In Honor of Obscura Day, Get Off the Couch and Explore

Ideally, weekends are for sleeping late, spending time with loved ones, and eating carbohydrate-rich breakfast foods. But if Atlas Obscura has their way, you’ll forego the prolonged nap and Netflix marathon on Saturday, April 16, for some unusual museums, historic cemeteries, literary walking tours, amputation demonstrations, and/or taxidermied frogs instead.

Atlas Obscura, a compendium of off-the-beaten-path wonders, has been hosting Obscura Days since 2010. The idea behind the hundreds of events, all planned for a single day, is to eschew big-ticket tourist items in favor of the overlooked charms in your own backyard—which shouldn't stop you from hopping a plane to Vienna, say, to explore the Stephansdom Crypt instead. Last year’s events included an invocation from a sorcerer at the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft and an orchestral performance at the Robotic Church in Brooklyn, among other amazements.

This year, there are 160 events in 26 countries to choose from. Highlights include dinner in an Ecuadorian cave on the slopes of a volcano, a hike through an Italian marble quarry, a scavenger hunt at the abandoned Olympic Village in Beijing, a tunneling workshop (“learn how to dig your own escape route!”), a visit to the world’s only dedicated LGBT cemetery section, and more ruins, underground research bunkers, death mask collections, and marine creatures built out of trash than you could possibly desire (at least on a single day). Most events are free, and all are under $100. Go forth and explore—Netlfix will still be there for you next week.

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What Happens When You Flush an Airplane Toilet?
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For millions of people, summer means an opportunity to hop on a plane and experience new and exciting sights, cultures, and food. It also means getting packed into a giant commercial aircraft and then wondering if you can make it to your next layover without submitting to the anxiety of using the onboard bathroom.

Roughly the size of an apartment pantry, these narrow facilities barely accommodate your outstretched knees; turbulence can make expelling waste a harrowing nightmare. Once you’ve successfully managed to complete the task and flush, what happens next?

Unlike our home toilets, planes can’t rely on water tanks to create passive suction to draw waste from the bowl. In addition to the expense of hauling hundreds of gallons of water, it’s impractical to leave standing water in an environment that shakes its contents like a snow globe. Originally, planes used an electronic pump system that moved waste along with a deodorizing liquid called Anotec. That method worked, but carrying the Anotec was undesirable for the same reasons as storing water: It raised fuel costs and added weight to the aircraft that could have been allocated for passengers. (Not surprisingly, airlines prefer to transport paying customers over blobs of poop.)

Beginning in the 1980s, planes used a pneumatic vacuum to suck liquids and solids down and away from the fixture. Once you hit the flush button, a valve at the bottom of the toilet opens, allowing the vacuum to siphon the contents out. (A nonstick coating similar to Teflon reduces the odds of any residue.) It travels to a storage tank near the back of the plane at high speeds, ready for ground crews to drain it once the airplane lands. The tank is then flushed out using a disinfectant.

If you’re also curious about timing your bathroom visit to avoid people waiting in line while you void, flight attendants say the best time to go is right after the captain turns off the seat belt sign and before drink service begins.

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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Don’t Fall For This Trick Used by Hotel Booking Sites
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Hotel booking sites can be useful tools when comparing prices, locations, and amenities, but some services use deceptive tactics to get you to click “book.”

A new report spotted by Travel + Leisure determined that those “one room left” alerts you sometimes see while perusing hotels can’t always be trusted. Led by the UK-based Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the eight-month investigation concluded that many sites use “pressure selling” to create a false sense of urgency in hopes that customers will book a room more quickly than usual. Similar notices about how many people are looking at a particular room or how long a deal will last are some of the other tactics travel booking websites employed.

The CMA also found that some discount claims had either expired or weren’t relevant to the customer’s search criteria, and hidden fees—like the much-maligned "resort fees"—are sometimes tacked on at the end of the booking process. (To be fair, many hotels are also guilty of this practice.)

The report didn’t drop any company names, but the consumer agency said it warned the sites that legal action would be taken if their concerns weren't addressed. The companies could be breaking consumer protection law, the CMA notes.

“Booking sites can make it so much easier to choose your holiday, but only if people are able to trust them,” Andrea Coscelli, the CMA's chief executive, said in a statement. “Holidaymakers must feel sure they’re getting the deal they expected … It’s also important that no one feels pressured by misleading statements into making a booking.”

Still, booking sites remain a convenient option, so if you decide to use one, just take your time and be cognizant that some of the claims you're seeing may not be entirely truthful.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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