]

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Do 'Close Door' Buttons in Elevators Actually Do Anything?
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When you’re running late for work, one small comfort is finding an empty elevator waiting for you at your office building. You scurry inside, and since no one else is waiting to enter, you jab the 'close door' button. The doors comply, the elevator starts moving, and you breathe a sigh of relief.

This is a familiar scenario for many, but it’s also a big fat lie. That’s because most of the door-close buttons in U.S. elevators don’t actually work. In fact, they’re programmed that way.

But before you get ready to send off a strongly worded email to your office building’s elevator manufacturer, you may want to hear why this is the case. When the Americans With Disabilities Act was first passed in 1990, certain requirements for elevators were outlined, such as the installation of raised buttons, braille signs, and audible signals.

The act ensured that someone with a disability would have enough time to get inside, stipulating that elevator doors must remain fully open for at least three seconds and thereby preventing the button from cutting that time short. Some elevator manufacturers took it one step further by deactivating the button entirely.

Since the life span of an elevator is about 25 years and the Disabilities Act has been around for 28 years, it’s safe to assume that most of the elevators in operation today do not have a functioning 'close door' button, The New York Times reports. Only firefighters are able to close elevator doors manually through the use of a key.

It's important to note that there are exceptions to this rule, though. As the New York Daily News noted, New York City elevators are required by law to have working 'close door' buttons, even though some operate on a long delay (so long, in fact, that it calls the button's usefulness into question).

However, you’re in luck if you’re taking a lift (which, of course, is British for “elevator”). 'Close door' buttons are fully functional in most elevators in the UK, according to The Telegraph. A spokesman for the Lift and Escalator Industry Association told the newspaper that not all elevators have the button, but when they’re present, they do work. Again, the time it takes for the doors to shut after pressing the button varies from lift to lift.

While U.S. elevator manufacturers have a seemingly good reason for disabling the 'close door' button, some may question the point of propagating the myth and installing a button that serves no purpose in the first place. In response, some would argue that placebo buttons serve an important psychological function in society.

"Perceived control is very important," Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer told The New York Times. "It diminishes stress and promotes well-being."

That’s right: By believing that you’re in control of your fate—or at least how quickly you can make it up to the sixth floor—you’re better off. It doesn’t end with elevators, either. Buttons placed at city crosswalks are often disabled, and the thermostats in many office buildings are rigged so that the temperature can’t be altered (even if the numbers appear to change).

Some might swear up and down that elevator 'close door' buttons work, but this, too, could be your brain deceiving you. As author David McRaney wrote in an essay: “If you happen to find yourself pressing a nonfunctional close-door button, and later the doors close, you’ll probably never notice because a little spurt of happiness will cascade through your brain once you see what you believe is a response to your action. Your behavior was just reinforced. You will keep pressing the button in the future.”

According to The New Yorker, these buttons are designed to alleviate some of the subconscious anxiety that comes from stepping inside a tiny box that's hoisted up some 20 or 40 or 80 floors by a cable: “Elevator design is rooted in deception—to disguise not only the bare fact of the box hanging by ropes but also the tethering of tenants to a system over which they have no command."

So now you know: Next time you’re running late to work, take comfort in the fact that those few extra seconds you would’ve saved by pressing a functioning 'close door' button aren’t worth all that much in the long run.

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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What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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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