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Reading mental_floss Can Really Pay Off

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There's no question that reading a mental_floss story can pay off during Trivial Pursuit, or when you're trying to impress someone at a cocktail party. But for one lucky reader, it meant a whole lot more.

My last article, 9 Very Rare (and Very Expensive) Video Games, was reprinted by CNN.com (mental_floss has an agreement with CNN). While reading the story over there, one of the games stood out for Tanner Sandlin of Austin, Texas—Air Raid for the Atari 2600. Thanks to the cartridge's distinct blue case and "T-Handle" top, he remembered owning it when he was a kid. So he started digging through boxes of old stuff in the garage and, lo and behold, he found it—the thirteenth known copy of the game in existence. He put it up on eBay and the bids started rolling in.

Sandlin bought the game when he was 11 or 12 years old at a store called Tuesday Morning in Arlington, Texas. Tuesday Morning bought overstocked or undersold goods from other retailers and sold the items at a discount. Sandlin paid less than $10.00, possibly as low as $5.00, for Air Raid in 1984 or 1985. This is important because none of the other twelve people who have Air Raid cartridges were the original owners—they bought them at auction, secondhand stores, or through private collectors. Learning a collectible item's "provenance," or owner history, is key to proving its authenticity. Since Sandlin was the original owner, his cartridge had more street cred than one found in a box at the local thrift store.

Oddly enough, Sandlin remembered that this much sought after game wasn't really all that great. In fact, the only reason he still had it was because it was so bad. He and his friends used to borrow games from each other all the time—sometimes you'd get your game back, sometimes you wouldn't, and that was OK. But no one wanted to keep Air Raid, so it kept coming back to him. He's not complaining now.

While it's impressive that Sandlin had the thirteenth known copy of Air Raid, he later found that he still had the original packaging for the game as well. This changed everything. Why? Because his was the only known Air Raid box in the world, making it the only known complete copy of the game in existence. Tanner Sandlin had just become a part of video gaming history.

But he couldn't start counting his fortune just yet. If you're willing to pay thousands of dollars for a video game, you're going to make sure it's legitimate. Sandlin knew this, so he went straight to an expert, Albert Yarusso of AtariAge.com, a forum for fans of anything Atari, to get his professional opinion on the authenticity of the find. The two both live in Austin, so Yarusso met with Sandlin and examined both the game and the box in person. After some thorough research, Yarusso declared everything was real (or the most impressive forgery he'd ever seen). With expert confirmation behind him, Sandlin pulled his stand-alone cartridge auction on eBay and replaced it with the complete game package. The starting price was $.50.

Unfortunately, Yarusso's announcement came on April 1, 2010. He's been known for pulling some pretty elaborate and convincing April Fool's Day pranks on the website in the past, so at first the retrogamers on AtariAge were skeptical. They cited spelling errors on the box that seemed "too perfect" and the fact that it said it was the debut game from Men-A-Vision seemed sketchy at best. While the timing was bad, Yarusso and Sandlin stuck to their guns. When there was no big reveal of a hoax in the subsequent days, collectors swarmed to Sandlin's eBay auction. The first bid alone jumped the price from $.50 to $3,000.

Sold!

Sandlin's eBay auction ended on April 10, 2010 at about 10:15PM (EST). With only 5 minutes to go, the highest bid was $14,600. It sat at this price until the very last few seconds, when it jumped to $17,528, and then made a giant leap to $31,500. The final bid was $31,600.

This sets a new record price for the game, blowing away the previous record of $3,000. That also makes it the second-highest price ever paid for a video game cartridge, just behind the $43,300 paid for a factory-sealed copy of Stadium Events for the Nintendo back in February.

I asked Sandlin what he intended to do with the money and he wasn't quite sure yet. He did know that he wanted to buy something tangible; something he could point at it and say, "I bought that with a video game!" You can buy a whole lot of mental_floss magazine gift subscriptions for $31,600.

We here at mental_floss are incredibly excited to have been a part of this amazing, somewhat crazy moment. Thanks for reading, Tanner, and congratulations on your record-breaking sale!

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Michael Campanella/Getty Images

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.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"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

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"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

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"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

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"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

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"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

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"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

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[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

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

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: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
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: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

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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