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The Quick 10: Santa Monica Pier

One of the things I really loved about L.A. is how easy it is to transport yourself to a totally different environment. One day I was hanging out at the same hotel Marilyn Monroe once lived in and thinking about how I wasn't cool enough to be enjoying a super overpriced drink at the Tropicana; the next day I was eating a hot dog and going barefoot in the sand at the Santa Monica Pier. Maybe that's not that impressive to most of you, but when you come from the midwest, you don't transition scenery that fast. If you want a beach, you have to hop on a plane and travel several hours. Unless you count lake beaches, which totally aren't the same thing. Um. All of this rambling is my longwinded way of saying that today's Quick 10 L.A. Week post is about the historic Santa Monica Pier (and area).

sign1. Open since September 9, 1909, the Santa Monica Pier was originally anything but fun and carefree. It actually served the very practical purpose of carrying sewage out past the breakers. So when they advertise that they're celebrating 100 years of the Santa Monica Pier this year, what they are really saluting is 93 years of fun and entertainment and seven years of poo disposal. I kid... sort of. It was made for sewage, but even so, people were flocking to it even since 1909.

2. The second, adjoining pier was built in 1916 and has been known by three different names, which I'll probably use interchangeably. When it was first built by amusement park magnate Charles Looff - he built the first Coney Island Carousel in 1876 - it was known as the Looff Pier. At some point people started calling it Newcomb Pier and then the Pleasure Pier (as opposed to the municipal poo pier). I'm not sure that anyone actually designates between the two piers these days; at least from a non-Californian's perspective, the whole kit and caboodle is just referred to as Santa Monica Pier.

carousel3. Since Charles Looff brought Coney Island its first carousel, it's fitting that he was responsible for the Santa Monica Pier's first carousel as well. The wooden carousel with 44 hand carved horses - no two are alike - has been housed in the Looff Hippodrome since 1922. The building has been there since the pier opened in 1916. After many years of use, both the building and the carousel were found to be in dire need of repairs when the city conducted an inspection in the late '70s. The Hippodrome was scraped all the way down to bare wood and given a new coat of stucco; the carousel was meticulously taken apart piece by piece, then cleaned and repaired and put back together perfectly. People had actually lived on the floor above the carousel until 1974 when a fire forced them out, but when the building was put back together, the floor above the ride was restored. Office workers now occupy the second floor. Another fun fact: Wwen the carousel was fixed, the restoration artists discovered that one of the horses has a paper bag for a hoof - it was just crumpled up and just covered with several coats of wood putty.

4. The original Muscle Beach used to be located just south of the Santa Monica Pier. From the 1930s to the end of the 1950s, when people were talking about Muscle Beach, they were talking about the one in Santa Monica. It was especially known for its tumbling platform and gymnastics equipment, and people would wander away from the actual attractions on the pier to see what was going on with the athletes on the shore. This made the pier vendors none too happy; that coupled with the huge crowds and rumors of bodybuilders hooking up with underage girls caused the city to shut it down for a while. It returned without a tumbling platform. Obviously now feeling unwanted in Santa Monica, weightlifters headed down the shore to Venice, where the L.A. Parks and Recreation Department had plenty of barbells and weights were available. Venice has been the home of "Muscle Beach" ever since. Santa Monica has recently erected a sign claiming "The Original Muscle Beach" and still tends to attract people wanting to practice acrobatics and gymnastics while Muscle Beach Venice attracts the Arnold-type jocks. Joe Gold and Jack LaLanne were two of the original Muscle Beach's early regulars.

5. The La Monica Ballroom opened on the pier in 1924 and was the largest ballroom in America, able to hold more than 10,000 dancers. In 1926, a huge storm rolled in and almost devastated the whole pier and did enough damage to the ballroom that the whole thing had to be renovated. In the '50s it was home to a bunch of dance shows and radio broadcasts and was one of the nation's biggest skating rink from 1958-1962, when it was finally torn down.

ferris6. The Ferris Wheel you see in the pictures isn't the original... which you probably already know if you have seen pictures of its amazing light show at night. The Pacific Park Ferris Wheel had stood at the end of the pier for 12 years when Pacific Park decided to auction it off on eBay last year with a starting bid of $50,000. They got a bid on the first day. The 122,000 pound wheel was bought by Humphreys Real Estate Investments of Oklahoma City, Okla., and half of the proceeds of the winning bid was donated to the Special Olympics.

7. Movies with scenes there include They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, The Sting (even though the movie took place in Chicago, the pier was Santa Monica), A Night at the Roxbury, Titanic, Iron Man and The Hannah Montana Movie.

hotdog8. When is a hot dog not a hot dog? When it's a Hot Dog on a Stick. Or something. Hot Dog on a Stick has been at the Santa Monica Pier since 1946 - you might recognize the colorful uniform even if you don't know the chain. Originally you could just get corn dogs and lemonade at the stand, but now they've expanded to include french fries and fried cheese on a stick. I'm sorry to say I didn't experience any of these delicious items - has anyone else?

9. There are 12 attractions at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier, including the West Coaster, a steel roller coaster that tops out at 55 feet high; the world's only solar-powered Ferris Wheel (which is what replaced the one sold on eBay last year); bumper cars; a drop tower; and several rides targeted at younger kids. Pacific Park is the first full-scale amusement park on the pier since the '30s.

SIGN10. The Santa Monica Pier is exceptionally susceptible to the California weather phenomenon "June Gloom." Mornings are foggy and will sometimes even include a touch of rain and the overall feeling is just kind of overcast and dreary. Some California residents have even reported June Gloom symptoms similar to seasonal affective disorder. Whereas it tends to "burn off" by early afternoon most places, spots on the shore or even a bit out on the water like the pier is don't heat up as fast as the land does and the clouds never really dissipate.

Have a Q10 idea for me? Send me a Tweet and let me know!

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15 Incredible Facts About Pigeons
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Though they're often described as "rats with wings" (a phrase popularized by the movie Stardust Memories), pigeons are actually pretty cool. From homing instincts to misleading rump feathers, here are 15 things you might not know about these avian adventurers.

1. THEY MIGHT BE THE FIRST DOMESTICATED BIRD.

The common city pigeon (Columba livia), also known as the rock pigeon, might be the first bird humankind ever domesticated. You can see them in art dating back as far as 4500 BCE in modern Iraq, and they've been a valuable source of food for thousands of years.

2. THEY WON OVER CHARLES DARWIN—AND NIKOLA TESLA.

Pigeon-breeding was a common hobby in Victorian England for everyone from well-off businessmen to average Joes, leading to some fantastically weird birds. Few hobbyists had more enthusiasm for the breeding process than Charles Darwin, who owned a diverse flock, joined London pigeon clubs, and hobnobbed with famous breeders. Darwin's passion for the birds influenced his 1868 book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, which has not one but two chapters about pigeons (dogs and cats share a single chapter).

Nikola Tesla was another great mind who enjoyed pigeons. He used to care for injured wild pigeons in his New York City hotel room. Hands down, Tesla's favorite was a white female—about whom he once said, "I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman and she loved me. When she was ill, I knew and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life." Reportedly, he was inconsolable after she died.

3. THEY UNDERSTAND SPACE AND TIME.

In a 2017 Current Biology study, researchers showed captive pigeons a series of digital lines on a computer screen for either two or eight seconds. Some lines were short, measuring about 2.3 inches across; others were four times longer. The pigeons were trained to evaluate either the length of the line or how long it was displayed. They found that the more time a line was displayed, the longer in length the pigeon judged it to be. The reverse was true too: If the pigeons encountered a longer line, they thought it existed in time for a greater duration. Pigeons, the scientists concluded, understand the concepts of both time and space; the researchers noted "similar results have been found with humans and other primates."

It's thought that humans process those concepts with a brain region called the parietal cortex; pigeon brains lack that cortex, so they must have a different way of judging space and time.

4. THEY CAN FIND THEIR WAY BACK TO THE NEST FROM 1300 MILES AWAY.

A pigeon flying in front of trees.
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The birds can do this even if they've been transported in isolation—with no visual, olfactory, or magnetic clues—while scientists rotate their cages so they don't know what direction they're traveling in. How they do this is a mystery, but people have been exploiting the pigeon's navigational skills since at least 3000 BCE, when ancient peoples would set caged pigeons free and follow them to nearby land.

Their navigational skills also make pigeons great long-distance messengers. Sports fans in ancient Greece are said to have used trained pigeons to carry the results of the Ancient Olympics. Further east, Genghis Khan stayed in touch with his allies and enemies alike through a pigeon-based postal network.

5. THEY SAVED THOUSANDS OF HUMAN LIVES DURING WORLD WARS I AND II.

Pigeons' homing talents continued to shape history during the 20th century. In both World Wars, rival nations had huge flocks of pigeon messengers. (America alone had 200,000 at its disposal in WWII.) By delivering critical updates, the avians saved thousands of human lives. One racing bird named Cher Ami completed a mission that led to the rescue of 194 stranded U.S. soldiers on October 4, 1918.

6. TWO PIGEONS ALMOST DISTRACTED FROM THE DISCOVERY OF EVIDENCE OF THE BIG BANG.

In 1964, scientists in Holmdel, New Jersey, heard hissing noises from their antenna that would later prove to be signals from the Big Bang. But when they first heard the sound, they thought it might be, among other things, the poop of two pigeons that were living in the antenna. "We took the pigeons, put them in a box, and mailed them as far away as we could in the company mail to a guy who fancied pigeons," one of the scientists later recalled. "He looked at them and said these are junk pigeons and let them go and before long they were right back." But the scientists were able to clean out the antenna and determine that they had not been the cause of the noise. The trap used to catch the birds (before they had to later be, uh, permanently removed) is on view at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

7. YOU CAN TRAIN THEM TO BE ART SNOBS …

Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe and two colleagues earned an Ig Nobel Prize in 1995 for training pigeons, in a lab setting, to recognize the paintings of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and to distinguish between the painters. The pigeons were even able to use their knowledge of impressionism and cubism to identify paintings of other artists in those movements. Later, Watanabe taught other pigeons to distinguish watercolor images from pastels. And in a 2009 experiment, captive pigeons he'd borrowed were shown almost two dozen paintings made by students at a Tokyo elementary school, and were taught which ones were considered "good" and which ones were considered "bad." He then presented them with 10 new paintings and the avian critics managed to correctly guess which ones had earned bad grades from the school's teacher and a panel of adults. Watanabe's findings indicate that wild pigeons naturally categorize things on the basis of color, texture, and general appearance.

8. … AND TO DISTINGUISH WRITTEN WORDS.

In a 2016 study, scientists showed that pigeons can differentiate between strings of letters and actual words. Four of the birds built up a vocabulary of between 26 and 58 written English words, and though the birds couldn't actually read them, they could identify visual patterns and therefore tell them apart. The birds could even identify words they hadn't seen before.

9. FLUFFY PIGEON FEET MIGHT ACTUALLY BE PARTIAL WINGS.

A white pigeon with curly feathers and fluffy feet.
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A few pigeon breeds have fuzzy legs—which hobbyists call "muffs"—rather than scaly ones. According to a 2016 study, the DNA of these fluffy-footed pigeons leads their hind legs to take on some forelimb characteristics, making muffed pigeon legs look distinctly wing-like; they're also big-boned. Not only do they have feathers, but the hindlimbs are somewhat big-boned, too. According to biologist Mike Shapiro, who led the study, "pigeons' fancy feathered feet are partially wings."

10. SOME PIGEONS DISTRACT FALCONS WITH WHITE RUMP FEATHERS.

In a life-or-death situation, a pigeon's survival could depend upon its color pattern: Research has shown that wild falcons rarely go after pigeons that have a white patch of feathers just above the tail, and when the predators do target these birds, the attacks are rarely successful.

To figure out why this is, Ph.D. student Alberto Palleroni and a team tagged 5235 pigeons in the vicinity of Davis, California. Then, they monitored 1485 falcon-on-pigeon attacks over a seven-year span. The researchers found that although white-rumped pigeons comprised 20 to 25 percent of the area's pigeon population, they represented less than 2 percent of all the observed pigeons that were killed by falcons; the vast majority of the victims had blue rumps. Palleroni and his team rounded up 756 white- and blue-rumped pigeons and swapped their rump feathers by clipping and pasting white feathers on blue rumps, and vice versa. The falcons had a much easier time spotting and catching the newly blue-rumped pigeons, while the pigeons that received the white feathers saw predation rates plummet.

Close observation revealed that the white patches distract birds of prey. In the wild, falcons dive-bomb other winged animals from above at high speeds. Some pigeons respond by rolling away in midair, and on a spiraling bird, white rump feathers can be eye-catching, which means that a patch of them may divert a hungry raptor's focus long enough to make the carnivore miscalculate and zip right past its intended victim.

11. DODOS WERE RELATED TO TODAY'S PIGEONS.

Two blue and green Nicobar pigeons.
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Though most of this list focuses on the rock pigeon, there are 308 living species of pigeons and doves. Together, they make up an order of birds known as the columbiformes. The extinct dodo belonged to this group as well.

Flightless and (somewhat) docile, dodos once inhabited Mauritius, an island near Madagascar. The species had no natural predators, but when human sailors arrived with rats, dogs, cats, and pigs, it began to die out, and before the 17th century came to a close, the dodo had vanished altogether. DNA testing has confirmed that pigeons are closely related to the dodo, and the vibrant Nicobar pigeon (above) is its nearest genetic relative. A multi-colored bird with iridescent feathers, this near-threatened creature is found on small islands in the South Pacific and off Asia. Unlike the dodo, it can fly.

12. AT ONE POINT, MORE THAN ONE-QUARTER OF ALL THE BIRDS LIVING IN THE U.S. MAY HAVE BEEN PASSENGER PIGEONS.

Wild/feral rock pigeons reside in all 50 states, which makes it easy to forget that they're invasive birds. Originally native to Eurasia and northern Africa, the species was (most likely) introduced to North America by French settlers in 1606. At the time, a different kind of columbiform—this one indigenous—was already thriving there: the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). As many as 5 billion of them were living in America when England, Spain, and France first started colonizing, and they may have once represented anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the total U.S. bird population. But by the early 20th century, they had become a rare sight, thanks to overhunting, habitat loss, and a possible genetic diversity issue. The last known passenger pigeon—a captive female named Martha—died on September 1, 1914.

13. THEY'RE REALLY GOOD AT MULTITASKING.

According to one study, they're more efficient multitaskers than people are. Scientists at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum put together a test group of 15 humans and 12 pigeons and trained all of them to complete two simple jobs (like pressing a keyboard once a light bulb came on). They were also put in situations wherein they'd need to stop working on one job and switch over to another. In some trials, the participants had to make the change immediately. During these test runs, humans and pigeons switched between jobs at the same speed.

But in other trials, the test subjects were allowed to complete one assignment and then had to wait 300 milliseconds before moving on to the next job. Interestingly, in these runs, the pigeons were quicker to get started on that second task after the period ended. In the avian brain, nerve cells are more densely packed, which might enable our feathered friends to process information faster than we can under the right circumstances.

14. PIGEONS PRODUCE FAKE "MILK."

Only mammals produce genuine milk, but pigeons and doves (along with some other species of birds) feed their young with something similar—a whitish liquid filled with nutrients, fats, antioxidants, and healthy proteins called "crop milk." Both male and female pigeons create the milk in the crop, a section of the esophagus designed to store food temporarily. As is the case with mammal milk, the creation of crop milk is regulated by the hormone prolactin. Newly-hatched pigeons drink crop milk until they're weaned off it after four weeks or so. (And if you've ever asked yourself, "Where are all the baby pigeons?" we have the answer for you right here.)

15. ONE STUDY SUGGESTS THAT, GIVEN THE RIGHT CONDITIONS, THEY'RE AS GOOD AT IDENTIFYING CANCER AS DOCTORS.

We've already established that pigeons are excellent at differentiating between artists and words, but a 2015 study revealed they can also distinguish between malignant and benign growths in the right conditions. Researchers at University of California Davis Medical Center put 16 pigeons in a room with magnified biopsies of potential breast cancers. If the pigeons correctly identified them as either benign or malignant, they got a treat, According to Scientific American.

"Once trained, the pigeons' average diagnostic accuracy reached an impressive 85 percent. But when a "flock sourcing" approach was taken, in which the most common answer among all subjects was used, group accuracy climbed to a staggering 99 percent, or what would be expected from a pathologist. The pigeons were also able to apply their knowledge to novel images, showing the findings weren't simply a result of rote memorization."

Mammograms proved to be more of a challenge, however; the birds could memorize signs of cancer in the images they were trained on but could not identify the signs in new images.

No matter how impressive their results, "I don't anticipate that pigeons, no matter how good they become at pathology or radiology, will be playing a role in actual patient care—certainly for the foreseeable future," study co-author Richard M. Levenson told Scientific American. "There are just too many regulatory barriers—at least in the West."

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Jim Henson's Labyrinth Is Being Adapted Into a Stage Musical
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More than 30 years after its cinematic debut, Labyrinth could be hitting the stage. In an interview with Forbes, Jim Henson's son and Henson Company CEO Brian Henson shared plans to transform the cult classic into a live musical.

While the new musical would be missing David Bowie in his starring role as Jareth the Goblin King, it would hopefully feature the soundtrack Bowie helped write. Brian Henson says there isn't a set timeline for the project yet, but the stage adaptation of the original film is already in the works.

As for a location, Henson told Forbes he envisions it running, "Not necessarily [on] Broadway, it could be for London's West End, but it will be a stage show, a big theatrical version. It’s very exciting."

Labyrinth premiered in 1986 to measly box office earnings and tepid reviews, but Jim Henson's fairytale has since grown into a phenomenon beloved by nostalgic '80s kids and younger generations alike. In the same Forbes interview, Brian Henson also confirmed the 2017 news that a long-anticipated Labyrinth sequel is apparently in development. Though he couldn't give any specifics, Henson confirmed that, "we are still excited about it but the process moves very slowly and very carefully. We're still excited about the idea of a sequel, we are working on something, but nothing that's close enough to say it's about to be in pre-production or anything like that."

While fans eagerly await those projects to come out, they can get their fix when the film returns to theaters across the U.S. on April 29, May 1, and May 2. Don't forget to wear your best Labyrinth swag to the event.

[h/t Forbes]

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