iStock
iStock

How Does a Pool Table Recognize the Cue Ball?

iStock
iStock

If you’ve ever considered becoming a pool shark in the vein of Minnesota Fats—or perhaps Tom Cruise in The Color of Money—you might have first considered how a nonsentient object like a pool table can tell the difference between the cue (white) ball and the 15 object balls in play. This is something most tables can do automatically, spitting the cue ball back out after a player sinks—or “scratches”—the ball by accidentally dropping it into a pocket.

You can tell small children it’s sorcery and they’ll probably believe it. But for older people, there’s a non-mystical explanation.

At coin-operated pool tables, players deposit money that allows the table to release the balls from a storage area under the playing surface. As players sink each ball, they return to the collection area until more money is inserted. When the cue ball is sunk, it doesn’t go to the same depository. A table can tell the difference in one of two ways: Either the cue ball is slightly larger—usually about 1/8-inch bigger in diameter than the standard 2.25-inch billiard ball—or it’s housing a magnetized center.

If the ball is oversized, it won’t be able to pass through the return chute and will instead be diverted to an accessible slot once it fails to clear a shunt that’s just a hair over 2.25 inches. If the ball is magnetized, a process first patented by pool table manufacturer Valley-Dynamo in 1966 will trigger a sensor that reroutes the ball along a track that will immediately spit it back out so players can continue. Some balls may instead be covered or dotted with metal so a magnet inside the table will pull it into position.

Both methods generally work well for casual play, but advanced hustlers might find fault with them. A larger ball can feel “off” to someone used to standard-sized cue balls, while the magnetized version can roll in subtle and different ways. Balls covered in metal are known as “mudballs” and are frowned upon for their slightly uneven surface. Better is the “cat’s eye” approach, which holds a steel bearing and closely resembles an unaltered ball.

Pro hustlers may steer clear of these doctored balls, but for your standard night out at a bar or family fun center, either one will do the job.

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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Why Are Mugshots Made Public Before a Suspect is Convicted by the Court?
iStock
iStock

Jennifer Ellis:

Several reasons.

1. Mugshots can help find people when they have absconded, or warn people when someone is out and dangerous. So there is a good reason to share some mugshots.

2. Our legal system requires openness as per the federal constitution, and I imagine most if not all state constitutions. As such, this sort of information is not considered private and can be shared. Any effort to keep mugshots private would result in lawsuits by the press and lay people. This would be under the First and Sixth Amendments as well as the various Freedom of Information Acts. However, in 2016 a federal court ruled [PDF] that federal mugshots are no longer routinely available under the federal FOIA.

This is partially in recognition of the damage that mugshots can do online. In its opinion, the court noted that “[a] disclosed booking photo casts a long, damaging shadow over the depicted individual.” The court specifically mentions websites that put mugshots online, in its analysis. “In fact, mugshot websites collect and display booking photos from decades-old arrests: BustedMugshots and JustMugshots, to name a couple.” Some states have passed or are looking to pass laws to prevent release of mugshots prior to conviction. New Jersey is one example.

a) As the federal court recognizes, and as we all know, the reality is that if your picture in a mugshot is out there, regardless of whether you were convicted, it can have an unfortunate impact on your life. In the old days, this wasn’t too much of a problem because it really wasn’t easy to find mugshots. Now, with companies allegedly seeking to extort people into paying to get their images off the web, it has become a serious problem. Those companies may get in trouble if it can be proved that they are working in concert, getting paid to take the picture off one site and then putting it on another. But that is rare. In most cases, the picture is just public data to which there is no right of privacy under the law.

b) The underlying purpose of publicity is to avoid the government charging people and abusing the authority to do so. It was believed that the publicity would help protect people. And it does when you have a country that likes to hide what it is up to. But, it also can cause harm in a modern society like ours, where such things end up on the web and can cause permanent damage. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a catch-22. We have the right to know issues and free speech rights smack up against privacy rights and serious damage of reputation for people who have not been convicted of a crime. The law will no doubt continue to shake out over the next few years as it struggles to catch up with the technology.

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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
What Happens When You Flush an Airplane Toilet?
iStock
iStock

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.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios