Why Is Alabama's Mascot an Elephant, and What Is a Crimson Tide?

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Given that they are not indigenous to the North American continent, let alone the general Tuscaloosa area, it may seem odd that an elephant serves as the mascot for the University of Alabama’s football team. Nonetheless, a student in a doe-eyed elephant costume struts his stuff at every ‘Bama home game, having become a fixture at one of the state’s proudest institutions. What gives?

Big Al
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

According to the school, the relationship between elephants and University of Alabama football dates back to 1930, when Atlanta Journal sportswriter Everett Strupper relayed a story from an Alabama-Ole Miss game. "At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble,” he wrote, “there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, 'Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,' and out stamped this Alabama varsity.” Unmatched in size that Alabama team “knocked me [out] cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size." From that point, Strupper started calling Alabama the “Red Elephants,” and the association stuck.

Even though the elephant served as a symbol for the team, it took decades for the Big Al mascot to come to fruition. In the 1960s, student Melford Espey would wear an elephant costume to games, much to the delight of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. With Bryant’s support, the university made an elephant the team’s official mascot in 1980, and Big Al made his debut at the Sugar Bowl. (He was portrayed by a different student, of course, as Espey had long since graduated.)

Today, Big Al can be seen at all types of University of Alabama athletic events, not just football. He'll also drop in on your nuptials, if you’re willing to pony up his $400 wedding appearance fee. The maximum amount of time Big Al can spend at your special day: one hour. Roll tide.

What Exactly Is a Crimson Tide?

Hugh Roberts, sports editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald, is widely credited as being the first to use "Crimson Tide" to refer to Alabama's football team.

Roberts used the term to describe crimson-and-white-clad Alabama's surprising performance during a rain-soaked 6-6 tie with heavily favored Auburn in 1907. Henry "Zipp" Newman, who became the sports editor of the Birmingham News at the age of 25, helped popularize the nickname.

What's the Difference Between Cement and Concrete?

Vladimir Kokorin/iStock via Getty Images
Vladimir Kokorin/iStock via Getty Images

Picture yourself walking down a city block. The sidewalk you follow may be obscured by shuffling feet and discarded gum, but it’s clearly made from something hard, smooth, and gray. What may be less clear is the proper name for that material: Is it concrete or cement? Is there even a real difference between the two words?

Though they’re often used interchangeably, concrete and cement describe different yet related elements of the blocks, flooring, and walls that make up many everyday structures. In simple terms, concrete is the name of the gray, gritty building material used in construction, and cement is an ingredient used in concrete.

Cement is a dry powder mixture that looks much different from the wet stuff poured out of so-called cement trucks. It’s made from minerals that have been crushed up and mixed together. Exactly what kind of minerals it’s made from varies: Limestone and clay are commonly used today, but anything from seashells to volcanic ash is suitable. After the ingredients are mixed together the first time, they’re fired in a kiln at 2642°F to form strong new compounds, then cooled, crushed, and combined again.

Cement
Cement
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This mixture is useless on its own. Before it’s ready to be used in construction projects, the cement must be mixed with water and an aggregate, such as sand, to form a moldable paste. This substance is known as concrete. It fills whatever mold it’s poured into and quickly hardens into a solid, rock-like form, which is partly why it’s become the most widely-used building material on Earth.

So whether you’re etching your initials into a wet sidewalk slab, power-hosing your back patio, or admiring some Brutalist architecture, you’re dealing with concrete. But if you ever happen to be handling a chalky gray powder that hasn’t been mixed with water, cement is the correct label to use.

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Why Do You Stop Feeling Tired As Soon As You Climb Into Bed?

tommaso79/iStock via Getty Images
tommaso79/iStock via Getty Images

There are few situations more frustrating: After a day spent nodding off at your desk, on the train, and on your couch, you suddenly can't sleep the moment you crawl into bed. It's not that you aren't tired or have insomnia, necessarily. Like a curse designed just to torture you, the sleeplessness only seems to occur when you're in your own bed at home, a.k.a. the place where you'd prefer to do your sleeping.

This maddening problem isn't in your head. According to TIME, many people have more trouble falling asleep in their own beds than they do elsewhere thanks to a phenomenon called learned or conditioned arousal. Conditioned arousal develops when you inadvertently train your body to associate your bed with being awake. In many cases, this results from doing stimulating activities in bed. For instance: If you like to slip under the covers and spend 40 minutes watching Netflix before closing your eyes, you're teaching your brain that your bed isn't for sleeping. That means the next time your head hits the pillow, your body will respond by preparing for the next episode of Friends instead of releasing the chemicals that help you fall asleep. The same goes for scrolling through apps, eating, and even reading in bed.

Doing things that aren't sleeping in bed isn't the only way to develop conditioned arousal. If there are other factors keeping you up at night—like thoughts about your day, or that cup of coffee you had at 8 p.m.—they can lead to the same result. Your brain starts to associate being in bed with tossing and turning all night, so even if those mental and physical stimulants go away, the muscle memory of being awake in bed remains.

Conditioned arousal is a vicious cycle that can't be broken in one night. The only way to manage it, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), is to minimize behaviors that contribute to poor sleep habits and to reserve your bed for sleeping (though sex is OK, according to the APA).

If you're a nighttime scroller, browse apps in a different room before getting into bed, or skip checking your phone at the end of the day altogether. When you spend more than 20 minutes struggling to fall asleep in bed, get up and move to a different part of the house until you get sleepy again; this will stop your brain from strengthening the association between your bed and feeling restless. The results won't be instant, but by sticking to a new sleep routine, you should eventually train your body to follow healthier patterns.

Of course, combating conditioned arousal alone isn't always effective. In people with conditions like anxiety and insomnia, intrusive thoughts and genetic factors can prevent them from falling asleep even under ideal circumstances. In such cases, the help of a medical professional may be required to sleep more soundly.

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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