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Why Do We Put Stamps on the Upper-Right Corner?

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Since it costs only 47 cents to shuttle a letter across the country, you’d think we’d be happy to follow a couple of simple rules without asking a lot of questions. It seems reasonable enough that the United States Postal Service requests we place postage stamps on the upper-right corner of envelopes and other materials. Still, we wonder: Why not the lower right? Or upside-down? Who decided on the upper right?

“When postage stamps were first issued in this county in 1847, there appears to have been a great deal of confusion over how to use them and possibly also where to place them, at least for a time,” Daniel Piazza, Chief Curator of Philately at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, tells mental_floss. “Placement was less important in the days when all stamps were hand-cancelled individually by postal clerks. With the introduction of high-speed cancelling machines starting in about the 1890s, the placement of stamps in the upper-right corner became more important to be as efficient as possible.” It's believed that placement coincided with the dominant hand—the right—of most mail handlers.

Now that mechanization has given ground to optical scanning at mail distribution centers, you can rebel against stamp placement if the urge strikes. According to Sue Brennan, a senior public relations representative with the USPS, automatic mail-sorters look for stamps so they can apply a postmark. If the stamp isn’t in the upper-right corner, it may get diverted to a pair of human eyes to look for postage elsewhere on the envelope. “Your letter wouldn't be thrown out if you didn't follow the guidelines,” she says, “but using them could speed up the processing and subsequent delivery.”

Getting creative with the stamp’s orientation doesn’t really matter, either. At least, not to postal workers. During the Victorian era, young lovers who feared their mail being intercepted by disapproving parents developed a code that hid covert messages according to postage placement. An upside-down stamp might mean the sender loves the recipient, while a sideways stamp could have indicated they were being relegated to the friend zone. Variations of the system are still being used today by loved ones writing to prison inmates, who are also subject to mail review. While letter carriers might sigh if they see an upside-down stamp, your pen pal may grow downright wistful.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

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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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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