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The Quick 10: 10 Strange and Wonderful Festivals

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The Des Moines Art Festival is this weekend, which I am super excited about. It's one of the biggest in the nation, which I bet a lot of people don't expect from Des Moines. My amazing brother-in-law has exhibited there so I think I have a bit of a bias for this particular show.

Anyway, however much I love our Art Festival, I'm quite certain it doesn't qualify for today's Quick 10 (although it was the inspiration).

10 Strange and Wonderful Festivals

1. The Night of the Radishes - Oaxaca, Mexico. La Noche de los Rábanos goes back more than 200 years. Basically, many years ago, a section of radishes wasn't harvested when they should have been and continued growing for months. When the radishes were finally pulled up, they were strange sizes and shapes and were brought to be exhibited at the Christmas market. Now this spicy veggie is celebrated every year in Oaxaca with parades, costumes, prizes and competitions.

2. The Chap & Hendrick's Olympics - London, England. Hendrick's is a brand of gin, for those of us who aren't gin connoisseurs. I am decidedly not a gin fan, but I would consider trying Hendrick's because the brand seems to have an outstanding sense of humor. Last year, the C&H Olympics included the events like the Pipe Smokers' Relay, a competition to see who could tie a Windsor Knot the fastest, and my favorite: a contest where "six cads approached six ladies and whispered savoury nothings. The winner was the recipient of the loudest slap." Awesome.

3. The Alien Festival - Roswell, New Mexico. This one is just around the corner "“ July 3, if you happen to be in the area next week. Events include workshops ("Alien Implants are Real"), an alien haunted house, lectures ("Roswell's Deathbed Confessions, the Truth Revealed"), parades, shows, and "“ obviously "“ costume contests.

4. Mike the Headless Chicken Days - Fruita, Colorado. In 1945, a chicken named Mike, who was intended for dinner, had his head chopped off. An unremarkable story"¦ except that Mike didn't die. He lived for 18 months and continued to, well, act like a chicken. The good people of Fruita celebrate Mike every May, including the "Run Like a Headless Chicken" 5k. The Web site says "attending this fun, family event is a NO BRAINER." Ha. Speaking of puns"¦

5. The O. Henry Pun-Off "“ Austin, Texas. Crap. As soon as my husband reads this, he'll be booking out airfare to Austin for next year. Since 1978, people have entered this competition (it's limited to 32 contestants) to see who can out-pun one another. You can check out some of the winning puns here, but bring your crackers "“ some of the entries are pretty cheesy.

6. Up Helly Aa "“ Lerwick, Shetland, Shetland Islands, U.K. This one is a pyromaniac's dream. In the dead of winter, thousands of people gather to watch about 800 men torch a galley that builders spent four months making. After that part is over, there are lots of parties, dancing, costumes, food and drinking. Honestly, I'm not sure WHY they do this and the official Web site didn't shed a whole lot of light on the subject, so if anyone knows, fill us in! [Image courtesy of Anne Burgess.]

7. Cheese Rolling - Cooper's Hill, Gloucestershire, England. As a strong proponent of cheese, I'm not sure if I love this festival or hate it. Seems like a waste of delicious cheese, but at the same time, it's a festival in honor of cheese! This is what happens: The Official Cheese Roller sends an eight-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese down an extremely steep, uneven hill with rough terrain. About 20 contestants are then sent chasing after it. The first person to the bottom gets the cheese and the second and third-place winners get a small cash prize. There are lots of injuries, which people are generally pretty proud of. In the words of one participant: " I spent the two and half hours with the St. John Ambulance medics where they patched me up before helping me to Gloucester Royal Hospital, where sadly I spent the next four days having two operations under general anesthetic to have the wound in my knee cleaned out of mud and stitched back up. Even though I had this time in hospital, I WILL be back next year to win that cheese."

8. Golden Shears Sheep Shearing Festival - Wairarapa, New Zealand. In 1958, some members of the Wairarapa Young Farmer's Club decided to hold a little sheep shearing contest. This "little" gathering ended up taking off. By 1961, it was such a huge event that the Army was called in to help control crowds. By the 80s, it was so serious that shearers trained for months before the event "“ not only with shears and sheep, but in the gym and with fitness trainers.

9. Hadakamatsuri - Japan. These festivals take place all over Japan and involve lots of scantily clad men (typically, the festivals are all-male), and one completely naked guy (it's good luck to find him in the crowd and touch him). But it's not vulgar "“ at least, it's not supposed to be. It's supposed to be holy. When the festival is held in the winter, participants are "purified" by holy water and compete to obtain a "holy" object of some sort.

10. Naha Tug of War "“ Naha, Okinawa, Japan. This event goes all the way back to the 1600s. About 25,000 people show up to play tug-of-war with a rope that weights approximately 40 metric tons. This huge rope has lots of little ropes on it to allow for the maximum amount of participants possible. Each team has only 30 minutes to try to pull the other team a total of 30 meters to win the match. If neither team is pulled 30 meters, it's considered a tie.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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