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Which ancient form of execution would you least prefer?

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Having touched briefly upon the lamentable scouring-to-death of Bibiana, patron saint of hangover cures, we promised to elaborate further on this method of execution, and famous folk who have endured it. Unfortunately, there weren't all that many famous people to be found: besides Jesus, who was scourged (but not to death) by Pilate, other scourgees include little-known martyrs like Jeremiah of Cordoba, executed in 851 by the Islamic rulers of his Spanish town for denouncing Muhammad in public. (Not exactly a household name, Jeremiah of Cordoba.) So we thought we'd expand our survey to include celebrity victims of keelhauling and drawing and quartering, and then promptly got sidetracked by the sheer multitude of elaborate, creative and horrible methods of execution thought up by our venerable forefathers (and mothers). Which got us to thinking: which would be the worst? Tell us what you think:

"¢ Being scourged. For those of you who missed the memo, scourging is like whipping with a nasty twist: the whip has between three and nine ends (or "flays"), which often have nasty things like metal spikes sewn into them. (For you etymology geeks, "scourge" comes from the Italian scoriada, ultimately from the Latin: excoriare = "to flay" and corium = "skin".)
"¢ Being buried alive. A punishment exacted by Romans upon Vestal Virgins who had broken their vows. They were tossed into tombs with a tiny bit of bread and water, to give the goddess Vesta a better opportunity to save them, if she wanted to.
Keelhauling. Given that this is uttered in nearly every sentence bespoke by movie pirates, precious few realize how nasty a punishment it really is. This is the least ancient of the tortures covered here -- the Dutch navy officially sanctioned it in 1560 and banned it in 1853. Naughty sailors were tied to a rope that looped beneath the vessel, thrown overboard on one side, and dragged under the ship's keel. As the hull was often covered in barnacles, you can imagine it wasn't a pleasant ride.

More unpleasantness after the jump ...

"¢ In the Netherlands, evisceration was considered apt punishment for criminals guilty of regicide, and consisted of removal of the vital organs through the abdomen. The English, on the other hand, didn't stop at mere disembowelment; for those unfortunates convicted of treason in the commonwealth, this was only the beginning -- then you lost your head, and the rest of you was cut into four pieces -- popularly known as "drawing and quartering."
Death by a thousand cuts, which is pretty much exactly as it sounds, and was popular in China from as early as the Song Dynasty (905-1279) until the turn of the twentieth century. It was abolished in 1905 after it became a Western symbol of the brutality of the Chinese penal system (and something of a PR problem).
"¢ The brazen bull. We swear, we're not making this up; only the ancient Greeks could have devised a torture so diabolical. Metalworkers fashioned a hollowed-out, brass statue of a bull, just large enough to fit a person -- er, victim -- inside. Once occupied, a fire was lit underneath, slow-roasting the tenant into oblivion. Inside the bull's head was a complex system of tubes and stops which converted the prisoner's screams into sounds like the bellowing of an infuriated ox. (I think this one gets my vote!)
"¢ Another Roman favorite: being rolled downhill in a spiked barrel.
Snake pit! Naughty folk were thrown in during the (apparently torture-happy) Song Dynasty in China (905-ish) and the Europeans also used it now and again, for instance in dealing with captured Viking warlord Ragnar Lodbrok in 865.
"¢ This Persian method of execution takes the prize for weird: scaphism involves force-feeding the convicted, then leaving them tied up in the sun for the bugs to get 'em. It's not the bugs that kill you, however, so much as the gangrene and septic shock that their presence in your system invites, as well as old friends dehydration and starvation. On second thought, maybe this one gets my vote -- it can take weeks to finally kick it.

There are lots more nasty ways to be capitally punished out there -- but these are our (least) favorite. Next time, we'll delve into the realm of fiction: our top ways to be killed in a horror movie.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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