The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XV

Every Monday, mental_floss ventures into the archives of The New York Times to find first mentions worth mentioning. If you have a suggestion for next week's installment, leave us a comment.

George Clooney

July 1, 1990

Popular Films Are Feeding The Series Maw
clooney.jpg This season's spinoffs...are likely to have a certain familiarity about them, especially after the producers and the networks get through tinkering with the movie premises. In ABC's Baby Talk, for example, the father substitute, a cab driver played in the film by John Travolta, becomes a handyman, played by George Clooney. This gives him a reason to hang around the house "“ and pursue a romance "“ with the single mother, played by Kirstie Alley in the movie and Connie Sellecca in the series. Ms. Sellecca's character also gets a time-honored foil, another single mom who lives next door.

Bill Maher

February 28, 1982

A Rising Star At Pace
maher.jpgBill Maher, a student at Cornell University who has been described as an "observation comic" will entertain at 9 P.M. Friday in the Campus Center of Pace University in Pleasantville. Mr. Maher, who has performed at Catch-a-Rising-Star, a Manhattan nightclub that showcases new comedians, will be joined by two other emerging comedians, Adrienne Tolsch and J. J. Wall.

The evening is one of two yearly showcases at Pace initiated by Dr. Nicholas Catalano, director of performing arts, who is a part-time nightclub producer in New York...."Bill Maher is one of the best talents I've seen in years. He will be a major comedy star one day," he predicted.

Admission is $3, no reservations are required and beer and soft drinks are provided free.

Keep reading for the Golden Gate Bridge, Toyota Prius, Pervez Musharraf, The Tube Bar Tapes, Andrew Sullivan and Slashdot.

Golden Gate Bridge

December 28, 1922

Plan Golden Gate Bridge, To Be World's Largest Span
goldengate.jpgJ.B. Strauss, one of Chicago's best known civil engineers, made public today his plans for the erection of a bridge across the Golden Gate at San Francisco....Hitherto the bridge, the central span of which will be no less than 4,000 feet in length, has been looked upon as a wild flight of imagination, but recent advances in engineering and bridge design have been so great that the proposed construction is now a practical proposition.

Toyota Prius

November 5, 1995

Tokyo Auto Show Explores New Frontiers
prius.jpg Nissan has come up with the AA-X, a concept car that can change from a two-person sporty convertible into a four-person wagon. The two-part roof and the interior seating can be arranged in five combinations.

There is also new technology under the hood. Several manufacturers are pushing direct-injection gasoline engines, which promise to save fuel without sacrificing power. Toyota is showing a sedan of the future called Prius that should be able to get 70 miles per gallon. It has an energy management system that cuts fuel use by, among other techniques, regenerating braking energy and turning off the engine when the car is stopped.

Pervez Musharraf

October 20, 1998

Pakistani Premier Prevails In Clash With General
musharraf.jpgIn the welter of events unfolding here, one remarkable episode stands out: after the chief of the powerful Pakistani Army got in hot water for publicly criticizing the Prime Minister and proposing a stronger military role in making policy, it was the general who lost his job, not the Prime Minister.

There was no coup, although generals have ruled Pakistan for almost half of its 51-year history, and prime ministers have been dismissed in earlier clashes with the army.

Instead, Gen. Jehangir Karamat quietly resigned on Oct. 7, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif immediately replaced him with another army commander, Pervez Musharraf. Last week, in a smooth transition, the new Chief of the Army Staff installed his own team of top officers.


February 1, 1999

logo.jpgAngry Internet Jousting Over Simulated Warfare
Computer programmers were busy spewing vitriol last week on Slashdot, an Internet site ( that proclaims itself as specializing in "news for nerds," over another Internet patent.

The patent, assigned to Rtime, of Seattle, covers certain aspects of playing three-dimensional games on the Internet. One aspect is a type of real-time data filtering that insures that only relevant data is distributed to participants. Another is a global time base that keeps different users synchronized within milliseconds.
* * * * *
Some of those weighing in on Slashdot wondered whether Rtime would try to extract a licensing fee each time someone tried to play private sessions of Doom or Quake or other three-dimensional games over the Internet.

Andrew Sullivan

April 20, 1983

Weinberger Drops Debate At Oxford
sullivan.jpg Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger has withdrawn from a debate on foreign policy at Oxford University after a warning from his British counterpart that his participation "might not be advisable" because of the approach of a general election.

Andrew Sullivan, president of the Oxford Union, which had hoped to stage the debate on May 27, said Mr. Weinberger telephoned last Friday to say he could not take part. The American had agreed some time ago to oppose E.P. Thompson, the leader of the British nuclear disarmament movement, on the motion: ''There is no moral difference between the world policies of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.''
* * * * *
Mr. Sullivan, the union president, is a 19-year-old student of history and French who describes himself as a supporter of the Government. He reported that Mr. Weinberger said on Friday that he thought a debate might be an "inappropriate" forum for a person in his position and that he did not want to seem to intervene in the British domestic political process with an election in the offing.

Update: Mr. Sullivan responds.

The Tube Bar Tapes

March 7, 1999

Giving Jerseyana A Voice
tubebartapes.jpgMr. Sceurman and Mr. Moran also scattered excerpts from "The Tube Bar Tapes" throughout the CD [Weird New Jersey's "The Sounds of Weirdness"]. These legendary prank-call recordings -- containing classics like "Can I speak to Al Coholic?" and "Is this the party to whom I am speaking?" (borrowed from Lily Tomlin) -- have circulated on bootleg tapes for years.

The location of the Tube Bar and the identities of the callers has been a mystery for two decades, but Weird New Jersey broke the story last May in its 10th issue. The calls were made in 1975 and 1976 to the Tube Bar in Jersey City, which was near the Journal Square train PATH station; the callers, Jim Davidson and John Elmo, now live in Florida, driven out of state not by irate tavern owners, but by high taxes.

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Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
10 Monster Facts About Pacific Rim
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Legendary Pictures took a gamble on Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster/robot slugfest. Since it wasn’t based on a preexisting franchise, it lacked a built-in fanbase. That can be a serious drawback in our current age of blockbuster remakes and reboots. The movie underperformed domestically; in America, it grossed just over $100 million against its $180 million budget. Yet Pacific Rim was a huge hit overseas and acquired enough fans to earn itself a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, which arrives in theaters this week. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.


Idris Elba in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Warner Bros.

One foggy day in 2007, Beacham—who’d recently moved to California—was walking along Santa Monica Beach. As he looked out at the Ferris wheel on the city’s eponymous pier, he pictured a looming sea monster. Then he imagined an equally large robot gearing up to fight the beast. “They just sort of materialized out of the fog, these vast godlike things,” Beacham said. He decided to pursue the concept further after coming up with the idea of human co-pilots who’d need to operate their robot as a team, which added a new thematic dimension.

“I didn’t know I had something I wanted to write until I realized these robots are driven by two pilots, and what happens when one of those people dies? What happens to the leftovers? Then it became a story about loss, moving on after loss, and dealing with survivor’s guilt," Beacham said. "That made the monsters scarier because now you care about the people who are in these robots.”


Pacific Rim was picked up by Legendary Pictures and handed over to director Guillermo del Toro. A huge fan of monster cinema, del Toro enthusiastically co-wrote the final screenplay with Beacham. Sixteen concept artists were hired to sketch original robot and creature designs for the film. “We would get together every day like kids and draw all day,” del Toro told the New York Daily News. “We designed about a hundred Kaijus and about a hundred Jaegers and every week we would do an American Idol and we would vote [some of] them out.”


In “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” the tenth episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's sixth season, Charlie Day’s character gives us a darkly comedic monologue about rodent extermination. Little did the actor know that the performance would open a big opportunity for him. Impressed by the rat speech, del Toro offered Day the part of Dr. Newton Geizler, Pacific Rim’s socially-inept kaiju expert. “He said to himself, ‘That’s my guy. That guy should be in my next movie because if he killed rats, he can kill the monster,’” Day recalled during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the movie set, del Toro often joked about how much he enjoys It’s Always Sunny. As a way of repaying his director, Day helped get del Toro a minor role in the series.


Most of the film’s special effects were computer-generated, but not everything was digital. For the robot cockpit scenes, del Toro had his team build the interior of a full-scale Jaeger head. The finished product stood four stories tall and weighed 20 tons. And like a Tilt-A-Whirl from hell, it was designed to rock around violently on its platform via a network of hydraulics. Once inside, the actors were forced to don 40-pound suits of armor. Then the crew strapped their feet into an apparatus that Charlie Hunnam has compared to a high-resistance elliptical machine.

Certain shots also required del Toro to dump gallons of water all over his exhausted, physically-strained stars. So yeah, the experience wasn’t much fun. “We saw every one of the actors break down on that set except for the female lead actress Rinko Kikuchi," del Toro said. "She’s the only actor that didn’t snap."


Del Toro wanted Gipsy Danger, his ‘bot, to have the self-confident air of a wild west gunslinger. To that end, he and concept artist Oscar Chichoni developed a swaggering gait that was based on John Wayne’s signature hip movements. The Jaeger’s Art Deco-like design was influenced by the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings.


Hailed as the “fortieth greatest guitarist of all time” by Rolling Stone, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello rocked the MTV generation with hits like “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.” Pacific Rim bears his mark as well. The film’s lead composer was Ramin Djawadi, whose other works include the Game of Thrones theme. Wanting to add a “rock element” to the Pacific Rim soundtrack, he and del Toro reached out to Morello. The guitarist didn’t need much persuading.

“When they asked me to put some giant robot riffs and screaming underwater monster licks on the film score, I was all in,” Morello said. Djwadi was pleased with the rocker's contributions to the project. As he told the press: “Tom’s unique style and sounds really defined our robots.”


A definite highlight of this movie is Gipsy Danger’s duel with the winged kaiju Otachi in downtown Hong Kong. Both characters were computer-generated, as were the majority of the streets, cars, and towers in this epic sequence. However, there is one moment which was at least partly realized with practical effects. Gipsy punches through the wall of an office building early in the fight. We see her fist rip through a series of cubicles and gradually decelerate until it lightly taps a chair with just enough force to set off a Newton’s Cradle desktop toy. For that shot, effects artists at 32Ten Studios constructed a miniature office building interior featuring 1/4-scale desks, cubicles, and padded chairs. The level of detail here was amazing: 32Ten’s staff adorned each individual workspace with lamps, computers, wastebaskets, and teeny, tiny Post-it notes.


Rinko Kikuchi in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Audiences reacted strongly to Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori, who inspired an alternative to the famous Bechdel test. Some critics praised the culmination of her relationship with Raleigh Beckett (Hunnam). Although it’s common practice for the male and female leads in an action flick to end their movie with a smooch, Mori and Beckett share a platonic hug as Pacific Rim draws to a close. Del Toro revealed that he shot three different versions of that final scene. “We did one version where they kiss and it almost felt weird. They’re good friends, they’re pals, good colleagues,” del Toro said.


At the end of the credits, there’s a tribute that reads: “This film is dedicated to the memories of monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda.” Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013—two months before Pacific Rim’s release. A great stop-motion animator, he breathed life into such creatures as the towering Rhedosaurus in 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Ishiro Honda was another giant of the kaiju genre, having directed Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, and numerous Godzilla films. Del Toro has great respect for both men. When Harryhausen died, the director said, “I lost a member of my family today, a man who was as present in my childhood as any of my relatives.” He also adores the Japanese monster classics and says he’d love to see a Pacific Rim-Godzilla crossover someday. Maybe it’ll happen.


If you’re not familiar with the practice of “Sweding,” let us fill you in: The 2008 comedy Be Kind, Rewind is about two co-workers at a VHS rental store who accidentally erase every tape in stock. Hoping to save their skins, they create ultra low-budget remakes of all the films they’ve destroyed using cardboard sets and cheap costumes. It’s a process these guys call “Sweding” as a ploy to convince everyone that their (unintentionally hilarious) knockoffs were produced in Sweden. Since Be Kind, Rewind was released, Sweding has become a legitimate art form.

When Pacific Rim’s first trailer debuted in 2013, YouTubers Brian Harley and Brodie Mash created a shot-for-shot, Sweded duplicate of the preview. Instead of state-of-the-art CG effects, their version used toy helicopters, duct-tape monster masks, and an ocean of packing peanuts—and del Toro loved it. At WonderCon 2013, he praised the video, saying that it inspired the editing used in Pacific Rim’s third trailer. Harley and Mash happened to be at the same gathering. When del Toro met the comedic duo, he exclaimed “I loved it! My daughters loved it, we watched it a bunch of times!” Then he invited the Sweding duo to attend Pacific Rim’s premiere in Hollywood.

Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
The DEA Crackdown on Thomas Jefferson's Poppy Plants
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.

The bloom has come off Papaver somniferum in recent years, as the innocuous-looking plant has come under new scrutiny for its role as a building block in many pain-blunting opiates—and, by association, the opioid epidemic. That this 3-foot-tall plant harbors a pod that can be crushed and mixed with water to produce a euphoric high has resulted in a stigma regarding its growth. Not even gardens honoring our nation's Founding Fathers are exempt, which is how the estate of Thomas Jefferson once found itself in a bizarre dialogue with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over its poppy plants and whether the gift shop clerks were becoming inadvertent drug dealers.

Jefferson, the nation's third president, was an avowed horticulturist. He spent years tending to vegetable and flower gardens, recording the fates of more than 300 varieties of 90 different plants in meticulous detail. At Monticello, his Charlottesville, Virginia plantation, Jefferson devoted much of his free time to his sprawling soil. Among the vast selection of plants were several poppies, including the much-maligned Papaver somniferum.

The front view of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate.

"He was growing them for ornamental purposes,” Peggy Cornett, Monticello’s historic gardener and curator of plants, tells Mental Floss. “It was very common in early American gardens, early Colonial gardens. Poppies are annuals and come up easily.”

Following Jefferson’s death in 1826, the flower garden at Monticello was largely abandoned, and his estate was sold off to help repay the debts he had left behind. Around 115 years later, the Garden Club of Virginia began to restore the plot with the help of Jefferson’s own sketches of his flower borders and some highly resilient bulbs.

In 1987, Monticello’s caretakers opened the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, complete with a greenhouse, garden, and retail store. The aim was to educate period-accurate gardeners and sell rare seeds to help populate their efforts. Papaver somniferum was among the offerings.

This didn’t appear to be of concern to anyone until 1991, when local reporters began to obsess over narcotics tips following a drug bust at the University of Virginia. Suddenly, the Center for Historic Plants was fielding queries about the “opium poppies” in residence at Monticello.

The Center had never tried to hide it. “We had labels on all the plants,” says Cornett, who has worked at Monticello since 1983 and remembers the ensuing political scuffle. “We didn’t grow them at the Center. We just collected and sold the seeds that came from Monticello.”

At the time, the legality of growing the poppy was frustratingly vague for the Center’s governing board, who tried repeatedly to get clarification on whether they were breaking the law. A representative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw no issue with it, but couldn’t cite a specific law exempting the Center. The Office of the Attorney General in Virginia had no answer. It seemed as though no authority wanted to commit to a decision.

Eventually, the board called the DEA and insisted on instructions. Despite the ubiquity of the seeds—they can spring up anywhere, anytime—the DEA felt the Jefferson estate was playing with fire. Though they were not a clandestine opium den, they elected to take action in June of 1991.

“We pulled up the plants," Cornett says. “And we stopped selling the seeds, too.”

Today, Papaver somniferum is no longer in residence at Monticello, and its legal status is still murky at best. (While seeds can be sold and planting them should not typically land gardeners in trouble, opium poppy is a Schedule II drug and growing it is actually illegal—whether or not it's for the express purpose of making heroin or other drugs.) The Center does grow other plants in the Papaver genus, all of which have varying and usually low levels of opium.

As for Jefferson himself: While he may not have crushed his poppies personally, he did benefit from the plant’s medicinal effects. His personal physician, Robley Dunglison, prescribed laudanum, a tincture of opium, for recurring gastric issues. Jefferson took it until the day prior to his death, when he rejected another dose and told Dunglison, “No, doctor, nothing more.”


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