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good smell perplexes new yorkers
October 28, 2005 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Good smell perplexes New Yorkers How odd the city smelled sweet, like maple syrup, and all over: up in Harlem, downtown, in Astoria, Park Slope, other parts of Brooklyn. And what was it? A breakout of MSUD and public urination? Or something more fortean or more sinister?
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat (120 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, oops. Sorry about that. It won't happen again.
posted by nixerman at 8:01 AM on October 28, 2005


Ahh that is bugged out. I smelled it in park slope last night and I thought it was some maple syrup I got on my hands when I was washing the dishes. The crazy thing was: WE HAD PASTA FOR DINNER.

I demand to know what it was.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:01 AM on October 28, 2005


Maybe the Fitzmas reindeers are passing some Fitzmas gas?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:06 AM on October 28, 2005


Listen, I love the conspiracy theories rife on the web, so I am going to add one. I can't help myself. But first of all, isn't it strange that a good smell makes the news? Manhattan does have a certain big city fragrance, while not unpleasant, is remarkable only to canyons full of cars and sea air. But the conspiracy...

What if rather than an odor, that was a mind control experiment, in which a scalar weapon was tested, using a known olfactory stimulating frequency? They chose vanilla cookies or some such thing, from a rapidly growing repertoire of neuro energetic signals?
posted by Oyéah at 8:06 AM on October 28, 2005


I smelled the smell last night at Rockefeller Center. A distinct waft of maple, maybe, or vanilla. Wierd.
posted by nyterrant at 8:06 AM on October 28, 2005


I'm pretty sure it was that Avian Flu stuff I've been hearing all about. It's about time.
posted by Plutor at 8:06 AM on October 28, 2005


Great username, kingfisher, his musclebound cat!
posted by Acey at 8:09 AM on October 28, 2005


Antifreeze/coolant smells a little like maple syrup to me. Maybe it's that -- a spill or something.
posted by Possum at 8:12 AM on October 28, 2005


I notice the smell of maple when I walk past certain buildings' ventilation ducts and have also noticed it in a car or two - I've been told by others that it's some by-product of heating 'chemicals"? Sorry so dumb, but whatever they use to make huge heating systems work emits this weird mapley odor. Hm.
posted by tristeza at 8:14 AM on October 28, 2005


i had some great new york city moments last night talking to strangers about the smell. it was seriously bizarre.
posted by goneill at 8:14 AM on October 28, 2005


That is probably the single oddest story I've ever seen in the New York Times. Wonder if we'll ever find out what is was..
posted by GregW at 8:14 AM on October 28, 2005


Starbucks new viral marketing campaign?
posted by amro at 8:14 AM on October 28, 2005


(not viral, word-of-mouth)
posted by amro at 8:16 AM on October 28, 2005


I fully expect giant marshmallow men to appear at the peak of 55 CPW tonight.
posted by kcm at 8:17 AM on October 28, 2005


Antifreeze is supposed to be sweet-tasting. Can kill pets if you leave any spilled on the driveway.
posted by scheptech at 8:17 AM on October 28, 2005


It was a terrrorist attack. They had heard that old "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" thing and figured maple would work just as good.

Consider yourself pwned, New York.
posted by soyjoy at 8:19 AM on October 28, 2005


New Yorkers. You guys crack me up, man.
posted by keswick at 8:21 AM on October 28, 2005


I blame the salons. My girlfriend had her hair color treated and pomaded yesterday, and the combo smelled like maple syrup. In a city of eight million, thousands of people would likely come into contact with the hundreds of women who got a similar treatment yesterday. Maybe Thursday is a big salon day.

Second theory -- unscrupulous landlords are cutting the home heating oil with maple syrup in the face of rising petrol prices.
posted by eddydamascene at 8:25 AM on October 28, 2005


Didn't anyybody see the episode of Star Trek where the vampire cloud can be detected by the sickly-sweet smell in the air?

Run, New Yorkers, run!
posted by Reverend Robbie at 8:27 AM on October 28, 2005


This is a prelude to first wave of attack by a new super army of Candied Roasted Peanut Vendors (the CRPV). Unknown to almost all surface dwellers is that just below the NYC subway tunnels there is a subterranean complex containing a mile-long peanut farm and sidewalk vendor cart factory. Over the past few decades the CRPV have been quietly advancing their science and cloning their ranks. But the CRPV are not content with just selling to snacking tourists. Last night they quielty surfaced a new super peanut called "honey maple" so delicous a peanut that even jaded NYC dwellers will eat them and soon be addicted, like crack. This will turn the entire food chain on its head. We're doomed. Doomed, I say.
posted by StarForce5 at 8:28 AM on October 28, 2005


Viral marketing, people. It’s the new Glade Plug-In scent.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:28 AM on October 28, 2005


Scalar Condiment Applications Repurposed for Energy Diffusion [SCARED]
posted by hall of robots at 8:36 AM on October 28, 2005


Reminds me of the Kokomo hum. Took 'em years to figure it out.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:37 AM on October 28, 2005


Kokomo has way too many stoplights.
posted by sciurus at 8:42 AM on October 28, 2005


Man, when I smelled it last night I thought I was just hallucinating. Good to know I'm not crazy!
posted by Mach5 at 8:45 AM on October 28, 2005


I smelled 'the smell' around Columbia last night.

I thought it smelled like French Vanilla coffee, someone else said it was Mocha...

It was really suspicious since it was very pungent over a large area.
posted by toftflin at 8:46 AM on October 28, 2005


Viral marketing, people. It’s the new Glade Plug-In scent.

Why would I want my apartment to smell like New York City?
posted by ToasT at 8:51 AM on October 28, 2005


Maybe it's SMELLWRITING; like skywriting, but for the nose.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:53 AM on October 28, 2005


Hmm... Maybe it was some sort of viral marketing.
posted by delmoi at 8:53 AM on October 28, 2005


it smelled like something burnt to me (but i'm all stuffed up). What was it?
posted by amberglow at 8:55 AM on October 28, 2005


hehe... so no one has figured out it's part of a sinister Canadian invasion plot.

Good, good.
posted by clevershark at 8:58 AM on October 28, 2005


that smell was too weird. really really strong in washington square park (thought a nuts4nutz cart had caught fire?) and then still smelled it in park slope an hour later. i seriously thought i was having odor hallucinations because no one was commenting on it.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:59 AM on October 28, 2005


ToasT writes "Why would I want my apartment to smell like New York City?"

After a while getting used to it will prevent you from smelling any but the most intense of urine ponds.
posted by clevershark at 8:59 AM on October 28, 2005


I was walking my dog in west harlem last night and smelled it, but completely thought it was in my own nose... so weird.

In 10 days we will all submit to our waffle overlords.
posted by splatta at 9:00 AM on October 28, 2005


Wow, I'm certainly glad my g/f and I weren't crazy. That's so weird, even weirder due to us just having gotten home to Park Slope from an improv show (TJ and Dave- please go see it. They're phenominal.) where maple syrup was a punchline.
posted by mkultra at 9:03 AM on October 28, 2005


I fully expect giant marshmallow men to appear at the peak of 55 CPW tonight.

Are you certain it wouldn't be a giant Aunt Jemima?
posted by mkhall at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2005


ToasT writes "Why would I want my apartment to smell like New York City?"

clevershark: After a while getting used to it will prevent you from smelling any but the most intense of urine ponds.


My apartment's a little untidy, but it ain't that bad!
posted by ToasT at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2005


It was really strong in Cobble Hill. I could even faintly smell it in my living room with the windows closed. There's a maple tree in fron to my building, so I thought that might be the source. I was suprised to see it all over the news this morning.

And that's a great statement about NYC, when it's big news that the city doesn't smell like a bloated corpse.

To quote Louis C.K., "The only city where you have to say things like, 'Hey that's mine. Don't pee on that.'"
posted by Gamblor at 9:08 AM on October 28, 2005


The New York Office of Emergency Management has got in on the act, though I notice the status is "closed"...

THU 10/27/2005 21:42:37
STATUS: CLOSED
PROGNOSIS: MONITORING
OTHER - SWEET ODOR
MN LOWER MANHATTAN AREA
FD REPORTS RECEIVED NUMEROUS CALLS FOR A SWEET ODOR IN THE AREA. OEM W/C NOTIFIED COAST GUARD, COAST GUARD REPORTS NOTHING UNUSUAL TO REPORT AT THIS TIME.FD HAS NOT FOUND A SOURCE A/T/T.

RESPONDING UNITS: OEM MONITORING
INCIDENT ID: 2005:10:27:21:29:10:361
posted by Sk4n at 9:09 AM on October 28, 2005


I smelled it while rampaging along Avenue B last night - thought there must be an IHOP around or that there was something in the evil drinks I was imbibing. It was definitely maple syrupy. (It soon got masked by another sweet scent common to the East Village.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:12 AM on October 28, 2005


Maybe it has something to do with the heating oil being used in the city. This is the time of year when all the buildings are turning it on. I don't know what else it could be...
posted by lovejones at 9:21 AM on October 28, 2005


I can report it did not make it to my part of Boro Park, at least. And I was in Park Slope part of the day and smelled nada.

But....I did consider having pancakes while eating in Park Slope. Coincidence??
posted by emjaybee at 9:22 AM on October 28, 2005


Maybe they are going to open a Waffle House in NYC!
posted by shoepal at 9:33 AM on October 28, 2005


Best quotation ever:

“I was at the computer and I felt like, I don't even know. Maybe someone had some maple syrup and they were typing away and I was typing and it got on me somehow and I was laying in bed last night and I felt like I had maple syrup in my nostrils.”

I swear: if it were a little longer, I'd use it as an audition monologue.
posted by skryche at 9:35 AM on October 28, 2005


Man, I miss New York...

Wait a minute, why isn't jonmc in this thread? What have they done with jonmc??

*curses evil maple-smelling terrorists*
posted by languagehat at 9:36 AM on October 28, 2005


That NYTimes headline is worthy of the Onion.
posted by beagle at 9:36 AM on October 28, 2005


Here in London there is a botanical garden my wife and I frequent and over the past few days, we've both noticed a very strong but sweet maple syrupy smell in certain areas of the gardens. We've been walking around trying to determine which plant is responsible but haven't tracked it down yet.

Maybe a whole load of these things blossomed in Central Park yesterday.
posted by gfrobe at 9:38 AM on October 28, 2005


He who smelt it dealt it.
posted by swerdloff at 9:39 AM on October 28, 2005


OH - and - smelled it in midtown last night.
posted by swerdloff at 9:40 AM on October 28, 2005


Smelled it in Astoria last night while walking home. I was and am very curious to know what it was.
posted by doublehelix at 9:41 AM on October 28, 2005


Probably the CIA testing exotic new viruses on the unsuspecting public yet again.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:43 AM on October 28, 2005


I have almost no sense of smell, but my friend mentioned that it smelled like "someone was making giant pancakes" around 1am last night.
posted by 4easypayments at 9:44 AM on October 28, 2005


I think the first few times they sprayed for Medflys here in Los Angeles it smelled like maple syrup. It might have been something to help attract the bugs to the poison.

Since they dropped the stuff from helicopters there were little brown spots on everything, we were told to cover our cars cause it could hurt the paint.

If they are using somthing similar put placed rather then dropped you wouldn't see it but definatly smell it.
posted by djlerman at 9:51 AM on October 28, 2005


That is probably the single oddest story I've ever seen in the New York Times.

You must have missed the week where every day had a new wrinkle about Ming the tiger in the Bronx apartment. Good times.
posted by Aknaton at 9:53 AM on October 28, 2005


I hope it's not viral marketing, I mean at least leave my one sense that isn't being shot to death with marketing crap.
posted by Billistics at 9:56 AM on October 28, 2005


I didn't smell it. Bushwick never gets any love. Williamsburg smelt like fall, though.

That is probably the single oddest story I've ever seen in the New York Times.

You must have missed the week where every day had a new wrinkle about Ming the tiger in the Bronx apartment. Good times.

I also enjoyed the "People Are Happy Sun Finally Reappears" stoory from earlier this month.
posted by dame at 10:06 AM on October 28, 2005


The middle two lines should be in itals. I have problems.
posted by dame at 10:11 AM on October 28, 2005


I smelled it in Lower Manhattan (2 blocks north of Wall) last night. My wife and I were convinced it was butterscotch.

Our doorman was perplexed as well.
posted by bshort at 10:16 AM on October 28, 2005


I vote for Starbucks, actually. The Maple line of beverages have been in test mode in most of New England and selling well, so it's likely they'll expand.. See? "Here comes the Maple!!!"
posted by setanor at 10:22 AM on October 28, 2005


I think that kind of viral marketing would work for something other than mapel syrup though. A spring fresh smell or a flowery something would be better. If anything, it slowed the sale of syrup in the city.
posted by cleverusername at 10:23 AM on October 28, 2005


"Many describe it as smelling like maple syrup. Other say it smells like flavored coffee or roasted nuts."

It's definitely Starbucks.
posted by setanor at 10:28 AM on October 28, 2005


my guess would be that new york was downwind from a cereal or candy factory ... my hometown's battle creek and this isn't that unusual for us
posted by pyramid termite at 10:28 AM on October 28, 2005


Didn't you know? The sewers are overrun with them.
posted by maryh at 10:50 AM on October 28, 2005


best new york times headline ever!
posted by jcruelty at 10:59 AM on October 28, 2005


I'm with pyramid termite. Sounds like the winds from a industrial bakery, food factory, Ding-Dong plant, etc caught Manhattan just right.

My next guess would be the heater thing, though since I can't experience the smell, that's a big guess. Only cuz it's gotten cold in the city quite recently, so people are turning heaters on for the first time.

My last guess would be the Starbuck's thing. I wouldn't be surprised, but then again I would.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:06 AM on October 28, 2005


It had already saturated the 2/3 subway car that stopped in brooklyn heights when i got on around 8:00 pm. i looked around the car before i sat down to make sure there wasn't a homeless eating pancakes because that's the first thing i thought of. it was gross. i hate that smell. it's such a dirty, cloying scent...
posted by naxosaxur at 11:10 AM on October 28, 2005


I smelled it over by the Hudson river, in the west 50s, as well as uptown in central Harlem. The best part of all of this might be the first paragraph in the Times' story:

An unseen, sweet-smelling cloud drifted through parts of Manhattan last night. Arturo Padilla walked through it and declared that it was awesome.

Love it.
posted by huzzahhuzzah at 11:17 AM on October 28, 2005


Hah--I see several comments about the headline, but it's the Google ads on the page that kill me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:17 AM on October 28, 2005


"Based on the formula, we recommend cyanide levels be no higher than 90 ppb. Most people can’t smell cyanide until levels reach 600 ppb. Cyanide compounds smell like bitter almonds to some people, while others cannot smell them at all. If you can smell the chemical, the level is too high to be safe." source

Also:
"Benzaldehyde (C6H5CHO) is responsible for much of the scent of almonds and peach pits, and is widely used for flavoring and in perfumes. While it is safe to consume in small amounts, 50-60 mL is estimated to be a fatal dose in humans." source
posted by pez_LPhiE at 11:43 AM on October 28, 2005


a slightly steamier explanation.

"The steam coursing under Manhattan is not to be confused with what is popularly called steam rising from many city manholes. The steam in the pipes is invisible, while the so-called steam wafting up from the streets is often vapor produced when underground water hits hot equipment and escapes from beneath the streets. It can also be condensed steam leaking from the Con Ed system.

United 310 Boiler Treatment For Steam Boilers
Dark brown liquid with slight vanilla-like odor. 12.5 - 14
posted by rodney stewart at 11:47 AM on October 28, 2005


I think Rodney has it. I smell the same sort of thing (I think) all the time in Toronto, near a manhole/steam thing. I always think the "sweet roasted peanut" smell is odd, and it drifts quite a bit.
posted by loquax at 11:59 AM on October 28, 2005


weather underground recorded city temp slipped below 50 degrees for first time this fall. apparently happened right on the 27th:


posted by rodney stewart at 12:03 PM on October 28, 2005


So... any infiltrators checked the sewers yet? Animals acting more hungry? I'm all intrigued, and I live in Belfast, ffs. Maybe it's because, of late, my city has smelled like burning martyr a little too often.
posted by paperpete at 12:10 PM on October 28, 2005


Clever explanation, Rodney. My belief that it was a ship from Candy Land docked in the harbor is slightly less feasible. Though I do like the scalar explanation.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 12:29 PM on October 28, 2005


What if rather than an odor, that was a mind control experiment, in which a scalar weapon was tested, using a known olfactory stimulating frequency? They chose vanilla cookies or some such thing, from a rapidly growing repertoire of neuro energetic signals?

Crazy, sure, but cool as hell.

Personally, I'm running with the "factory-decides-to-pump-pollution-into-water-or-air-and-gets-bright-idea-to-add-chemicals-that-make-it-smell-like-food" theory.
posted by davejay at 12:32 PM on October 28, 2005


Or Rodney's. That's decidedly more sane.

But if that's the case, I think NYC needs to start intentionally flavoring the sewer steam.
posted by davejay at 12:34 PM on October 28, 2005


There's an image I didn't need. Folks standing over manholes, deeply inhaling the sewer steam because it smells good.

That's like pine-scented insecticide - what in the heck is point?
posted by FormlessOne at 1:02 PM on October 28, 2005


"... the point?"

Must use preview. Must use preview. Must use....
posted by FormlessOne at 1:03 PM on October 28, 2005


Sometimes, I really love Metafilter. This is one of those times.
posted by dejah420 at 1:16 PM on October 28, 2005


It was definitely maple syrupy. I smelled it in Chelsea, and down by Centre Street.

Mmm... Sweet syrupy CHUD.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:50 PM on October 28, 2005


I got a better idea, all the population of New York City has begun to fall down a dark spiral into insanity.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:50 PM on October 28, 2005


We've been trying to get down that dark spiral of insanity for years, but the fucking tourists keep getting in the way.

Do not stop, walk backwards, weave, have conferencese, check your messages, or wave your shopping bags on the way down the spiral, ok!!!
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 1:54 PM on October 28, 2005


I walked from 20/1st to Wash Sq and back yesterday, four times, and smelt nothing. Maybe it's a genetic thing?
posted by meehawl at 2:08 PM on October 28, 2005


It didn't just sort of smell like maple syrup last night. It smelled so strongly that it kept me up last night.
posted by bshort at 2:37 PM on October 28, 2005


Amazing the variety of excuses we all came up with for the smell, isn't it ? I experienced it at 1st & 52nd and assumed some restaurant had taken a bunch of maple cakes out of the oven....

While I am prepared to submit to our waffle overlords (great comment, splatta) , I'm going with the "IHOP guerilla marketing" theory myself.
posted by AuntLisa at 2:50 PM on October 28, 2005


It didn't just sort of smell like maple syrup last night. It smelled so strongly that it kept me up last night.

What's particularly interesting is the incredible geographic range and pervasity of the odor. This convinces me that it wasn't just a wafting cloud of scent from the coffee-roasting mill or anything. The areas of smell mentioned by MeFites alone exceeds a 6 x 6 mile square - something that might be escaping the notice of people in other regions.
posted by Miko at 3:01 PM on October 28, 2005


Just to add another data point, I didn't smell a thing in Seattle.
posted by Inkslinger at 4:39 PM on October 28, 2005


So.... Nothing to worry about?
Is there any explanation? Or is it a mass halucination?
posted by Balisong at 4:56 PM on October 28, 2005


MetaFilter: He who smelt it dealt it.
posted by bwg at 5:32 PM on October 28, 2005


I figured there was a giant Mefi pancake orgy going on that no one told me about.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:58 PM on October 28, 2005


I'm in Michigan, and there's been a bad smell in my kitchenette the past couple days.

New York City: You can come and take your normal odor back and return the maple syrup to my cupboard.


"People Are Happy Sun Finally Reappears"

It's official - the NY Times is now being produced by the crap people who did features for my small hometown paper.
posted by NorthernLite at 6:09 PM on October 28, 2005


Sweet Synchronicity!
I smelled this inside the Quad movie theater at 13th and 6th, and then outside it. It smelled like flavored coffee. I assumed it was a factory too.
Maybe it was something to do with Halloween?
It seems like some odd mischievous act a Batman villian would attempt. But who? The confectious Candyman? Malicious Maple Syrup and her Gumdrop Gang? Vanilla Ice Coffee? If only I had an computer-filled underground lair.

I hope us smellers aren't part of some class-action lawsuit a decade from now because of this.
posted by hellbient at 7:24 PM on October 28, 2005


IHOP Denies. City Still Stumped.

"The samples taken were indicative of a food processing source."

They just don't know which.
Also, another candidate for quote of the day:

"I was watching TV in bed last night when I first smelled it," said Hanover, who lives at 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. "I thought I must have been eating French toast in bed and spilled some syrup on the sheets."
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:45 PM on October 28, 2005


I'm still trying to figure out how you'd get a smell so strong that it can be detected for 20+ square miles. I'm no chemist, but I can't think of any other smells -- normal or no -- that are that potent.
posted by Miko at 7:45 PM on October 28, 2005


While police and other government officials were at a loss to explain the origins of the syrup-like odor that first wafted over lower Manhattan Thursday night, they weren't waffling over a response.

Oh! Ho! Ha-ha! Waffling -- I get it! Those hilarious reporters! Oh, my sides.
posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on October 28, 2005


ConspiracyFilter: If you wanted to test the distribution of a chemical, you could use scent.
posted by theora55 at 7:53 PM on October 28, 2005


Yeah, but you could also use Vaseline-covered pieces of cardboard, which is often how air is tested for environmental pollutants....I am up for a good conspiracy, but not sure what kind this is. I don't think it's a test.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on October 28, 2005


theora55 - Indeed. This thread collates a lot : a very cheap method of data collection.

Bwahahha !...........

I don't eat pancakes anymore.
posted by troutfishing at 8:44 PM on October 28, 2005


Is there a Ralston-Purina plant in the area? Did anyone notice any flying manhole covers? Just watch, you'll find someone dumped something in the sewer.
posted by ?! at 8:55 PM on October 28, 2005


Smelled it first on the Lower East Side, and assumed it was from the new Starbucks on Delancey. Then it got stronger and more maple-y toward Rivington & Clinton. I then took the subway home to Astoria, where I was perplexed to smell maple again on 30th Avenue.

Actually, it's slightly alarming that particles can be dispersed in such concentrations over such a large area. Doesn't seem to bode well for chem/bio attack preparedness.
posted by Vidiot at 9:42 PM on October 28, 2005


Maybe god was having breakfast and was particularly messy?
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:40 PM on October 28, 2005


The way I see it can only be one of a few things:

1. Some byproduct of industry or manufacturing. This includes bakeries, chemical factories and what have you. The release of which could be intentional or accidental. I also wouldn't rule out the possibility of the smell originating from a ship.

2. Some sort of natural manifestation linked to one or more series of events. I'm reminded of the smell of leaves turning in the fall which is often triggered by temperature drops and other atmospheric factors. (Granted, there aren't many trees in NYC, but perhaps the small is originating from elsewhere.)

3. A malicious or intentional distribution of an airborne particulate substance by a person or people of unknown intent.

4. Unknown and currently unguessable cause.

Of the four options above it should be relatively easy to rule out numbers 1 and 2. Obviously the authorities need to call around and investigate to see if there has been any sort of spill or release of substances from local industry. In the case of number 2 our egghead scientists should be able to throw out a few good hypotheses - after all, seasonal and weather related "smells" are pretty well known.

The third option is most disturbing of all. Our imaginations can run wild speculating why anyone would want to do this. Perhaps it is a "dry run" by the terrorists to see how far and fast their airborne attacks can carry on a day with similar weather and wind patterns. Perhaps the government is testing the same scenario and also gauging public reaction to a funny smell. Perhaps it is some sort of elaborate but harmless prank.

The fourth option may seem vague - that this is unknowable. We may never know the source of this for the simple reason that someone could be reluctant to report the cause. This could be a harmless accident and the person or people responsible are keeping tight lipped for fear of litigation from any of 8 million nervous New Yorkers.

Knowing the little that I know about smell receptors (there's a sentence I never thought I'd type) and gases my concern and amazement is the same as some of the posters above: this seems to be affecting a very large area of the city meaning that the source is possibly large, mobile and releasing this substance over a long duration. Have the authorities noticed any suspicious vans driving endlessly around Manhattan?
posted by wfrgms at 12:24 AM on October 29, 2005


my concern and amazement is the same as some of the posters above: this seems to be affecting a very large area of the city meaning that the source is possibly large, mobile and releasing this substance over a long duration

Yeah, that's why I think you can rule out #1 almost completely just by thinking about it. In my entire lifetime of living in that region, I never, not once, can recall any industrial smell with the strength and power to be not only detectable but so noticeable as to be remarked upon across such a broad swath of land. Even some sort of chemical spill or sewer contamination event would have had to feature a weirdly super-concentrated compound in order to spread this far. It speaks of a chemical that is either coming from multiple sources at once, or of one that is so preternaturally potent that we haven't got any good analogy for it.
posted by Miko at 6:59 AM on October 29, 2005


The latest
posted by Miko at 7:05 AM on October 29, 2005


Having considered the data, I have formed the following hypothesis: the smell was a test, a dry run of a PsyOps experiment, delivered by some branch of the U.S. government.

I put this idea forward only half-facetiously. I think most conspiracy theories are BS, but since I come from a family of both military types and journalists, I also know that our government really does do this sort of thing from time to time. That, and I enjoy some good Encyclopedia Brown conjecturing.

My guess would be that infusing the city with maple aroma was meant to test the ability of the scent to effect a mood change on a large population -- possibly to calm or subdue people. Certainly the aroma is one that immediately calls up all sorts of homey, warm associations -- waffles, pie, warm winter mornings at the breakfast table with a whole lazy day ahead. Its effect on the collective psychology of New York is pretty clear by all anecdotal accounts -- Viz., even our own MeFites have said:

i had some great new york city moments last night talking to strangers about the smell

i seriously thought i was having odor hallucinations


when I smelled it last night I thought I was just hallucinating. Good to know I'm not crazy!


It smelled so strongly that it kept me up last night.


I'll provide some loony links that sort of support this idea.

>>First, from the article just above in the NYT: "Experts say that no human sense is more directly connected to the emotions than the sense of smell. "Before we know we are even in contact with a smell we have already received it and reacted to it," a professional perfumer, Mandy Aftel, said. "Smells come in without language and go directly to the emotional center of the brain. That's why they are so connected to memory."

>>From a lecture on Propaganda, PR, and PsOps at some public library somewhere: "[PsyOps} are things ranging from using low-frequency [electromagnetic] waves in battlefield situations to intimidate your enemy to using smells. There's a lot of scents now that chemo-reception scientists have figured out make people upset and make people intimidated...And those are real, and more than enough to talk about."

And from someone with an unhealthy interest in this stuff who made a web page: "Psychological operations may be defined broadly as the planned use of communications to influence human attitudes and behavior ... to create in target groups behavior, emotions, and attitudes that support the attainment of national objectives. The form of communication can be as simple as spreading information covertly by word of mouth or through any means of multimedia....The giant strides made in the area of behavioral sciences, which can now enable us to know and understand why people behave as they do, combined with the development and perfection of mass media communications, have greatly multiplied the capability and value of PSYOP as a means of achieving our own national objectives without needless bloodshed."

Despite the ridiculousness of my links, it is true that the military uses PsyOps and that smell is one of the means being most carefully explored right now. And if you want to see how it affects an anxious population, why not pick New York?
posted by Miko at 7:38 AM on October 29, 2005


Could it be a mobile smell-dispensing unit?

By which I mean Starbucks or the Army (or CIA) could be driving around New York pumping this smell/chemical/bioagent into the air.

Which would explain why it is being smelled all over the place.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:44 AM on October 29, 2005


Does this mean that they don't want to pacify Bushwick? That we are safe from terror? Does it have to do with being on top of a hill? I feel both swindled and safe.
posted by dame at 10:56 AM on October 29, 2005


My roommate just reminded me that there are plenty of flavor factories in North Jersey. Could be a Willy Wonka wannabe scientist doing an impromptu release of a new artificial almond scent. or something.

on preview - yeah Dame, maybe we're safe in our Bushwick bunkers...
Unless I'm spreading something having smelled it.
posted by hellbient at 11:42 AM on October 29, 2005


My roommate just reminded me that there are plenty of flavor factories in North Jersey. Could be a Willy Wonka wannabe scientist doing an impromptu release of a new artificial almond scent. or something.

Yeah, this is exactly what I'm saying it's not. Your roommate is thinking of IFF. I used to live near there. Sometimes you smell things, but not for 24 square miles. You just have to appreciate the scale involved, understand how many parts per million of the compound you need to have a detectable scent, and then multiply it over the large swath of land we're talking about. It couldn't possibly come from one factory.

Think. New York is surrounded by thousands of factories and industrial seaports. This kind of thing would happen all the time if normal factory work produced any odor so powerful.
posted by Miko at 1:22 PM on October 29, 2005


You're probably right Miko, but i wouldn't suggest that this would be from normal factory work.
posted by hellbient at 2:34 PM on October 29, 2005


Perhaps we will never know....*cue Rod Serling*
posted by Miko at 3:43 PM on October 29, 2005


...not for 24 square miles. You just have to appreciate the scale involved...

From the plants, the steam goes into Con Edison's underground pipes. On a cold winter day, nearly 10 million pounds of steam at 350 degrees Fahrenheit flow each hour through 105 miles of underground mains...

The East River plant is one of seven Con Edison plants -- five in Manhattan and one each in Queens and Brooklyn...


i agree it's definitely nowhere near as sexy a theory as PSYOPs but looking on the plus side, at least my brain isn't now hurting.
posted by rodney stewart at 4:58 PM on October 29, 2005


So you're saying the Con Ed steamworks had a maple-vanilla fart?

Wild.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:39 PM on October 29, 2005


Could it be a mobile smell-dispensing unit? By which I mean Starbucks or the Army (or CIA) could be driving around New York pumping this smell/chemical/bioagent into the air.

There are enough Starbucks in NY that if each one had a mechanism to dispense the scent, all of Manhattan would probably smell... Then again, if tons of Starbucks employees at the retail level were responsible for pumping out the scent, there probably would have been a leak to the media about it by now.
posted by amro at 5:52 PM on October 29, 2005


The problem with the steam theory is that steam is a closed system. If it were able to spray itself into the atmosphere so that people could smell it, there would be a tremendous drop in the pressure required to force it through the turbines and along the 150 miles of line. So if it were maple-scented, and If there were simultaneous steam leaks all over the city, then yes, this might be an explanation -- except that such an event would have been a major, citywide emergency featuring failures of many systems, including power and heat, and the knowledge of it would be widespread.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on October 29, 2005


MSNBC even did an inane slideshow.

Meanwhile, maybe we should be looking harder at these guys -- Maple Weekend, indeed. I mean, they say it right on their site: Our purpose is to increase the production of New York State maple syrup and enhance its sale across the nation.
posted by Miko at 8:00 PM on October 29, 2005


I'm in Elmhurst - Rego Park in Queens, and I couldn't smell it. :(

I love this headline and city.
posted by riffola at 9:19 PM on October 29, 2005


What if there was an overpressure situation and steam valves blew off the excess, Miko?

It really is the best non-scary explanation I've heard yet.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:33 AM on October 30, 2005


What if there was an overpressure situation and steam valves blew off the excess, Miko?

There's no way this could happen without the utility knowing about it, and they'd tell the NY athorities so the investigation could be ended.
posted by Miko at 11:08 AM on October 30, 2005


...anyway, why is the idea that it's PsyOps so scary? I mean, we know through estabished sources that the military is in a phase of actively researching and developing these tactics, and is using a lot of them in Iraq, Guantanamo, and who knows where else. We also know that not all of them are meant to cause panic or terror -- they're just meant to be psychologically active. They're already doing this stuff, so if it scares you in New York, it should also be scaring you in general.

I'm not saying I definitely believe this, just to be clear. I couldn't possibly argue that it's a fact, because I have no evidence. And I heartily believe in expecting horses, not zebras. It's just that I think it's plausible, and that many of the more obvious explanations have to be ruled out. Until we have a concrete explanation associated with some evidence, there's no reason to dismiss the idea out of hand.
posted by Miko at 11:13 AM on October 30, 2005


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