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The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs: The South

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We may not be much help in filling out your bracket. But throughout this week we're going to bring you a _flossy take on March Madness: one interesting fact about each of the 65 teams in the tournament field. Let's kick things off with the South region.

(1) Duke can boast of many notable alumni in politics, from former senator Elizabeth Dole to med school grad Ron Paul. But the school hasn't been great to its most famous alum. In 1954, a committee recommended that then-VP Richard Nixon, a 1937 School of Law graduate, be given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, and Nixon agreed to be the graduation speaker. However, after vociferous debate, a faculty panel voted down the recommendation, and Nixon bailed on the commencement address.

Over a quarter-century later, Duke President Terry Sanford pushed to build Nixon's presidential library on campus, even meeting with Nixon himself to work out the details. However, a similar faculty committee killed the idea. The Nixon Library ended up in Yorba Linda, California.

(16a) Winthrop shows that you don't have to dish out millions to get your name on a college. The school got its start as a teachers' college in the 1880s and is named after Robert C. Winthrop, a Massachusetts philanthropist and former Speaker of the House. The fledgling school needed some startup capital, so Winthrop floated the institution $1500. The school's administration was so grateful that it named the whole place after him.

Interesting side note about Winthrop: he was also John Kerry's great-great-grandfather.

(16b) Arkansas Pine Bluff is playing in its first NCAA tournament, but the school has a long and storied history as a leader in a somewhat less publicized field: aquaculture, or the study of how to farm freshwater and saltwater fish and other organisms.

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(8) California may look sharp in its blue-and-gold uniforms, but did you know they swiped one of the colors from another school? The particular dark blue that the Golden Bears sport is officially known as Yale Blue, since the Ivy League university has used it for over a century. How did Cal end up with Yale's color? According to the school's website, most of the university's founders were Yale men who had made their way west. Cal wasn't the only school to bogart the hue, either; Yale blue was Duke's official color until the 1960s.

(9) Louisville contains at least one sight that art lovers can't miss: one of the original monumental size bronze casts of Rodin's The Thinker. U of L's version of the sculpture sits outside of Grawemeyer Hall and is actually the very first bronze cast of The Thinker that Rodin made. The cast itself dates back to 1903, but it's been at its current spot on Louisville's campus since 1949.
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(5) Texas A&M's fans are known to yell "Gig "˜em" as a rallying cry, but why do they do it? The tradition supposedly started before a 1906 football game against Texas Christian University. A student yell leader said that the Aggies were going to "gig" the Horned Frogs, and the phrase "Gig "˜em" with a thumbs-up gesture quickly became utah-statepopular on campus.

(12) Utah State has a fun rite of passage: to become a "True Aggie," you have to smooch someone who is already a True Aggie under the moonlight. This tongue play is particularly prevalent during the school's Homecoming dance, which is how the school was once briefly a world record holder for "Most Couples Kissing At the Same Place at the Same Time" until a group of Canadians broke the record six months later.
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(4) Purdue is a tremendous college choice if you're an aspiring astronaut. The school has been called "the Cradle of Spaceflight" and has cranked out 22 astronauts who have been chosen for space flight, including big names like Neil Armstrong and Gus Grissom.

(13) Siena actually played part of the 1988-89 season without a mascot. The previous team name, the Indians, got the heave-ho for being culturally insensitive, but when the school couldn't settle on a new mascot, the team took the court without one. They also frequently took the court without any fans. Siena suffered from an outbreak of measles during that season, and thanks to quarantines the school played nine straight games in an empty arena.
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notre-dame(6) Notre Dame may be a familiar name to sports fans, but did you know that it's not the school's full name? The school's official charter refers to it as "University of Notre Dame du Lac," which translates to "University of Our Lady of the Lake."

(11) Old Dominion takes its name from its home state of Virginia's "Old Dominion" nickname. Where does that nickname originate, though? The English Civil War, of course. Virginia remained loyal to the monarchy during the conflict, so when King Charles II came into power during the Restoration in 1660, he wanted to show his gratitude to the Virginians. Charles II conferred the title "Dominion" on the colony, and the nickname stuck. Knowing this origin makes the school's athletic mascot, the Monarchs, make a bit more sense, too.
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Like most schools, (3) Baylor has a ceremonial mace that's carried during official events. Baylor's mace has a cool story, though. Its main element is a sword that Cyrus Alexander Baylor, brother of university founder R.E.B. Baylor, received for bravery during the War of 1812. The sword was a gift to Baylor from none other than General Andrew Jackson. A cane that belonged to Sam Houston is also part of the mace, which makes the Bears' first-round matchup against Sam Houston State a bit more interesting.

(14) Sam Houston State was the first "“- and according to the school, possibly the only "“- college ever to start a branch campus in an old prisoner-of-war camp. Throughout World War II, the government housed 5,000 German POWs in Huntsville, TX, and after the war, SHSU bought the abandoned camp for $1. (Pretty sweet deal: the camp was 861 acres and included over 400 buildings.) It then transformed the former prison camp into a campus with lodging for 2,000 students.
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(7) Richmond may be a great school, but it's got another claim to fame: it once hosted Dawson, Joey, and Pacey. Dawson's Creek filmed several episodes on the Spiders' campus, but the show never referred to the school by name. Instead, the scripts made vague allusions to it being a "beautiful Ivy League campus."

(10) Saint Mary's Gaels slipped into the tournament after bumping off Gonzaga last week, but what's a Gael? The Gaels are a group of people of Irish and Scottish descent who speak one of the Gaelic languages. According to the school's website, the term originally meant "raider," but gradually evolved to mean "Irish person." You've got to admit "the Gaels" is a bit catchier than "the Saint Mary's Irish People."
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(2) Villanova temporarily closed its doors in 1857 because of a shortage of priests that made staffing the Catholic school too difficult. An economic crisis coupled with the Civil War kept the university closed until 1865.

(15) Robert Morris may not be the biggest school, but it once had pro cheerleaders. When the Pittsburgh Steelers debuted their cheerleaders, the Steelerettes, in 1961, the squad was entirely composed of Robert Morris Junior College students. The Steelerettes cheered on the Steelers until 1970.

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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.
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.
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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