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7 Unsung Events That Deserve Your Attention

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Football season is cranking up, and playoff baseball is on the horizon. With all this major-sports excitement, it's easy to miss some of the more obscure competitions taking place in the coming weeks. Don't make that mistake, though, as you might miss out on one of these unheralded events.

1. Red Bull Flugtag

Since 1991, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has brought his unique vision for an aviation competition to the world each year. Flugtag isn't like any normal air show, though. Competitors launch themselves off a pier or dock in an attempt to fly their homemade human-powered conveyances as far as they can. (As you might have guessed, homemade flying machines tend to crash rather quickly, which is half the fun.) Once the teams take off, their flight is judged on the basis of distance, creativity, and showmanship. Some devices do actually manage to fly, though; one team made it 195 feet at an event in Austria. More often, though, the homemade machines splash down into the water, so each one must be unsinkable as an environmentally friendly precaution.

The final Red Bull Flugtag USA of the summer takes place at Chicago's North Avenue Beach on Saturday, so there's still time to see this spectacle if you hurry. Here are some highlights from a previous Flugtag:

2. California State Yo-Yo Championships

A yo-yo doesn't just have to be a semi-fun toy you found in your stocking every year at Christmas; it can also be a serious competitive tool. Freestyle competitors in this event get two minutes to do a yo-yo routine choreographed to music, and the tricks go far beyond the old sleeper and walk-the-dog tricks you did as a kid. Judges award points based on stage presence, choreography, amplitude, elegance of control and line, maturity of yo-yo maneuvers, and originality. If you're near San Francisco and not particularly busy, the competition takes place today at The Exploratorium, and admission is free. If you're not convinced that yo-yo tricks can be pretty impressive, check out this video of Augie Fash winning last year's competition:

3. World Series of Mahjong

The World Series of Poker may get all the publicity, but the Wynn is hosting the World Series of Mahjong from September 19-21 at the Wynn Macau in China. Top competitors will square off in matches according to simplified standardized rules in order to stake their claims to the title of world's top Mahjong player. You may not associate the classic Chinese tile game with high stakes, but this tournament isn't for skittish amateurs. It costs $5,000 to enter, and the winner takes home $500,000. The event will be broadcast around the world, so tune in for some hot tiled action.

4. Midland Game Fair

On the off chance you find yourself in Shropshire, England on September 20-21, you really owe it to yourself to check out the Midland Game Fair. It looks just like an American fair, except if you replaced the carnies with falconers. The fair seeks to celebrate the unique aspects of English country life and educate patrons on its many splendors. Events include shooting, falconry, gundog exhibitions, and, of course, ferreting.

5. European Rubik's Cube Championship

If you're in Bilbao, Spain, on the weekend of September 19th, you've got more to do than just see the Guggenheim; you also need to check in on this speedcubing championship. Solving a plain old Rubik's Cube in any amount of time may be tough enough for most of us, but an elite cadre of cubers do them so quickly that even Fresh Prince-era Will Smith would be impressed. Competitors are handed a jumbled cube and given fifteen seconds to inspect its sides before solving it in a smooth, lightning-quick motion. This tournament has 17 divisions, including one-handed Rubik's Cube solving, blindfolded Rubik's Cube solving, and competitions for cubes that are as large as 5x5x5 blocks rather than a traditional Rubik's Cube's 3x3x3 dimensions. Here's a video example of speedcubing to whet your interest:

6. National Championship Chuck Wagon Cook-Off

Are you sick of going to cooking competitions that just end up being snooty and barely even involve rustic wagons? Then this is the event for you. Chuck wagon teams from around the country meet up in Lubbock, Texas, as part of the National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration to revive "the skills that were used to keep the cowboys fed and fit." The four-man teams each use a wood fire to make a meal that consists of chicken-fried steak, pinto beans, potatoes, a cobbler, and either biscuits or rolls. Better yet, this isn't just some ivory tower competition where only the judges get to taste the food; the same chow is served to attendees as dinner. The rules seek to make each chuck wagon's equipment as authentic as possible, including regulations on the metals used in cookware and the suggestion that each wagon carry a two-man crosscut saw. This event looks both interesting and delicious, so it's worth checking out if you're in the Lubbock area this weekend.

7. Dunrobin Castle Piping Championships

piping2.jpgIf you're going to have a championship for pipe playing, there's no better place to hold it than a Scottish castle. This seems to be the underlying logic of the Dunrobin Castle Piping Championships, which will take place on September 13th in Sutherland, Scotland. The annual affair seeks to give young pipers a chance to win a competition if they haven't yet won one of Scotland's major piping showcases, and spectators can be treated to an afternoon of sweet pipe music. Photos of last year's competition show the pipers clad in traditional Scottish plaids and kilts, so the fashion alone might warrant a visit.

Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.
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Pop Culture
The Simpsons's Classic Baseball Episode Gets the Mockumentary Treatment
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Fox Sports, YouTube

Opinions vary widely about the continued existence of The Simpsons, which just began its 29th season. Some believe the show ran out of steam decades ago, while others see no reason why the satirical animated comedy can’t run forever.

Both sides will no doubt have something to say about the episode airing Sunday, October 22, which reframes the premise of the show’s classic “Homer at the Bat” installment from 1992 as a Ken Burns-style mockumentary titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

As Mashable reports, “Homer at the Bat” saw Montgomery Burns launch his own baseball team and populate it with real major league players like Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Jose Canseco to dominate the competition. In the one-hour special, the players will discuss their (fictional) participation, along with interviews featuring Homer and other members of the animated cast.

It’s not clear how much of the special will break the fourth wall and go into the actual making of the episode, a backstory that involves guest star Ken Griffey Jr. getting increasingly frustrated recording his lines and Canseco’s wife objecting to a scene in which her husband's animated counterpart wakes up in bed with lecherous schoolteacher Edna Krabappel.

Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) directed the special, which is slated to air on Fox at either 3 p.m. EST or 4:30 p.m. EST depending on NFL schedules in local markets. There will also be a new episode of The Simpsons—an annual Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" installment—airing in its regular 8 p.m. time slot.

[h/t Mashable]

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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