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Why Is Lined Paper Called 'College Ruled'?

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There are many different types of lined notebook paper, and each one goes by a different name—college ruled among them. To help tell them apart, you might have to break out a ruler.

Before we proceed any further, some historical context is in order. Paper that’s printed with evenly-spaced horizontal lines across its surface is called “ruled” paper. For centuries, these lines had to be drawn by hand. But in 1770, the game changed. In June of that year, inventor John Tetlow patented a device that the British government described as a “machine for ruling paper for music and other purposes.” Incidentally, Tetlow named the contraption after himself.

Since then, ruled paper has evolved quite a bit. Here in North America, manufacturers recognize three main varieties:

The first of these is called wide ruled paper, which comes with large gaps between the individual lines. In general, these blank divides are 11/32nds of an inch (approximately 8.7 millimeters) across or wider.

Next, we’ve got medium ruled—or “college ruled”—paper. Sheets of this type have slightly smaller interline gaps of only 9/32nds of an inch (7.1 millimeters).

Finally, there are the aptly named narrow ruled sheets. If you have a hard time reading tiny letters, this sort of stationery isn’t for you. A meager 8/32nds of an inch (.25 inches or 6.35 millimeters) or fewer separate the lines on narrow-ruled paper.

By and large, wide ruled paper is the preferred choice of elementary school teachers. It’s an especially common sight in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade classrooms. The reason for this is simple enough: Little kids who are just learning how to spell their names usually scrawl it in very large letters, so they require paper that has a lot of space between the lines. 

“College ruled” paper is so named because it’s what older students generally use. As children grow up, they’re able to write smaller letters, numbers, and symbols. Hence, most of them will have graduated from wide ruled to medium ruled sheets by the time they enter high school. And at most institutions of higher learning, notebooks with medium ruled paper are omnipresent—although plenty of college students remain wide ruled fans. To each their own.

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

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
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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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 Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. 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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