How does that work?
City living inspires a lot of WTFs (chief among them: What did Daley just say? But that's a question for another time). These explanations of prominent urban curiosities should satisfy your need-to-know urges.
How does iCream create hundreds of custom ice-cream flavors on the spot?
Science! By making its ice cream, sorbet, yogurt and pudding bases ahead of time, iCream (1537 N Milwaukee Ave, 773-342-2834) employees can whip up individual custom-made desserts by adding flavors ranging from green tea to pomegranate before freezing them using an $80,000 liquid-nitrogen tank. “The nitrogen is 320 degrees below zero, so as soon as it comes in contact with the dairy base, it turns the milk into ice cream immediately,” explains iCream co-owner Jason McKinney. “It’s not as heavy as typical scoop ice cream because it’s just been made and the ice crystals are smaller.” Using approximately a quarter-liter of liquid N per customer, the process isn’t the cheapest way to make desserts, McKinney admits, but it allows the shop to produce hundreds of flavor combinations without wasting product.—Christina Couch
How do those blue street sweepers work? They seem to just move the dirt around.
Despite what you may have heard, there are not little men with tiny brooms sweeping away under the carriage of those hulking, Zamboni-like machines. The majority of the city’s street sweepers use powerful jets to shoot water streams onto roadways and alleys; spinning brushes simultaneously scrub dirt and crud from the streets, curbs and gutters. And where does the garbage go, you ask? Underneath the truck body, a cylindrical brush sweeps stray debris onto a conveyor belt, which carries it to an onboard storage container. The city’s sweepers cover a staggering 494,357 miles every year. “It’s the equivalent distance of going from Chicago to the moon twice,” says Matt Smith, chief spokesman for the Department of Streets and Sanitation. Coincidentally, that’s exactly how long it feels when we’re stuck behind one of those tortoise-slow trucks on our way to work.—Rod O’Connor
How does a competitive eater digest all that food, and what are the, ahem, aftereffects?
Besides stretching his stomach by overeating, Pilsen resident Patrick Bertoletti, the world’s second-highest-ranked competitive eater, gears up for eat-offs by doing some technique training: “It’s the most important part of competitive eating,” he says. “For something like hot dogs, you have to separate the buns and eat them separately with liquid. Chicken wings, I use something called the umbrella method where you clench the bone and push it down and then the meat comes off like an umbrella…your stomach gets used to the burden after a while and eating with liquid helps. I’ll eat about 15 pounds of straight food and then another gallon of liquid [to] soften [it] and make it go down better.” The aftereffects are no less gut-wrenching: “The next day you don’t just go to the bathroom once and the toilet explodes. It takes about 36 hours to get back to normal. Certain foods like straight sugars and carbs process faster, but meats take up to 18 hours to digest normally.” The price for that, says Chicago gastroenterologist Dr. Andrew Albert, is nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and severe abdominal pain in the short-term, and even worse in the long-term. “Competitive eating can cause severe weight gain, high cholesterol, blood problems, trouble emptying your stomach,” he says. “It can also cause heart attacks, hepatitis, permanent liver damage, heart arrhythmias, kidney problems, swelling issues, or you could tear your esophagus or stomach wide open.” Bon appétit.—Christina Couch
How did the Art Institute install Charles Ray’s giant Hinoki sculpture (a.k.a. that big log) in the Modern Wing?
To transport your entire life’s possessions, it takes, what, three moving guys? Four? To get Ray’s 32-foot-long, 2,300-pound fallen tree into the Modern Wing (111 S Michigan Ave, 312-443-3600, artic.edu/aic), it took dozens—and years of planning. After devising a special cradle to grab and suspend the oversized log, California-based Carlson & Co. shipped the artwork from Osaka, Japan, where Ray had carved it from Japanese cypress, to L.A., where it was first shown, to its current home. Once it arrived here in November 2008, about 15 workers carefully wheeled the single-piece log from the truck to two forklifts that ever-so-carefully raised it to the second floor, where two rigs (and more workers) hoisted it out of its cradle. The massive Hinoki came first; the museum’s second-floor banister and the gallery’s interior walls, second. During the three-day installation process, the one Modern Wing piece too big for the freight elevator was swarmed by a plethora of museum employees: an installation crew, art specialists, registrars, conservators, the curator and technicians, who ensured the climate inside the not-yet-finished Modern Wing was just so for the wooden artwork. Although the museum won’t disclose Hinoki’s moving-day price tag, collection manager Nora Riccio says it was “the largest installation cost I’ve ever seen.” —Novid Parsi