What Are Subway Conductors Always Pointing At?

YouTube
YouTube

When New Yorkers are waiting to board a train, most of their energy is focused on elbowing their way into the car as fast as possible. But if they were to take their time, they might notice something peculiar: after pulling into the station, a subway conductor will always point his or her finger out the window. This isn't something conductors do for fun or out of superstition: The repetitive gesture is a safety precaution, and when you follow their finger you'll see they're always pointing at the same thing.

Halfway down every subway platform in New York City there's a black-and-white-striped bar of wood that's hung in a very important spot. When this indication board, or "zebra board," is lined up perfectly with the conductor's window, that tells them it's safe to open the doors. Any further back and the rear of the train could be stuck in the tunnel—same goes for the front end if it stops too far past the board.

Because opening the doors without a platform to step onto is such a serious concern, conductors are required to point at the sign every time to show that they've stopped at the right spot. Four years ago, an MTA conductor explained the procedure in a Reddit AMA:

"They don't trust us to just look, so required procedure is to point to it at every station before we open the doors. The absolute biggest violation a conductor can make is opening the doors where there isn't a platform. If that ever happens, the first thing supervision is going to ask you is 'Did you point to the board?'"

Zebra boards first began appearing in subway stations around World War I. In earlier systems, one conductor was positioned between every two cars to operate their doors individually. New technology made it possible to open all the doors on a train at once, and the MTA switched to having one conductor in the center of each train. The striped boards have been used as a handy reference point ever since, but it wasn't until 1996 that the MTA began requiring conductors to point at them.

This rule didn't originate in New York, but on the other side of the globe in Japan. Japanese train conductors use pointing to acknowledge many different factors throughout the journey, including speed indicators and upcoming wayside signals. But when you see conductors making the motion in New York, they're almost always pointing to the same object. As the pranksters in the video below discovered a few years ago, this level of consistency can be exploited to have some goofy fun.

All images courtesy of YouTube.

Why Do Dogs Lick?

iStock/MichaelSvoboda
iStock/MichaelSvoboda

​One of the more slightly annoying things our dogs do (or most adorable, depending on who you ask) involves their tongue obsessively licking every crevice of every spot possible in pretty much the whole world. From our faces to our furniture to themselves, some dogs are absolutely in love with licking anything and everything. Although it can be cute at first, it quickly gets pretty gross. So why do they do it?

According to ​Vetstreet, your pup's incessant licking is mostly their way of trying to show affection. When we pick up our dogs or give them attention, chances are we kiss or pat their heads, along with petting their fur. Their way to show love back to us is by licking.

However, there are other reasons your dog might be obsessively licking—including as a way to get attention. Licking can be a learned behavior for dogs, as they see that when they lick their owner, they get more attention. The behavior can seem like something humans want which, to an extent, it is.

Licking is also a sensory tool, so if your dog is licking random objects or areas of your home, they're probably just exploring. It's easier to get a feel for their surroundings if they can taste everything. But licking objects like your rug or furniture can also be indicative of anxiety or boredom (which can often lead to destructive behavior), and a recent study linked excessive licking of surfaces to certain gastrointestinal disorders.

Another reason for licking is your dog wanting to clean themselves and/or spots around them. They've seen it since they were born; animals lick things ritualistically for cleaning and care. If your dog seems to be obsessed with licking themselves or one particular thing, they probably are. (Yes, dogs can have OCD, too.)

As Vetstreet points out, "excessive" dog licking often only seems excessive to the dog's owner, not the pooch itself. But if it's bothersome enough to you, a trainer can often help curb your dog's enthusiasm for giving wet, sloppy kisses. And while strange behavior is not rare for pets, if your dog's licking seems odd or in any way concerning, there's no harm in taking your pet to the vet to check it out—even if it's just for peace of mind.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?

iStock/RoBeDeRo
iStock/RoBeDeRo

The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But how does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

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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