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10 Sports Heroes You Won't Find on a Wheaties Box

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It's time Wheaties started thinking outside the box. At least about the outside of their box. And that's why we're asking for America's support. We've posted Ethan's Trex's piece below, and we're using the comments section as a petition. Once we've collected 10,000 signatures, we're going to send the whole thing to General Mills. And if they send it back, we'll switch our morning allegiance to Count Chocula.

1. Sumo Wrestling: Akebono Taro

The only slim thing about sumo wrestling is the chance of becoming a yokozuna, or grand champion. Throughout the centuries, only 69 men have done it. Before Hawaii's Chad Rowan stomped into the ring, no foreigner had ever held the honor. Of course, improbable things can happen when you stand 6'8" and weigh more than 500 lbs.—gigantic even by sumo standards. After abandoning a college basketball scholarship due to arguments with his coaches, Rowan threw himself into sumo.

In 1988, he went to Japan with only a single set of clothes and a limited knowledge of Japanese. But Rowan wasn't there to chitchat. Within a year, the quick study had learned how to use his towering height to make devastating thrusts at opponents' throats. That March, he made his professional debut as Akebono—"dawn" in Japanese—an ironic moniker for a man who could block out the sun.

As Rowan's victories piled up and his Japanese improved, he won more and more fans. His jovial demeanor didn't hurt, either. In January 1993, Akebono was promoted to yokozuna—a title he held until retirement. By the time he was ready to hang up his belt in 2001, he'd racked up 566 wins and 11 division championships.

2. Elephant Polo: Kimberly Zenz

When Kimberly Zenz, an experienced horse polo player, discovered elephant polo on the Internet, she knew she'd found her destiny. Intrigued by the prospect of simultaneously riding an elephant and wielding an oversize mallet, Zenz posted an ad on Craigslist looking for teammates in Washington, D.C. Amazingly, people responded.

Zenz's four-person team, the Capital Pachyderms, didn't have real elephants with which to practice. Luckily, that didn't matter much. Four elephants—along with four experienced elephant drivers—are provided to each team before a tournament. Knowing that her squad could concentrate more on whacking the ball than handling the elephants (you leave that to the drivers), Kimberly and crew trained on top of old swing sets to approximate the pachyderms' height.

As one might expect, there wasn't quite enough jungle in their jungle gyms. The team's training efforts were no substitute for experience, and the Capital Pachyderms finished second to last in Thailand's 2006 King's Cup Elephant Polo Championship. Undeterred, Zenz and her team kept practicing. In 2007, they placed second in a competition in Sri Lanka and fifth in the World Elephant Polo Championships in Nepal. Both victories have earned them bragging rights as "America's No. 1 elephant polo team."

3. Bullfighting: Sidney Franklin

In 1922, Sidney Franklin was just an artist from Brooklyn who'd moved to Mexico City after an argument with his father. One day, he decided to take a break from painting to see his first bullfight. Franklin immediately fell in love with the sport—particularly the crowd's reverence for the fighters. When he told his Mexican friends that he was surprised by the absence of American matadors, they replied that Americans didn't have the guts to step into the arena. The ribbing irritated Franklin so much that he embarked on a quixotic mission to become a legendary bullfighter.

In need of a trainer, Franklin brashly solicited the services of renowned Mexican matador Rodolfo Gaona. The request was basically the equivalent of asking Peyton Manning for free football lessons, but shockingly, Gaona accepted. Franklin's fearlessness didn't translate into instant success. During his first fight in 1923, he fell down twice before killing the bull. Within five years, however, he was thrilling Mexican crowds. But the victories weren't enough for Franklin. Looking for bigger challenges, he set out to conquer the motherland of toreadors—Spain. Franklin's gutsy performances in Spanish arenas earned him throngs of fans, along with several gorings. They also earned him the friendship of bullfighting aficionado Ernest Hemingway. The author would later immortalize Franklin's technique and bravery in Death in the Afternoon, saying Franklin's life story was "better than any picaresque novel you ever read."

4. Billiards: Willie Mosconi

It's hard to believe that billiards world champion Willie Mosconi learned to play pool by hitting potatoes with a broomstick.

It's even harder to believe that his parents, who ran a pool hall in Philadelphia, forbade him from playing because they wanted him to pursue a career in vaudeville. Luckily for them, the obstinate Mosconi taught himself late at night with the only implements at his disposal.In no time, Mosconi became a cue-wielding child prodigy. His talents supported his family during the Great Depression, and Mosconi went on to win 15 world championships during his career. Impressively, he still holds the world record for running balls without a miss, sinking 526 consecutive balls in a 1954 exhibition.
Of course, Paul Newman might argue that Willie Mosconi's greatest accomplishment was teaching him to play pool. Allegedly, Newman had never played before filming The Hustler. After taking intense pool-shark lessons from Mosconi, however, Newman was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor in 1962.

5. Polo: Sue Sally Hale

Women who disguise themselves as men seem to be successful in only two settings—the plays of William Shakespeare and the real-life drama of Sue Sally Hale. Hale, who received her first horse at the age of 3, was determined to play polo, even though Southern California's thriving early 1950s polo scene forbade women from the field. So when she was old enough to play, Hale simply dressed as a man. Before each tournament, she would don a baggy shirt, stuff her hair under her helmet, and draw on a mustache with mascara.

Playing under the name A. Jones, she competed with such ferocity that one commentator claimed Hale "could ride a horse like a Comanche and hit a ball like a Mack truck."

After each match, she would transform back into Sue Sally Hale, then go carousing with her teammates, who were happy to play along. For the next two decades, Hale maintained the ruse while campaigning fiercely to get the United States Polo Association to changes its policies. The association relented in 1972, and Hale finally received a membership card, along with the freedom to play under her real name.

6. Cricket: John Barton King

Cricketers in the United States may be traditionally associated with wealthy men of leisure, but the top player ever produced this side of the pond was a middle-class baseball fan from Philly named Bart King. What made King so great was his ability to dominate as both a bowler and a batsman—the equivalent of being a top-notch pitcher and slugger in baseball. As a bowler, King created a pitch he called "the angler,"which dipped and swerved in a way that confounded batsmen. As a batter, he was one of the top scorers in North American history.
The gregarious King was also beloved for spreading tall tales about himself. Perhaps his most famous story came from a 1901 match against a team from Trenton, New Jersey. As the legend goes, King was about to bowl to the Trenton team captain when the batter started to talk trash. Remembering a stunt he'd seen in a baseball game, King ordered the rest of his team off the field. He reasoned that he wouldn't need anyone around to catch the ball, because he was about to strike out the loud-mouthed batter. The cocky move proved effective. King fired off his angler, and the befuddled Trenton captain didn't stand a chance.

7. Formula One Racing: Phil Hill

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Formula One, the elite international driving circuit characterized by curvy courses, is a sport dominated by Europeans. It's also a sport that rewards aggressive driving. Both are reasons why Phil Hill, an American who's petrified of racing, should not be one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time.

After a boyhood spent obsessing over cars, Hill began racing Jaguars in 1950 in Southern California's burgeoning road-racing scene. Successful as he was, Hill remained terrified of racing's dangers. Worried that he was going to kill himself on the track, Hill developed serious stomach ulcers that prevented him from keeping down solid foods before a race. To keep his energy up, he began a pre-race regimen that included feasting on jars of baby food.

In 1956, Hill made the jump to European racing as a member of the famed Ferrari team. With a few key wins, including France's grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans race, he established himself as a star. Then in 1961, Hill got behind the wheel of the legendary "shark-nose" Ferrari 156 and became the first American to win the coveted Formula One World Drivers' Championship. The victory not only secured his place in racing history, it also assured that Phil Hill could afford the finest baby food for the rest of his career.

8. Tug of War: Milwaukee Athletic Club Team

At the beginning of the last century, tug of war was more than just a groan-inducing part of company picnics. From 1900 to 1920, it was an Olympic event. Traditionally, the best teams came from Scandinavia and Great Britain, where the sport still enjoys a strong niche following. But one American squad managed to grab gold in the 1904 St. Louis games—the pullers of the Milwaukee Athletic Club.The triumph of the club's iron grips and sturdy ankles led to much rejoicing across Milwaukee. There was a slight snag, though. No one on the team was actually from Milwaukee, and they certainly weren't members of the Milwaukee Athletic Club. Instead, the athletes were ringers that the club's head, Walter Liginger, supposedly recruited from Chicago. Although the defeated teams filed a grievance, Olympic officials rejected the protests, and the so-called men from Milwaukee got to walk away with both their medals and their honor intact.

9. Soccer: John Harkes

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If you're ever asked a trivia question about Americans in English soccer, always guess John Harkes. After a distinguished college career at the University of Virginia, Harkes headed to England in 1990 to join the Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. Although British fans were skeptical, he quickly earned their respect after smoking a 35-yard, game-winning goal in the last minute of a match against Derby County. Fans were so impressed they selected the shot as England's "goal of the year."Harkes continued to win over the English with his scrappy play, and he became the first American to compete in several major European tournaments. In 1996, he returned to the United States, but his legacy overseas remained. His feistiness proved to the British that Americans could excel at European football, and it paved the way for the influx of Americans playing in Europe today.

10. Fencing: Keeth Smart

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Like lots of kids growing up in the 1980s, Brooklyn's Keeth Smart adored the lightsaber battles in the Star Wars movies. But, unlike most of those kids, Smart parlayed that into the top saber fencing ranking in the world—a first for an American in a sport historically dominated by French and Hungarian swordsmen.

In 1990, Smart's parents convinced him to sign up for lessons with fencer Peter Westbrook. Westbrook, who won the bronze at the 1984 Olympics, had recently opened a school to expose New York City's youth to the sport. Turns out, Smart's body was perfect for fencing. His long legs allowed him to quickly cover the field, and his long arms allowed him to attack from safe distances.
Smart went on to become a four-time All-American at St. John's University in New York and a two-time Olympian. But, stunningly, he wasn't even a professional fencer when he grabbed the world's top saber ranking in 2003. While most of his European rivals spent their days training and living off sponsorships, Smart was working full-time as a financial analyst for Verizon and practicing just three nights a week.

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10 Facts About Aspirin
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Aspirin may be one of the world's best-known wonder drugs, able to do everything from cure a headache to reduce a fever, but its powers stretch beyond your medicine cabinet.

1. It's not the same as acetaminophen (used in Tylenol), ibuprofen (used in Advil and Motrin), or naproxen (used in Aleve).

2. There’s more than one way to take an aspirin. Americans swallow their tablets whole. The British dissolve theirs in water. And the French prefer theirs as suppositories.

3. The ancient Egyptians took their painkillers in the form of tree bark. Egyptian doctors used to give their patients willow bark to relieve pain because it contains salicin—the raw ingredient in aspirin.

4. Aspirin broke into the European market in 1763, after British clergyman Edward Stone chewed on some willow bark and felt a renewed vigor. He shared the stuff with his parishioners and relieved 50 cases of rheumatic fever in the process. After Stone reported his discovery to the Royal Society of London, the race was on to package the miracle cure.

5. A century later, French chemist Charles Gerhardt published an article on how to synthesize salicin in the lab, creating acetylsalicylic acid. Nobody paid attention.

6. Forty years after that, in 1897, German scientist Felix Hoffman followed Gerhardt’s process and took credit for inventing aspirin. Hoffman worked for Bayer Industries, which introduced the medicine in 1899 as the first mass-marketed drug.

7. In the mid-1940s, aspirin became a huge hit in Argentina thanks to radio jingles sung by future First Lady Eva Perón. Her country became the biggest per-capita consumer of aspirin in the world.

8. The wonder drug doesn’t just cure headaches; it can also revive a dead car battery. Just drop two tablets into the battery, let the salicylic acid combine with the battery’s sulfuric acid, and you’ve got an instant jump! Just make sure you don’t have any salt on your hands. Adding sodium to the aspirin-and-car-battery combo can cause an explosion.

9. So how does aspirin work? No one knew for sure until the 1970s, when British scientist John Vane discovered that aspirin reduces the body’s production of prostaglandins—fatty acids that cause swelling and pain.

10. Here’s another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: When the body gets a healthy dose of the benzoic acid in those foods, it makes its own salicylic acid, or aspirin.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

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How Kiss's Alive! Saved Their Record Label—And Changed the Music Industry
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images

It was late 1974, and Neil Bogart, CEO of Casablanca Records, was falling apart. His wife of nine years had divorced him. Warner Bros., Casablanca’s onetime parent company, had cut the fledgling label loose, saddling Bogart with crippling overhead and advertising costs. The company’s headquarters—a two-story house off the Sunset Strip that Bogart (no relation to Humphrey) decorated to resemble Rick’s Café from the film Casablanca—had devolved into a hedonistic playground awash in cocaine and Quaaludes. A few years earlier, he’d made stars of the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield, whose soundtrack for Super Fly had been an instant hit. Now, at 31, he was watching his career crumble.

But Bogart had a plan. As part of the split with Warner Bros., Casablanca inherited a promising project: a double LP of audio highlights from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It seemed like a sure thing. In 1974, The Tonight Show drew 14 million viewers a night. The year before, as the CEO of Buddah Records, Bogart had sold more than a million copies of a similar compilation titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll. Bogart was so confident in The Tonight Show project that he envisioned the album as the first of four highlight records, stretching back decades.

Before SoundScan existed to track album sales, the recording industry conferred “gold” status to any album that shipped more than 500,000 copies. Bogart shipped 750,000 copies of Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments From the Tonight Show. As it turned out, no one wanted to listen to audio clips of a late-night talk show. The album was such a flop that distributors even mailed back their free promotional copies. Industry insiders joked that it had been shipped gold and “returned platinum.” Or as Casablanca cofounder Larry Harris put it, “It hit the floor with a lifeless, echoing thud.”

By the end of 1974, Casablanca was broke. To make payroll, Bogart cashed in his line of credit at a Las Vegas casino. The label seemed doomed. It needed a cheap hit just to survive.

One of the bands on Casablanca’s roster was in similarly rough shape. Kiss, a flamboyant heavy metal outfit from New York City, had released three albums by the spring of 1975. The band had a cult following in the Rust Belt. But the moment Kiss stepped into the studio, they deflated, unable to replicate the raucous energy of their live concerts.

This may have been an impossible task. Since their first gig in 1973, the foursome had performed only in Kabuki-style makeup, black leather costumes, and towering platform shoes. Onstage, Gene Simmons, the Israeli-born bassist with a 7-inch tongue, spat fire and fake blood at the audience. Blasts of smoke and pyrotechnics punctuated hard-driving songs like “Strutter,” “Deuce,” and “Black Diamond.” At the end of each set, drummer Peter Criss rose 10 feet above the stage atop a hydraulic drum riser. This intimidating stagecraft belied Kiss’s sound: more pop than metal, closer to David Bowie than Black Sabbath on the ’70s rock spectrum. Kiss’s stage show was so over the top that Bogart pitched the band as a headline act before the foursome had a legitimate hit. Queen, Genesis, and Aerosmith all canceled bookings with Kiss because no one wanted to play after the band.

But if Kiss was a circus act, Bogart was its P.T. Barnum. At pitch meetings, he’d unleash fireballs from his hand using magician’s flash paper, declaring “Kiss is magic!” Bogart hounded DJs, TV hosts, critics, and music magazines, pushing the Kiss brand. He even convinced Kiss to record a cover of “Kissin’ Time”—a single by ’60s teen idol Bobby Rydell—as a promotional tie-in for a nationwide kissing contest called “The Great Kiss-Off.”

None of it worked. And Kiss was fed up. The band received a meager $15,000 advance for its first three albums—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill— and despite Bogart’s fiery efforts, it had yet to see royalties. He’d even produced Dressed to Kill himself because he was unable to afford a professional producer.

Then Bogart had an idea. What if Kiss put out a live album? It’d be less expensive than a studio recording and might preserve some of the band’s incendiary live show. At the time, live records weren’t considered a legitimate product; bands released them mainly to fulfill contracts. But Bogart didn’t care. He knew this was his last chance.

Kiss liked the concept. Within days, Bogart had arranged to record a multicity tour, with stops in Detroit; Wildwood, New Jersey; Cleveland; and Wyoming. Since Bogart couldn’t finance the tour himself, Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s long-suffering manager, put $300,000 of his own money into costumes, expenses, and effects. To oversee the recordings, Bogart roped in Eddie Kramer, a star audio engineer who’d produced albums for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

On May 16, 1975, 12,000 people packed into Detroit’s Cobo Hall—the largest venue in a city many considered the capital of rock ’n’ roll. Bogart and Aucoin went all out on production. To fire up the crowd, a cameraman followed the band from the dressing room to the stage, projecting the shot onto a giant screen overhead. During the song “100,000 Years,” flamethrowers wrapped the band in a curtain of fire. And this time Criss’s drum kit rose to twice its usual height.

The concerts were a massive success, yet the recordings were still mediocre. The energy was there, but the band’s musicianship suffered in its frenzied live performance. In the end, sound engineers recorded over much of the material. Nevertheless, certain core elements remain, including Criss’s drum tracks, lead singer Paul Stanley’s stage banter, and the propulsive fury of early singles “Deuce” and “Strutter,” in which the band’s energy soars in response to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The physical record was an accomplishment of its own. A double album with a gatefold sleeve, it featured handwritten notes from the band, a glossy eight-page booklet, and a centerfold collage of in-concert photos.

Alive! was released on September 10, 1975. Five days later, Aucoin sent Bogart a letter of termination: Kiss was leaving the label. In desperation, Bogart, who’d recently mortgaged his house, cut Aucoin and the band a check for $2 million to retain them. Then everyone sat back and watched the Billboard chart.

The result was unprecedented. Alive! peaked at No. 9 and remained on the charts for the next 110 weeks, becoming the band’s first record to sell more than a million copies. By the end of 1975, major rock bands from Blue Öyster Cult to REO Speedwagon suddenly found themselves opening for Kiss. Today, Alive! has sold more than 9 million copies, making it the biggest selling Kiss album of all time.

Alive! rescued both Kiss and Casablanca from oblivion. The band’s next three albums—Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977)—were all certified platinum. In 1977, Kiss topped a Gallup poll as the most popular act among American teens. The late ’70s saw a superstorm of Kiss merchandise, including Kiss makeup kits, pinball machines, Marvel comic books, and even a made-for-TV movie called Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

But Alive! also changed the music industry. “Shortly after it hit, just about every hard rock band issued live albums,” says Greg Prato, a writer for Rolling Stone and the author of The Eric Carr Story, about Kiss’s short-lived drummer Eric Carr. “Some of those albums were the best live rock recordings of all time: Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, the Ramones’s It’s Alive, Queen’s Live Killers, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, Cheap Trick, At Budokan.”

What makes Alive! a masterpiece, though, is how it captures the essence of Kiss—a hard rock band that was meant to be seen, or at least heard, live. “The emphasis on a live album is the experience itself, specifically how close the record translates and interprets the experience of actually attending the show,” says author and Kiss fan Chuck Klosterman. “[Alive!] jumps out of the speakers. It feels like a bootleg of the highest quality.”

Ultimately, Bogart’s excessive spending habits, along with his prodigious cocaine use at Casablanca HQ, led to his ouster from the label in 1980. By that point, he’d become the reigning king of disco, breaking such acts as the Village People and Donna Summer. He died of cancer two years later at age 39, having just created Boardwalk Records and signed the then-unknown rock goddess Joan Jett. In the decades after his death, the iconic metal band he’d helped bring to the top continues to tour, even making an appearance on American Idol in 2009. For 40 years, Kiss has been sending drum kits aloft (albeit with a different drummer), performing in fully painted faces, setting stages on fire, all in an effort to recapture an impossible sound. With Alive!, Bogart had created a chimera. It was a record that could never exist in real life: part raucous energy, part polished studio overdubs, a “live” masterpiece better than the best live act in rock history.

This piece originally ran in Mental Floss magazine.

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