It’s a familiar scenario: you have checked in, made your way through security and the queue at the gate, got on board and settled into your seat, only to hear the captain say something like: “We are waiting for a slot.” It’s the all-too-familiar excuse that airlines use when they want to delay your departure.
A slot is a narrow opening or groove in something, such as a coin slot on the side of a slot machine or the narrow area where letters and postcards go through in a mailbox. The word is also used as a metaphor for a position or role: The job of chief copy editor at the Gazette is a very desirable slot.
The word is probably also derived from the slot, or notch, on the primary feathers of some birds that helps to guide airflow over their wings during flight. A similar feature on some helicopters is called a rotor slot.
When slots first appeared, they were quite simple and had a few paylines that only allowed for a few different types of winning combinations. Today’s games are far more complex, with multiple reels and many different symbols. To keep track of all the possibilities, players must consult a pay table, which lists payouts, prizes and jackpots for each combination of symbols. This information is typically printed on the slot machine’s glass or, for online games, embedded in the help screen. The game of slot teaches players to exercise restraint, as it can be very tempting to keep playing after you have exceeded your budget. It also trains players’ reflexes by forcing them to react quickly when matching symbols appear on the screen.