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If Oxygen Masks on Airlines Have Empty Bags, Where is the Oxygen Stored?

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If oxygen masks on airlines have empty bags, where is the oxygen stored?

C Stuart Hardwick:

Humans and airplanes both need oxygen, but high speed airliners operate much more efficiently at high altitudes where the air is thinner. The lack of oxygen doesn’t bother them because jet engines compress their intake air anyway, but above about 8000 feet, the lack of oxygen would start making passengers woozy, and at higher altitudes still, would be fatal.

That’s why airliners carry emergency oxygen. The cabin is normally pressurized to about 8000 feet, but if pressurization ever fails above about 14,000 feet, some passengers would be unable to absorb sufficient oxygen from the rarefied air and would grow faint, even ill—especially those who are old or infirm, and those accustomed to near-sea level pressure, which is a third of the global population.

We can tolerate much higher altitudes, though, if we have pure oxygen to breath instead of the 21 percent oxygen in ordinary air. Breathing supplemental oxygen, we can go up to about 35,000 feet (40,000 with a full face mask ensuring 100 percent undiluted oxygen). Much higher than that and we risk passing out or asphyxiation even with 100 percent oxygen. That’s why few airliners fly higher—passengers would need pressure suits or at least full face masks as backup life support. Were it not for that, planes would happily fly at 50,000, 60,000, or even 70,000 feet.

So ... to answer the question.

If you’ve ever gone scuba diving (or seen it on TV) you know that divers only get air when they draw a breath—their rig doesn’t just continually belch out air (unless the regulator is busted) because that would waste air.

That’s what the bag is for. The oxygen generator over your seat in an airliner does just continually belch out oxygen. There is no tank or regulator—just a canister containing chemical reactants which, once started, produce a continuous stream of oxygen until the reactants are used up (a few minutes, long enough to descend to thicker air).

The flimsy little bag is there to catch the stream of oxygen in between your breaths so it isn’t wasted. That’s it. It only inflates while you are exhaling, provided you are breathing slowly enough. That’s why it might not inflate (you might not give it a chance you panicky rascal).

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

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
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For carbohydrate consumers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say “stuffing,” though. They say “dressing.” In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. “Dressing” seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while “stuffing” is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it "filling," which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If “stuffing” stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word “stuffing” impolite, so never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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