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Pen caps have holes because we filthy humans will gnaw on anything

In today's edition of Saturday science. we bring you this: holes in pen caps help prevent choking deaths by creating a small passageway for air to slip through.

BIC pens
Pens are for writing, not for biting.

Are there toothmarks on all your pencils? Are your fingernails gnawed to the quick? I'll take "things we chew on that we shouldn't for $200," Alex.

Ever wonder why some ballpoint-pen caps have holes in the top? Weekend factoid: Apparently it's to prevent people from choking on them while chewing on them. Science Alert this week pointed out that the holes are supposed to keep you breathing if the cap inadvertently ends up in your windpipe.

In its online FAQ, pen company Bic explains the design in some writing instruments' caps. "In addition to help prevent the pen from leaking, all our Bic caps comply with international safety standards that attempt to minimize the risk of children accidentally inhaling pen caps. Some of these vented caps, like that used for the Bic Cristal, (have) a little hole in the top to comply with the existing safety standards."

The UK-based Independent newspaper reports that 100 Americans a year choke to death on pen caps, but that the number used to be higher, so the pen-cap holes are helping. (Still, if you simply can't kick the cap-chewing habit, it probably wouldn't hurt to get some tips on how to help yourself -- and others -- in the event of choking.)

But let's end on a less-serious note. The hole factoid isn't the only surprising thing on Bic's site. Apparently the company once made four fragrances, which were discontinued in most places in 1991 but can still be purchased in, of all places, Iran. So now you know where to go the next time you want to entice your date by smelling like a junior-high study hall.