Answer Man

A Good Soaking

Q: How does Disney keep all those topiaries watered during the annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival?

     A: Answer Man has suspected for years that Donald Duck’s nephews—Huey, Dewey and Louie—waddle around with a really long water hose every night after the park closes. He just can’t prove it. So until that story breaks, here’s the official version.
     The secret is tubing. Lots of it. Quarter-inch irrigation tubing winds its way through most of the 100 or so topiaries that are the stars of the festival. There are tiny holes every 6 to 12 inches from which water oozes. Yes, from Woody’s arm to Mickey’s leg to the Fantasia hippo’s bounteous backside—the Mouse’s horticulturists have it covered.
     Yet, these topiaries don’t need as much water as you might think. On average, only about three minutes of soaking, once a day, says Renee Worrell, Walt Disney World topiary production planner. Why so little? Because the plants are rooted in sphagnum moss, which holds the moisture like a sponge. And from the who-would-have-guessed department: To keep those lovely begonias, creeping fig, sweet alyssum and other plants in place, the Epcot experts use…hairpins. A few hundred thousand of them.
     Is it any wonder that, after 19 years, we’ve grown rather attached to this festival?

Q: How can merchants keep crowds from losing control at the release of a coveted consumer product?

The much-desired Foamposite Galaxy

     A: Cops on horseback and in riot gear can help—that staved off trouble at Florida Mall recently before the planned release of a limited edition shoe called—take a deep breath—the Nike Air Foamposite One Galaxy.
     “Goal-oriented actors’’ is how crowd behavior expert Clark McPhail refers to these eager folks. The key to preventing a mad rush is “regulating priority of access,’’ says McPhail, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He points to changes Walmart made in its procedures for Black Friday sales after an employee was trampled to death in New York in 2008. The following year, the store stayed open from 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day throughout the night so there was no mad rush. People were given tickets for the most desired items to avoid “rush and grab.’’ And employees spoke from raised platforms to let the crowd know what was going on.
     Indeed, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued crowd management safety guidelines for retailers. They include using numbered wristbands or even an Internet lottery for “hot’’ items, like the aforementioned Nike sneakers. Um, no thanks. Answer Man has decided to stick with his hot-looking $20 walking shoes from Costco.

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