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Kent Kotal // Forgotten Hits
Kent Kotal // Forgotten Hits

Why Is the Runtime On This Simon and Garfunkel Song Listed as "2:74"?

Kent Kotal // Forgotten Hits
Kent Kotal // Forgotten Hits

When Columbia Records sent copies of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Fakin’ It” to radio stations across America in the summer of 1967, the 45s' printed labels would have looked normal to DJs at first glance. It had the song’s title, its writing credit, and all the relevant copyright information. Had they looked closer, however, they would have noticed something funky with the runtime—it’s listed as “2:74,” not “3:14”:

Kent Kotal // Forgotten Hits

At the time, radio stations were wary of playing pop singles that exceeded three minutes. The label trickery on the three-minute, 14-second “Fakin’ It” made it look like the song lasted a brisk two minutes and change, and they banked on the fact that radio DJs weren't the closest readers in the world. (It likely worked—"Fakin' It" reached no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.) 

The above photo comes from Kent Kotal’s Forgotten Hits blog, a compendium of ephemera from the golden age of pop radio. “I don't know that there was a written or hard-fast rule about records having to be under three minutes in length,” Kotal tells mental_floss via email, “it was just the accepted practice at the time.”

The “three-minute rule” has its origins in the technology itself. The 10-inch records pressed in the first half of the 20th century could only hold three-to-four minutes of recorded sound. "If it went longer than that, the grooves became too close together ... the sound quality went down," Sony Music archivist Thomas Tierney told Mashable.

Even though the technology improved in the 1940s and '50s, and 45 rpm extended-play "EPs" could handle longer songs, three minutes acted as a barrier for radio airplay well into the 1960s. “Nobody wanted to commit airtime to more than that,” Kotal says. “This way they could still get in all their sponsored ads, the then-typical two newscasts minimum per hour, weather, traffic, sports and even some fun deejay chatter back in the day when jocks were still allowed to talk on the air.”

Simon and Garfunkel weren’t the first artists to cleverly get around the three-minute rule. The Righteous Brothers’ 1964 smash hit “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” lasted a full three minutes and 45 seconds. Producer Phil Spector’s solution? Lie. He stamped “3:05” on the single and called it a day.

"Fakin' It" proved to be one of the last times artists exercised temporal gymnastics to get around the three-minute barrier, as, by 1967, the rule was already on its way out. The next year, Richard Harris’s seven-minute, 21-second “MacArthur Park” hit number one on the Billboard 100—and he didn’t even have to stamp “2:201” on the single's label to get it played.

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Big Questions
Why Is the American Flag Displayed Backwards on Military Uniforms?
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In 1968, famed activist Abbie Hoffman decided to crash a meeting of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington by showing up in a shirt depicting the American flag. Hoffman was quickly surrounded by police, who ripped his shirt off and arrested him for desecration of the Red, White, and Blue.

Hoffman’s arrest is notable today because, while it might be unpatriotic to some, wearing the American flag, burning it, or otherwise disrespecting it is not a violation of any federal law. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that it would be unconstitutional to prosecute any such action. Still, Americans have very fervent and strict attitudes toward displaying the flag, a longstanding symbol of our country’s freedom. According to the U.S. Flag Code, which was first published in 1923, you shouldn’t let the flag touch the ground or hang it upside-down. While there’s no express prohibition about reversing the image, it’s probably a safe bet you shouldn’t do that, either.

Yet branches of the U.S. military are often spotted with a seeming mirror reflection of the flag on their right shoulder. If you look at a member in profile, the canton—the rectangle with the stars—is on the right. Isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t it look like the flag on the left shoulder?

The American flag appears on a military uniform
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Not really. The flag is actually facing forward, and it’s not an optical illusion.

When a service member marches or walks forward, they assume the position of a flagpole, with the flag sewn on their uniform meant to resemble a flag flapping in the breeze. With the canton on the right, the flag would be fluttering behind them. If it were depicted with the canton on the left, the flag would be flying backward—as though it had been hung by the stripes instead of the stars nearest to the pole. The position of the flag is noted in Army Regulation 670-1, mandating the star field should face forward. The official term for this depiction is “reverse side flag.”

As for Hoffman: His conviction was overturned on appeal. In 1970, while at a flag-themed art show in New York, he was invited to get up and speak. He wore a flag shirt for the occasion.

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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Big Questions
What Causes Sinkholes?
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Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

This week, a sinkhole opened up on the White House lawn—likely the result of excess rainfall on the "legitimate swamp" surrounding the storied building, a geologist told The New York Times. While the event had some suggesting we call for Buffy's help, sinkholes are pretty common. In the past few days alone, cavernous maws in the earth have appeared in Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and of course Florida, home to more sinkholes than any other state.

Sinkholes have gulped down suburban homes, cars, and entire fields in the past. How does the ground just open up like that?

Sinkholes are a simple matter of cause and effect. Urban sinkholes may be directly traced to underground water main breaks or collapsed sewer pipelines, into which city sidewalks crumple in the absence of any structural support. In more rural areas, such catastrophes might be attributed to abandoned mine shafts or salt caverns that can't take the weight anymore. These types of sinkholes are heavily influenced by human action, but most sinkholes are unpredictable, inevitable natural occurrences.

Florida is so prone to sinkholes because it has the misfortune of being built upon a foundation of limestone—solid rock, but the kind that is easily dissolved by acidic rain or groundwater. The karst process, in which the mildly acidic water wears away at fractures in the limestone, leaves empty space where there used to be stone, and even the residue is washed away. Any loose soil, grass, or—for example—luxury condominiums perched atop the hole in the ground aren't left with much support. Just as a house built on a weak foundation is more likely to collapse, the same is true of the ground itself. Gravity eventually takes its toll, aided by natural erosion, and so the hole begins to sink.

About 10 percent of the world's landscape is composed of karst regions. Despite being common, sinkholes' unforeseeable nature serves as proof that the ground beneath our feet may not be as solid as we think.

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.

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