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7 Dickensian Tidbits to Honor the 164th Birthday of A Christmas Carol

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by Terry Fernandes

During this season to be jolly, we are commonly entertained by Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Anyone with a shred of literary acuity, however, knows that Mr. Dickens penned a great deal more than this perennial holiday favorite. Here are some Dickensian tidbits that you might not have known, but that can be used to enlighten your theater companions during intermission at this year's presentation of A Christmas Carol (which, by the way, was first published on this date in 1843).

1. Dickens (1812-1870) put his pen to paper at an early age, submitting accounts of fires and other mishaps to the British Press starting at the age of 12. As a young man, Dickens was a tremendously successful reporter.

2. His early pseudonym was "Boz," and most of what he wrote under this moniker was later published in a collection called "Sketches by Boz" in 1836. A lesser known (and lesser used) pseudonym was "Timothy Sparks."

3. Dickens' novel Nicholas Nickleby was one of many Dickens works that were published serially. Theater-goers, however, have had the dubious privilege of seeing the entire story presented in one fell swoop. Playwright David Edgar and the Royal Shakespeare Company brought it to the stage in London's West End in 1980, with a production that lasted 10 hours (including intermissions and a dinner break). Whew! Nevertheless, the daunting length was no setback, as the production drew critical acclaim and moved to Broadway the following year. You can schedule your own potty breaks when you opt to watch it on DVD.

christmascarol1.jpg 4. A Christmas Carol is actually the short title for A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. It has been made into countless theater productions and films. Oldsters remember the Mister Magoo version in 1962, with the voice of Jim Backus as Mister Magoo and Ebenezer Scrooge. Thirty years later Michael Caine supplied the voice of Scrooge in The Muppets Christmas Carol with Gonzo as Dickens the narrator. But Thomas Edison had a leg up on both of these; he filmed a version in 1908.

5. Dickens loved animals, particularly dogs. However, one of his favorite pets was a raven he called "Grip."

6. With his wife, Catherine Hogarth, he had 10 children, several of whom were named after writers he admired, such as Alfred Tennyson, Henry Fielding, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

7. Dickens was a details guy, and his last will and testament was no exception. Noting that he had expended quite a lot of money in maintaining his large family and providing for his wife, from whom he separated after 24 years, he instructed thusly (and, in typical fashion for wills at the time, with a dearth of punctuation):

I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive unostentatious and strictly private manner that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial that at the utmost not more than three plain mourning coaches be employed and that those who attend my funeral wear no scarf cloak black bow long hatband or other such revolting absurdity.

[Read the full text of his will here.]

If this post has you craving Dickensian fun, opportunities abound. Take a trip to Dickens World theme park in Kent, England...

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...or play Fagin's Gang, winner of the Best New British Board Game at the UK Games Expo of 2007...

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...or add the Charles Dickens action figure to your collection.

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Terry Fernandes is an occasional contributor to mental_floss.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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iStock

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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