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Hear Them Roar! 6 More Women Who Beat the Boys

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While the horse racing world is all abuzz over Rachel Alexandra, the amazing three-year-old filly who recently beat Kentucky Derby winner Mine that Bird (along with a field full of other colts) in the Preakness Stakes, we're reminded of some other female athletes of the two-legged variety who also beat the boys at their own game.

1. Billie Jean King, Tennis

In 1973, Billie Jean King was 29 years old and the reigning queen of women's tennis. In an era when female athletes were paid significantly less than their male counterparts, King still managed to earn $100,000 in 1971. Bobby Riggs had won Wimbledon back in 1939, but by the 1970s his star was fading. He kept his name in the press by proclaiming himself a male chauvinist pig and declaring that women athletes could never be as good as men. After defeating Margaret Court in May, he proclaimed "I want King!"

The much-hyped Battle of the Sexes was held at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973. The idea of a woman beating a man in any sport was so unbelievable at the time that Las Vegas oddsmakers heavily favored the 55-year-old Riggs. A worldwide television audience watched via satellite as King neatly thrashed Riggs 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3. Billie Jean King not only took home the prize money and several endorsement deals, she also opened up a new playing field for professional sportswomen.

2. Margaret Murdock, Shooting

Margaret Murdock's father was a Kansas state rifle champion, so it was logical that both she and her sister took up the sport as children. When Murdock attended Kansas State in the early 1960s, she won her varsity letter by competing on the men's rifle team. In 1976 she became the first woman to represent the U.S. on its Olympic shooting team. The small-bore three position competition calls for the shooter to fire off 40 shots each in the standing, kneeling and prone position. The competitors fire from 50 meters away at a target that is a little smaller than a dime. At the end of the competition, Murdock was tied with Lanny Bassham, the team captain. Bassham requested a tie-breaking shoot-off, but Olympic rules forbade it; instead, Bassham was awarded the gold medal because he had scored three "100s" to Murdock's two. During the medal ceremony, Lanny pulled Margaret up from the silver pedestal to stand with him during the national anthem to indicate that she deserved the gold as much as he.

3. Jackie Mitchell, Baseball

jackie-pitcher.jpgVirne Beatrice Mitchell, known to her family as "Jackie," entered the world ahead of schedule and weighed only a little over three pounds at birth. As soon as she learned to walk, her father took her to the ballpark. The Mitchell's next door neighbor in Memphis was future Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance, who was still playing in the minors at the time. He coached Jackie in the art of pitching when she was eight years old and even showed her his trademark "drop pitch," a dazzling throw in which the ball swooped down just before crossing the plate.

When Mitchell was 17 she was offered a contract with the Chattanooga Lookouts, today the AA affiliate of the L.A. Dodgers. On April 1, 1931, the New York Yankees were in town to play an exhibition game against the Lookouts. The game was postponed a day due to rain, and there was a crowd of 4,000 on hand when Mitchell finally took the mound. Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate and southpaw Jackie threw her special pitch. Ruth took the first pitch for a ball, but the next three were strikes. Lou Gehrig, baseball's Iron Man, was up next and similarly struck out. The crowd was on its feet, but some skeptical reporters wrote that the whole thing had been staged, since the game was originally scheduled for April Fool's Day. Nevertheless, Commissioner Kennesaw Landis was sufficiently threatened by the tiny female dynamo that he had her contract voided, stating that baseball was "too strenuous" for women.

4. Seana Hogan, Cycling

hogan.jpgTo Ultra Cyclists, 100-mile events are kid stuff. Ultra Cyclists consider events like the Race Across America (RAAM) "“ a 2,950 mile cross-country jaunt "“ to be a real competition. Seana Hogan of San Jose, California, has won the female division of RAAM an amazing six times, and her finish times in each case usually placed her in the top 15 finishers overall. Ultra Cycling requires about 20 hours of continuous pedaling per day, up hills (a combined total of about 82,000 feet of climbing), down dales and in all weather. Hogan holds the record for the San Francisco to Los Angeles race (beating even the best men's time) and was the overall winner of the 1995 Furnace Creek 508, which runs from Valencia through Death Valley to Twentynine Palms.

5. Danica Patrick, Auto Racing

Danica Patrick's parents met on a blind date at an auto race, so she felt that racing was her destiny. Patrick started competing on the go-kart circuit at age 10, and moved to England at 16 to participate in various racing events and advance her career. In 2000, she finished second in the Formula Ford Festival, the highest finish by an American in that event. She moved back to the States where she competed in the Toyota Atlantic series for Rahal Letterman Racing and won her first pole position. Patrick started her Indy career in 2005, making her only the fourth woman to compete in the 500. Three years later she won the Twin Ring Motegi in the Indy Japan 300, the first female driver to win an IndyCar race.

6. Sonya Thomas, Competitive Eating

sonya.jpgAt five feet, five inches tall and just under 100 lbs., Sonya Thomas gives the impression that the slightest breeze could blow her away. But despite her wispy stature, Thomas is known in competitive eating circles for blowing away the competition, including male contestants three times her size. Thomas remembers being inspired to enter the world of competitive eating after watching Takeru Kobayashi munching his way to the championship at the Nathan's Coney Island hot dog contest in 2002. In 2005 she set a record for female frankfurter consumption in Nathan's annual contest. That wasn't quite good enough for Sonya, however, and she began a training regimen that included walking two hours per day on an inclined treadmill and eating only one large meal per day. Scientific-types hypothesize that Sonya's slim physique gives her an advantage over her more zaftig competitors "“ she lacks a layer of fat around her abdomen, which gives it more room to expand. Whatever the explanation, Thomas has defeated all-comers in various International Federation of Competitive Eating contests, including "the most" oysters, chicken wings and Krystal hamburgers downed in a prescribed amount of time.

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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.
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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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