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Highlights from the Iowa State Fair

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We were driving on the interstate yesterday evening and saw a funnel cake stand speed by. "There goes the last of the State Fair," my mom said. Yep, the Iowa State Fair closed out another successful year on Sunday, so I thought for today's Quick 10 I'd provide you with some of the highlights "“ in no particular order, mind you.

1. Butter Shawn Johnson. The tiny, 4'9" Olympic medal-winning gymnast is from West Des Moines, so she's a pretty big deal in these parts (we also have track and field Olympian Lolo Jones). Every year, the butter cow sculptor does something in addition to the butter cow, usually something that corresponds with current events. Last year when the last Harry Potter book came out, a whole magical scene was created out of butter. So, this year's tribute to our local Olympian was a no-brainer. Shawn comes complete with an American flag and a balance beam.

porkchop2. Pork Chop on a Stick. Oh, man. This is the juiciest, yummiest pork chop in the history of time. And I don't even like pork chops. It's $6, which might seem a little steep, but when you think about the price you would pay for a chop like this in an upscale restaurant, the $6 is so totally worth it.

3. Pioneer Hall.

My friend Bridget refuses to go in Pioneer Hall because she has an aversion to antiques. Yeah, if you have a problem with old stuff, Pioneer Hall is not for you. It's part flea market, part showcase, part dance hall, part demonstration. You can peruse old record albums, see if one of the vendors has that piece of Depression glass you've been looking for, flip through some postcards from the 1920s, and watch a blacksmith do his thing.

I was fascinated by the blacksmith, but if dancing is more up your alley, there's always this:

4. Ugly Cake Contest.
Yeah, this is in the same building your typical State Fair food competitions "“ best pie, best jam, best cookie, best everything-under-the-sun. But this is my favorite. It's geared specifically to kids who compete to see who can make the most revolting, unappealing cake ever. This one didn't win a blue ribbon, but personally, it took the cake for me. Yuck.


5. Big Boar and the Big Bull. Big Bull. "Tiny" the bull weighs 3,012 pounds. You can tell exactly how big he is by comparing his head with the head of that little girl in the background. I'm pretty sure he was heavily sedated.


"Freight Train" the big boar"¦ well, he's just a really massive pig. It appears to spend most of its time napping. I caught it snoring, actually, but by the time I thought to turn the video on, I think it had quieted down. See for yourself:

6. Fried Hostess Cupcake. Well, fried anything from this stand, really. You can get fried Twinkie, fried Ho Ho, fried Oreos, fried Snickers. I think the Twinkie is the best, but we felt like we should try something new this year. Paul had the Hostess Cupcake; I had a Bloody Mary. Mmm. Only at the State Fair is this normal. Well, State Fair and maybe tailgating.

bloody inset

7. Garrison Keillor. Unfortunately I missed this, but I would have liked to see the "A Prairie Home Companion" Rhubarb Tour when it made a stop at the State Fair this year.

8. Fried Pineapple. Every year, there's a lot of hype around the newest food item. Last year it was the Hot Beef Sundae "“ a mound of mashed potatoes with gravy to look like syrup, shredded cheese "sprinkles" and a cherry tomato on top. This year, it was the fried pineapple. Sounds kind of nasty, but it tasted a lot like pineapple upside down cake. This is my husband biting into the fried pineapple"¦ be warned, it's not the neatest thing to eat.

butterfly9. Butterfly Garden. I hear the butterfly garden at Iowa State University's Reiman Gardens makes this one pale in comparison, but I've never been there, so I enjoyed myself at this version of the butterfly garden. There were thousands of butterflies hanging out in here, snacking on rotten bananas, attaching themselves to unsuspecting people, scaring and/or delighting little kids.

saddle10. Miniature"¦ stuff. I realize this is crafty, kitschy and weird, but I always enjoy checking out the miniatures. I mean, you could just buy a dollhouse and decorate it with stuff you can buy at Hobby Lobby and enter that, but some people really go all out. This lady actually created a 1:32 scale saddle. I'm not sure why, but it's fascinating.

tattooOh, and 10.5: People Watching. I'm going to be... objective, here, but let's just say there's no shortage of mullets and muffin tops, often on the same person. This dude to the left is really proud of his heritage. It says "Corn Fed Bad Ass", in case you can't see it. So, those are my State Fair highlights. I didn't get to experience the cow chip throwing contest or the beard-growing contest or anything like that, and I missed the giant vegetables. I always like to see onions that are the size of my head (I have a really large noggin, so that's no small feat). There's always next year.

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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
Can’t See the Eclipse in Person? Watch NASA’s 360° Live Stream
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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Depending on where you live, the historic eclipse on August 21 might not look all that impressive from your vantage point. You may be far away from the path of totality, or stuck with heartbreakingly cloudy weather. Maybe you forgot to get your eclipse glasses before they sold out, or can't get away from your desk in the middle of the day.

But fear not. NASA has you covered. The space agency is live streaming a spectacular 4K-resolution 360° live video of the celestial phenomenon on Facebook. The livestream started at 12 p.m. Eastern Time and includes commentary from NASA experts based in South Carolina. It will run until about 4:15 ET.

You can watch it below, on NASA's Facebook page, or on the Facebook video app.

Cephalopod Fossil Sketch in Australia Can Be Seen From Space

Australia is home to some of the most singular creatures alive today, but a new piece of outdoor art pays homage to an organism that last inhabited the continent 65 million years ago. As the Townsville Bulletin reports, an etching of a prehistoric ammonite has appeared in a barren field in Queensland.

Ammonites are the ancestors of the cephalopods that currently populate the world’s oceans. They had sharp beaks, dexterous tentacles, and spiraling shells that could grow more than 3 feet in diameter. The inland sea where the ammonites once thrived has since dried up, leaving only fossils as evidence of their existence. The newly plowed dirt mural acts as a larger-than-life reminder of the ancient animals.

To make a drawing big enough to be seen from space, mathematician David Kennedy plotted the image into a path consisting of more than 600 “way points.” Then, using a former War World II airfield as his canvas, the property’s owner Rob Ievers plowed the massive 1230-foot-by-820-foot artwork into the ground with his tractor.

The project was funded by Soil Science Australia, an organization that uses soil art to raise awareness of the importance of farming. The sketch doubles as a paleotourist attraction for the local area, which is home to Australia's "dinosaur trail" of museums and other fossil-related attractions. But to see the craftsmanship in all its glory, visitors will need to find a way to view it from above.

[h/t Townsville Bulletin]


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