Original image

Behold the grandissimus!

Original image

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the genitalia of an animal which astounds us with its size in so many other respects -- it grows up to 60 feet in length and can weigh 150 metric tons -- is also pretty sizable. (Indeed, bull sperm whale penises can reach nine feet.) What is remarkable, though, is the powerful mystique that this particular piece of a particularly large animal seems to have held, and continues to hold, over us. Three examples are mentioned in Eric Dolin's magnificent history of whaling in America, Leviathan:

1) The 1598 stranding of a sperm whale on a Dutch shore was a rare and newsmaking event. Of special interest to onlookers -- and to engraver Jacob Maltham, who depicted the event above -- was the animal's prodigious sexual organ. As Dolin points out, "One of the men leans toward the whale and uses his staff, apparently to measure the organ's size. The other man's left arm is draped around the woman's back, drawing her near, while his other arm is outstretched, palm upward toward it, as if to say 'behold!' Yet another man, finding the protruding penis less interesting than useful, uses it as a ladder to get on top of the whale."

2) Some 400 years later, as previously mentioned here, an unfortunate explosion involving a decomposing whale being trucked through a Taiwanese city attracted considerable attention worldwide. (Gruesome pictures helped.) When the whale finally reached its destination -- a nature preserve outside the city where it was to be dissected and studied -- it continued to attract attention, mostly from local men. According to the Taipei Times, they flocked "to see the corpse and 'experience' the size of its penis."

3) The penis of the sperm whale holds a peculiar place of honor in American literature. Before you scour your Intro to Literature syllabus to see if you missed a lecture, consider that in Moby-Dick, thought by many to be our greatest novel, Melville devotes an entire chapter to, you guessed it, the sperm whale's penis, which he dubbed "the grandissimus." An brief excerpt:

"Had you stepped aboard the Pequod at a certain juncture of this post-mortemizing of the whale, and had you strolled forward nigh the windlass, pretty sure am I that you would have scanned with no small curiosity a very strange, enigmatical object, which you would have seen there, lying along lengthwise in the lee scuppers. Not the wondrous cistern in the whale's huge head; not the prodigy of his unhinged lower jaw; not the miracle of his symmetrical tail; none of these would so surprise you, as half a glimpse of that unaccountable cone -- longer than a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter at its base, and jet-black as Yojo, the ebony idol of Queequeg."

He goes on, to be sure, even describing the shipboard custom of transforming the "idol's" outer skin into a wearable coat! In short (no pun intended), the mystery of the whale's member is really the mystery of why people find it so fascinating (like this guy, who started a museum of phalluses in Iceland, the whale being its centerpiece). Any guesses?

Original image
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
Original image

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.

Original image
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
Original image
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

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.


Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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.


Patrick Smith/Getty Images

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.


More from mental floss studios