The Weird & Scary History of Winter Olympic Mascots

The 1988 Winter Olympic Games' mascots were Hidy and Howdy.
The 1988 Winter Olympic Games' mascots were Hidy and Howdy.
Mike Powell, Getty Images

Some of them are adorable. Some of them are atrocious. All of them are, on some level, creepy. They are the mascots of the Winter Olympic Games, and these are their stories.

1. SCHUSS // GRENOBLE, 1968

It's fitting that the abstract character that represented the birth of the modern Olympic mascot became known as the Skiing Sperm. Schuss, the tri-colored unofficial mascot of the 1968 Winter Games, was depicted on pins and toys, but wasn't personified by a life-size plush character. Schuss's name was derived from an alpine skiing term for a fast and straight downhill run.

2. SCHNEEMANNS // INNSBRUCK, 1976

The 1972 Winter Games didn't have a mascot, so the first official Winter Olympics mascot didn't debut until 1976. In addition to giving Austrian children nightmares, Schneemann, which is either German for "snowman" or "anthropomorphic snowball with a carrot nose," represented the games of simplicity.

3. RONI // LAKE PLACID, 1980

A live raccoon named Rocky was originally chosen as the mascot for the 1980 Winter Games—but he died. So the Lake Placid organizing committee turned to graphic designer Donald Moss. A freelancer whose illustrations had appeared in Sports Illustrated, Moss studied at the Pratt Institute for Design after getting out of the Marines and later claimed to have created ABC's logo. ("I never did get credit for that," he told The New York Times in 1979.) Moss and his son also designed the logo for the U.S. Ski Team and 11 stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. He agreed that a raccoon was a natural choice for a mascot for the Lake Placid Games. "The mask across its eyes makes it very similar to the mask and goggles and caps worn by Olympic skiers," Moss said. "And of course the raccoon looks cuddly, a kind of message you want to impart." Moss's raccoon, Roni, was named after Lake Placid's Adirondack Mountains.

4. VUCKO // SARAJEVO, 1984

Vucko, pronounced vootch-ko, was the wolf cub mascot of the 1984 Winter Games. A group that included Olympic organizing committee members, artists, a poet, and a sociologist narrowed the list of 870 potential mascots for the Sarajevo Games down to six. Vucko received more than 70 percent of the popular vote in the ensuing poll, which was conducted through Yugoslavia's major newspapers. The other finalists were a snowball, a mountain goat, a chipmunk, a lamb, and a porcupine.

According to the Sarajevo Olympic committee's official bulletin, Vucko was a symbol of the triumph of good over evil. "The happy Vucko is the symbol of man's centuries-old efforts to conquer nature, to gain friendship from a beast, to make a wolf become Vucko." Whatever it symbolized, the mascot became ubiquitous. "Grandparents used to tell stories of the wolves in the mountains around Sarajevo to scare children," a city official said. "Now, they fall asleep with Vucko in their arms. There isn't a child without one."

5. HIDY AND HOWDY // CALGARY, 1988

Hidy and Howdy, whose names were chosen from more than 5000 entries in a contest sponsored by the Calgary Zoo, were the first sibling mascots to represent the Winter Games. The brother and sister polar bears sported classic cowboy gear and graced signs and merchandise throughout Calgary in 1988.

A group of 85 high school students made appearances in Hidy and Howdy costumes in the years leading up to the Games, adhering to a set of rules developed by mascot committee chairman Lane Kranenburg. In addition to a rule that is common to most mascots—no verbal communication while in costume—one newspaper report indicated that Hidy and Howdy could not attend events where alcohol was served, stand near food serving areas, or hug anyone in a black suit. Hidy and Howdy, it would seem, had a shedding problem.

6. MAGIQUE // ALBERTVILLE, 1992

The Olympic committee rejected Albertville's initial mascot, a mountain goat named Chamois, opening the door for Magique. Designed by French artist Philippe Mairesse, Magique was a star-shaped imp that signified youth, dreams, and imagination. "There's an old Savoy song, 'Etoile des Neiges' ('Star of the Snows'), and some people think it refers to that," an Olympic hostess told a reporter in 1992. "And the cap is like that of a young chimney sweep."

7. HAAKON AND KRISTIN // LILLEHAMMER, 1994

Haakon and Kristin, a pair of figures from the great age of Norwegian medieval history, were chosen as the mascots for the 1994 Winter Games. Prince Haakon Haakonson was the son of King Sverre Sigurdson, who led the Birkebeiners during the civil war that ravaged Norway in the late 12th century. Princess Kristin was Haakon's paternal aunt. After the civil war and King Sverre's death in 1202, the rival Baglers were determined to kill the infant Prince Haakon. He was carried to safety across the mountains from Lillehammer and raised in nearby Trondheim, ultimately ascending the throne in 1217 and ruling until 1263. Three boys and three girls were chosen from 150 to personify Haakon and Kristin, respectively, for the two years leading up to the Games.

8. THE SNOWLETS // NAGANO, 1998

The original mascot for the Nagano Games was a weasel named Snowple, but he was replaced by four snow owls named Sukki, Nokki, Lekki, and Tsukki. Collectively, they were known as the Snowlets, a combination of the first letter, or letters, in each owl's name. Owls are often associated with Athena in Greek mythology, and the Snowlets symbolized the seasons and the four-year Olympic cycle. "Owls are cherished by people around the world as the embodiment of the wisdom of the world," one Nagano Olympics official said.

9. POWDER, COPPER, AND COAL // SALT LAKE CITY, 2002

The Salt Lake organizing committee chose three animals from Native American folklore to represent the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger) for the 2002 Games. According to legend, the snowshoe hare once cooled the burning earth by running up a mountain and shooting an arrow at the sun, dropping it lower in the sky. When the earth was dark and frozen, the coyote climbed the highest mountain to steal a flame from the fire people. And no matter how hard they tried, hunters could not defeat the mighty bear. The names chosen for the three mascots—Powder, Copper, and Coal—were symbolic of Utah's skiing and mining heritage.

10. NEVE AND GLIZ // TURIN, 2006

Portuguese designer Pedro Albuquerque won an international contest sponsored by the Turin organizing committee and created Neve and Gliz, the snowball and ice cube mascots that represented the 2006 Winter Games. Neve is Italian for snow and Gliz is a shortened version of the Italian word for ice. Introduced 500 days before the Games, the duo was said to represent "the harmony and elegance of the movements made in sport" and, according to Albuquerque, "Olympic values like friendship, fair play and the spirit of competition."

11. SUMI, QUATCHI, AND MIGA // VANCOUVER, 2010

The mascots for the Vancouver Games are mythical characters inspired by the legends of the First Nations peoples of Canada. Sumi, whose name comes from the Salish term for "guardian spirit," has Thunderbird wings, the legs of a black bear, and the hat of the Orca whale. Quatchi is a sasquatch, a popular figure in Pacific Northwest legends. Miga is a sea bear, part killer whale and part Kermode bear, a rare species native to British Columbia.

There is a fourth mascot, but contrary to what a Polish newspaper and a Google image search would lead you to believe, it's not the Internet meme Pedobear. Rather, Mukmuk the marmot is the first Olympic mascot sidekick. He won't appear in Vancouver because marmots hibernate during the winter, but you can read all about him on the official Vancouver Olympic Games website.

How Polygraphs Work—And Why They Aren't Admissible in Most Courts

iStock/Sproetniek
iStock/Sproetniek

The truth about lie detectors is that we all really want them to work. It would be much easier if, when police were faced with two contradictory versions of a single event, there was a machine that could identify which party was telling the truth. That’s what the innovators behind the modern-day polygraph set out to do—but the scientific community has its doubts about the polygraph, and all over the world, it remains controversial. Even its inventor was worried about calling it a "lie detector."

AN OFF-DUTY INVENTION

In 1921, John Larson was working as a part-time cop in Berkeley, California. A budding criminologist with a Ph.D. in physiology, Larson wanted to make police investigations more scientific and less reliant on gut instinct and information obtained from "third degree" interrogations.

Building on the work of William Moulton Marston, Larson believed that the act of deception was accompanied by physical tells. Lying, he thought, makes people nervous, and this could be identified by changes in breathing and blood pressure. Measuring these changes in real-time might serve as a reliable proxy for spotting lies.

Improving upon previously developed technologies, Larson created a device that simultaneously recorded changes in breathing patterns, blood pressure, and pulse. The device was further refined by his younger colleague, Leonarde Keeler, who made it faster, more reliable, and portable and added a perspiration test.

Within a few months, a local newspaper ​convinced Larson to publicly test his invention on a man suspected of killing a priest. Larson's machine, which he called a cardio-pneumo psychogram, indicated the suspect’s guilt; the press dubbed the invention a lie detector.

Despite the plaudits, Larson would become skeptical about his machine’s ability to reliably detect deception—especially in regards to Keeler’s methods which amounted to “a psychological third-degree." He was concerned that the polygraph had never matured into anything beyond a glorified stress-detector, and believed that American society had put too much faith in his device. Toward the end of his life, he would refer to it as “a Frankenstein’s monster, which I have spent over 40 years in combating.”

But Keeler, who patented the machine, was much more committed to the lie-detection project, and was eager to see the machine implemented widely to fight crime. In 1935, results of Keeler’s polygraph test were admitted for the first time as evidence in a jury trial—and secured a conviction.

HOW IT WORKS

In its current form, the polygraph test measures changes in respiration, perspiration, and heart rate. Sensors are strapped to the subject's fingers, arm, and chest to report on real-time reactions during interrogation. A spike on these parameters indicates nervousness, and potentially points to lying.

To try to eliminate false-positives, the test ​relies on "control questions."

In a murder investigation, for instance, a suspect may be asked relevant questions such as, "Did you know the victim?" or "Did you see her on the night of the murder?" But the suspect will also be asked broad, stress-inducing control questions about general wrongdoing: "Did you ever take something that doesn't belong to you?" or "Did you ever lie to a friend?" The purpose of the control questions is to be vague enough to make every innocent subject anxious (who hasn't ever lied to a friend?). Meanwhile, a guilty subject is likely to be more worried about answering the relevant questions.

This difference is what the polygraph test is about. According to the American Psychological Association, “A pattern of greater physiological response to relevant questions than to control questions leads to a diagnosis of ‘deception.’” They proclaim that, "Most psychologists agree that there is little evidence that polygraph tests can accurately detect lies."

But a diagnosis of deception doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has actually lied. A polygraph test doesn’t actually detect deception directly; it only shows stress, which was why Larson fought so hard against it being categorized as a "lie detector." Testers have a variety of ways to infer deception (like by using control questions), but, according to the American Psychological Association, the inference process is “structured, but unstandardized” and should not be referred to as “lie detection.”

And so, the validity of the results remains a subject of debate. Depending on whom you ask, the reliability of the test ranges from near-certainty to a coin toss. The American Polygraph Association claims the test has an almost 90 percent accuracy rate. But many psychologists—and even some ​police officers—contend that the test is ​biased toward finding liars and has a 50 percent chance of hitting a false-positive for honest people.

NOT QUITE THE SAME AS FINGERPRINTS

Most countries have traditionally been skeptical about the polygraph test and only a handful have incorporated it into their legal system. The test remains most popular in the United States, where many police departments rely on it to extract confessions from suspects. (In 1978, former CIA director Richard Helms argued that that's because "Americans are not very good at" lying.)

Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued numerous rulings on the question of whether polygraph tests should be admitted as evidence in criminal trials. Before Larson’s invention, courts treated lie-detection tests with suspicion. In a 1922 case, a judge prohibited the results of a pre-polygraph lie detector from being presented at trial, worrying that the test, despite its unreliability, could have an unwarranted sway on a jury’s opinion.

Then, after his polygraph results secured a conviction in a 1935 murder trial (through prior agreement between the defense and prosecution), Keeler—Larson’s protégé—asserted that “the findings of the lie detector are as acceptable in court as fingerprint testimony.”

But numerous court rulings have ensured that this won’t be the case. Though the technology of the polygraph has continued to improve and the questioning process has become more systematic and standardized, scientists and legal experts remained divided on the device's efficacy.

A 1998 Supreme Court ruling ​concluded that as long as that’s the case, the risk of false positives is too high. The polygraph test, the court concluded, enjoys a scientific “aura of infallibility,” despite the fact “there is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable,” and ruled that passing the test cannot be seen as proof of innocence. Accordingly, taking the test must remain voluntary, and its results must never be presented as conclusive.

Most importantly: The court left it up to the states to decide whether the test can be presented in court at all. Today, 23 states allow polygraph tests to be admitted as evidence in a trial, and many of those states require the agreement of both parties.

Critics of the polygraph test claim that even in states where the test can't be used as evidence, law enforcers often use it as a tool to ​bully suspects into giving confessions that then can be admitted.

“It does tend to make people frightened, and it does make people confess, even though it cannot detect a lie,” Geoff Bunn, a psychology professor at Manchester Metropolitan University, told The Daily Beast.

But despite criticism—and despite an entire ​industry of former investigators offering to teach individuals how to beat the test—the polygraph is still used ​widely in the United States, mostly in the process of job applications and security checks.

26 of Noah Webster’s Spelling Changes That Didn’t Catch On

Noah Webster had a lasting impact on language in the United States. Before publishing his American Dictionary of the English Language, he produced a series of spelling books (including the one pictured above) that dominated American classrooms for almost a century. He was a proponent of spelling reform, believing that more regular orthography would not only make learning easier, but more importantly, it would distinguish the American way from the British, “an object of vast political consequence” to a young nation. Some of his suggested reforms caught on and still mark a difference between American and British writing: he replaced “colour” with “color,” “centre” with “center,” “defence” with “defense,” “plough” with “plow,” “draught” with “draft,” and “gaol” with “jail.”

However, many of Webster’s reforms went nowhere. Here are 26 spellings that didn’t catch on—at least until the dawn of LOLcats.

1. Cloke — cloak

2. Soop — soup

3. Masheen — machine

4. Tung — tongue 

5. Greef — grief

6. Dawter — daughter

7. Korus — chorus

8. Nightmar — nightmare

9. Turnep — turnip

10. Iland — island

11. Porpess — porpoise

12. Steddy — steady

13. Hainous — heinous

14. Thum — thumb

15. Gillotin — guillotine

16. Spunge — sponge

17. Ake — ache

18. Wimmin — women

19. Determin — determine

20. Giv — give

21. Bilt — built

22. Beleev — believe

23. Grotesk — grotesque

24. Stile — style 

25. Neer — near

26. Sley — sleigh

Inspired by this post from Reddit's Today I Learned.

This article originally ran in 2013.

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