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The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs: The West

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Yesterday we took a look at some interesting facts about the schools in the NCAA tournament's South region. Today, let's turn our sights to the West.

(1) Syracuse got its start as Genessee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, NY. The school only moved to Syracuse in 1870 after the city had made a concerted effort to lure a college to town and whiffed on getting Cornell to choose it over Ithaca, NY.


(16) Vermont has a couple of interesting claims to fame. It was the first American university to publicly declare its support for freedom of religion, and its charter explicitly states that the school's "rules, regulations, and by-laws shall not tend to give preference to any religious sect or denomination whatsoever." Additionally, in the 1870s it became the first university to admit women and African Americans into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
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(8) Gonzaga has been known to make some noise in the tournament, but where did the Jesuit school in Spokane, Washington, get its unusual name?

From a Jesuit saint. Saint Aloysius Gonzaga was an Italian Jesuit who worked with plague victims in the late 16th century and had a vision in which the Archangel Gabriel told him he would die within one year. Sadly, the vision proved to be true, as Aloysius came down with the plague and FSU-circusdied when he was just 23 years old.


(9) Florida State is one of only two schools in the country to have its own circus. (Illinois State is the other.) The FSU Flying High Circus has been around since 1947 and offers FSU students a chance to perform under a three-ring big top. The school offers a one-credit class "Introduction to Circus," and performers practice their acts each day in anticipation of a big show each spring.
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(5) Butler may have gotten to hear Kurt Vonnegut's swan song. The college invited Vonnegut to give a lecture in 2007, and while the author wrote his talk, he died before the scheduled speech. His son Mark read the lecture in Vonnegut's place; there's a real possibility that the talk is the last thing Vonnegut ever wrote.

(12) UTEP must have a nice weight room, because it produced one of the sports world's most famous sets of giant biceps. NFL referee Ed Hochuli attended the school from 1969 to 1972; he played linebacker for the Miners' football team.

If muscle-bound zebras don't get you excited, then the school's Asian-influenced architecture might. Many of the school's buildings are designed in a style that's more commonly associated with Bhutanese monasteries and fortresses. This unique stylistic choice came about after a 1916 fire destroyed most of the school. Dean Steven Worrell's wife remembered a National Geographic feature about Bhutan's "Castles in the Air," and she suggested the style be used throughout the rebuilt campus.
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(4) Vanderbilt's teams may be the Commodores, but the name is a bit of a misnomer. The school is named after shipping magnate/robber baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was known by the naval title "Commodore Vanderbilt" during his life. He was never an actual commodore, though. In fact, he was never even in the Navy. People just started calling Vanderbilt "Commodore" in the 1840s because he owned a lot of steamships, and the nickname stuck.

(13) Murray State is an unlikely hotbed of college football coaching. The Kentucky school provided early head coaching jobs for Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer and Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. Illinois head coach Ron Zook and Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen both served as assistants for the Racers.
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xavier-chapel(6) Xavier has at least one cool-sounding architectural element on its campus. Bellarmine Chapel has a 122-foot roof that's shaped in the form of a hyperbolic paraboloid, better known as a "saddle roof." Due to the unique shape, the chapel's walls don't support any of the roof's weight, so the roof would remain standing even if the walls were removed.


(11) Minnesota's teams call themselves the Golden Gophers, but they could have been the Doughboys. Baked goods mogul John Sargent Pillsbury helped the school get off the ground after the Civil War by giving it a hefty loan to cover its operating costs. Minnesota still honors Pillsbury as "the Father of the University."
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Sick of bland academic buildings? Head to (3) Pitt. The school's Cathedral of Learning stands an impressive 535 feet high, making it the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere. The limestone-clad Late Gothic Revival cathedral contains over 2000 rooms. Check out the view from the top on this webcam.

(14) Oakland University grads should probably buy Dodge cars. The Michigan school got its start in 1957 when Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of Dodge Motors co-founder John Francis Dodge, left her sprawling 1,500-acre estate to Michigan State University. The university was founded as Michigan State University-Oakland, but by 1963 it was known as Oakland University. By 1970 it was completely independent of Michigan State.
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brigham-youngMale students at (7) Brigham Young can grow beards, but they'll need a doctor's note first. Not growing facial hair is part of the university's honor code "“- the code includes a grooming section "“- but the school isn't totally rigid about the rule. If a student has a skin condition that would be irritated by shaving, he can be examined by a physician and receive a "beard exception" that's good for one year. (Photo: Brigham Young.)


(10) Florida has at least one possession that sounds like it fell straight out of James Bond movie. In 2009 the school completed construction on the world's largest single-aperture telescope, which is nestled into a volcanic peak in the Canary Islands. The telescope, which was a joint project between the Spanish government, the University of Florida, and a Mexican university, cost over $130 million and took nearly 25 years to build.
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(2) Kansas State got one of its beloved fight songs, "The Wabash Cannonball," in an odd way. In 1968 the school's Nichols Hall burned down, destroying all of the marching band's sheet music. The only sheet music that survived was "The Wabash Cannonball," which band director Phil Hewett had taken home with him, and since the band was hard-up for tunes, they just played the song over and over again at a basketball game three days after the fire, and a new tradition was born.

(15) North Texas might have a tough time against Kansas State, but they can boogie with the best of them. The school's One O'Clock Lab Band was the first student band ever to get a Grammy nomination when its big band jazz records Lab '75 and Lab '76 received nods during the mid-1970s.

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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