Octopuses, Beef & Other Items Hockey Fans Throw on the Ice

Red Wings Fans made it a habit to throw octopuses on the ice.
Red Wings Fans made it a habit to throw octopuses on the ice.
FRED TANNEAU, Getty Images

With the Stanley Cup playoffs in full swing, let's examine some of the various objects fans have hurled onto the ice.

1. Octopuses

On April 15, 1952, Red Wings fans and brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano threw an octopus on the ice at Detroit's Olympia Stadium. The eight tentacles on the octopus were symbolic of the eight wins needed to win the Stanley Cup at the time, when the league consisted of six teams and the playoff format was two best-of-seven series. The Red Wings swept the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens to win the Cup and a Detroit hockey tradition was born.

2. Hats

Starting in the first half of the 20th century, hat companies would give away fedoras to players who scored three goals in a game. According to a spokesman for the Hockey Hall of Fame, NHL fans started throwing hats on the ice to celebrate hat tricks in the 1970s.

3. Rubber Snakes

The most recent addition to this list was inspired by a hilarious internet campaign earlier this month. A Toronto Maple Leafs blogger launched the movement when he suggested, via Twitter, that Phoenix Coyotes blogger Travis Hair throw a rattlesnake onto the ice during Game 1 of the Coyotes' first-round playoff series against Detroit. Before long, #ThrowTheSnake was the top trending topic in Canada and Hair was reaching out to the team's marketing department about organizing a non-disruptive way to capitalize on the excitement. Hair suggested that fans be permitted to throw rubber snakes after warm-ups and before the Zamboni cleared the ice, but team officials wanted none of it. Anyone who threw a snake, they said, would be ejected. No matter, after the Coyotes' Keith Yandle scored to tie the game during the first period of Game 1, a rubber snake hit the ice."¨

4. Rats

On October 8, 1995, Florida Panthers winger Scott Mellanby was waiting in the dressing room at Miami Arena, ready to take the ice for the third-year franchise's home opener, when he spotted a rat moving across the floor. Perhaps acting on instinct, Mellanby unleashed a slap shot that killed the intruder, which was memorialized with the inscription R.I.P. RAT 1 on the wall above where it died. That night, Mellanby scored two goals in the Panthers' 4-3 win and Florida goalie John Vanbiesbrouck dubbed the feat a rat trick during the postgame press conference. A fan threw a plastic rat on the ice after a goal during one of the Panthers' next home games, and the custom eventually caught on. As the Panthers' wins continued to pile up, so too did the fake rodents.

During the Panthers' 1996 playoff run, a local supermarket baked rat-shaped cakes and Dan Marino's bar introduced a new drink, the Rat Shooter. Plastic rat reinforcements had to be shipped in to South Florida after the Panthers advanced to the Stanley Cup finals against the Colorado Avalanche. Avs fans, who tossed rat traps on the ice during games in Denver, had the last laugh, as Colorado swept the series. The NHL introduced a new rule during the offseason that called for referees to issue the home team a bench minor penalty if fans ignored the public address announcer's warning and continued to throw objects onto the ice after a goal.

5. Alberta Beef

The first two slabs of Alberta beef landed on the ice at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena prior to the start of Game 2 of the 2006 first round Stanley Cup playoff series between the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers and the top-seeded Red Wings. "They threw the beef in Detroit, and we won," Oilers winger Georges Laraque told reporters after Edmonton won Game 2 to even the series. "I think it's an awesome idea. Edmonton has better fans than Detroit. What better way to rub it in their faces than by throwing a big Alberta steak onto the ice. It gets people revved up. We can associate it with winning and start a whole new tradition!"

Tossing Alberta beef—the perfect antidote to Detroit's octopus—onto the ice was Edmonton DJ Gary McLachlan's idea, and it didn't take long for the bizarre ritual to become associated with winning. The Oilers dispatched the Red Wings in six games and, with the beef raining down, advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. While attending Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., McLachlan was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for throwing a slab of beef onto the ice during the national anthem. "I hope they understand it was all in good fun," McLachlan said. "We weren't out to hurt anybody. I am hanging up the meat hook." The Oilers lost the series in seven games.

6. Leopard Shark

San Jose Sharks fans and cousins Ken Conroy and Mike Gaboury hatched a plan to mimic Detroit's octopus-throwing tradition by throwing a shark onto the ice when San Jose played the Red Wings in the first round of the 1994 playoffs. While the idea didn't materialize into action during that series, the duo vowed to make it happen the next time San Jose and Detroit met in the playoffs.

Flash forward to 2006. Conroy purchased Game 4 tickets in the lower bowl online and a pair of 4-foot leopard sharks from a San Francisco fishing pier. Conroy and his son used an elaborate process documented here to secure one of the sharks to Gaboury's back and the trio headed to the game. Gaboury, who wore a trench coat to help conceal the bulge the shark created, waited until the lights dimmed during pregame introductions to unwrap the shark and slide it under his seat. After the Sharks scored late in the first period, he handed the shark to Conroy, who moved to the aisle and prepared for the toss of his life. "I took about three steps and I just heaved it (with two hands) and it slides out to the blue line near the middle of the ice," said Conroy, who was escorted out of the arena by security. ""¦This thing was created to mock the Red Wings fans and it just grew into a challenge and adventure that could not be denied. It couldn't be passed up. We knew we just had to do it. It was just for fun."

7. Fish

On Jan. 6, 1973, Cornell upset top-ranked Harvard in a game that is remembered most, according to the Cornell Daily Sun, for the dead chicken that a Harvard fan tossed at Cornell goalie Dave Elenbaas. Big Red fans responded to the gesture, which mocked Cornell's agriculture college, by pelting Harvard players with fish before the start of the second period and tying a live chicken to Harvard's net during the schools' next meeting. Nearly 40 years later, the intense rivalry and Cornell's fish-throwing tradition persists.

8. Paper Airplanes

Not surprisingly, throwing objects on the ice predates even Detroit's famed octopus tradition. In 1944, Earl "The Iceman" Davis, who supervised a cleanup crew of 12 at Chicago Stadium, was featured in a national wire story on fan behavior at hockey games. "Hockey fans are the craziest people, of that I'm sure," Davis said. "They do not seem to know it's dangerous to throw things—that a player could break his leg on the junk they toss—and that we are breaking our backs picking it up. One night we scooped up 300 or 400 pennies, several dimes and nickels and a couple of quarters."

The biggest source of trash, however, was "paper airplanes made with painstaking care from programs by guys in the far, smoke-bound reaches of the upper gallery." These fans were known for picking a spot on the ice and betting who could sail their paper planes closest to the mark. In the same article, Blackhawks president Bill Tobin recalled the time that a fan in Montreal threw an alarm clock on the ice. "Thought it was time we woke up, I guess," he said.

fun

A Gory Toy Story: The Horrible History of the Evilstick

iStock.com/EKramar
iStock.com/EKramar

When Nicole Allen bought a gift for her 2-year-old daughter the week after Halloween at a dollar store in Dayton, Ohio in 2014, there was little indication Allen should have inspected it prior to letting her child play with it. The toy was a princess wand topped with flower petals, with a cardboard package that featured a smiling female heroine and a suggestion that it was suitable for ages 3 and up. The back of the package promised buyers that the toy “Can Send Out Wonderful Music.” It appeared to be little more than a cheap trinket—the kind customers passing through a discount store might glimpse and toss into their cart without much thought.

Allen didn’t notice that the toy’s playful graphics obscured a somewhat malevolent name. At the top, in a juvenile font, was the official name of the product: Evilstick.

It wasn't until Allen got home that she found out why.

Instead of playing “beautiful music,” pushing a button on the wand’s handle activated a maniacal laugh—one made all the more disturbing by the product’s cheap, tinny speaker. Pressing the button also made the toy’s flower top light up, illuminating a piece of foil that was made transparent to reveal a horrifying image of a woman with pupil-less eyes miming the act of slitting her wrists.

The image would be alarming regardless of context. Stuck in a child’s toy and coupled with a light and sound show, it seemed like a cruel prank. Allen’s subsequent complaint made local news before going viral.

Four years later, the questions remain. Who made it? Was this macabre toy an accident of negligent bootleg manufacturing, or was it something more sinister? And why did an amateur sleuth close to uncovering its origins suddenly disappear from view?

 

For years, discount retailers have stocked inventory shelves with goods manufactured in China. The country’s notoriously economical labor costs can undercut most other wholesale suppliers, particularly when low prices are paramount.

But that tidal wave of product has a key and chaotic consequence: a lack of quality control. It’s virtually impossible for U.S. customs officials to inspect containers and single out counterfeit goods or items that infringe on a company’s intellectual property, leading to a significant problem with knockoff merchandise. Earlier this year, MGA, maker of the successful L.O.L. Surprise! dolls, filed suit against distributors of lookalike toys that were being sold for a lower price. It’s an uphill battle—with a Byzantine supply system, locating companies and pursuing legal remedies across countries and continents is a costly and frustrating process. While MGA has successfully held 81 dealers responsible for the fake dolls, dozens more continue to proliferate.

A photo of the Evilstick toy wand with the gruesome image visible

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0 // Model photo courtesy of Butcher Ludwig

It’s this complex artery of distribution that presumably allowed Dayton Dollar Store owner Amar Moustafa to purchase a supply of princess wands dubbed Evilsticks in 2012. The “princess” appearing on the package was a character named Sakura Kinomoto, star of the late '90s animated series Cardcaptor Sakura and a popular manga protagonist in Japan. In a nod to Pokemon, fourth-grader Sakura has to retrieve a series of magical cards she accidentally unleashed on the world. While she didn’t wield a wand on the show, the package illustration had been altered so that she was holding one like it.

Speaking to news outlet WHIO in Dayton, Moustafa said he had been at a retailer’s convention when he made the deal for the inventory and that he didn’t recall who sold him the wands. They apparently remained in the store unnoticed until 2014, when Nicole Allen contacted WHIO to report her daughter had been troubled by the image hidden behind the foil wrap. For his part, Moustafa pointed out to WHIO that the “name on it was Evilstick,” and that should have been a tip-off. Allen argued the toy was placed on a rack adjacent to Barbie knockoffs and other kids' items.

Matt Clark, a freelance writer and Dayton resident, didn’t quite buy Moustafa's explanation either. Clark caught mention of the Evilstick via WHIO’s coverage and decided to see it for himself. “I knew where the Dollar Store was and basically made up my mind to go try to get one,” he tells Mental Floss.

Entering the store, Clark encountered Moustafa and asked where the toy was. “He seemed to know exactly what I was talking about and pointed to the back,” Clark says. There, Clark found a peg full of Evilsticks. Peeling away the foil that obscured the image of the suicidal woman to buyers, he found that not all of them featured the grisly photo. “There was one zombie-type character, but most of them were straight cut-out pictures from manga or anime, pretty cartoony and not scary at all.”

It was an intriguing discovery. The Evilsticks seemed to consist of an assortment of images, with the troubling photo placed at random. Whether or not you got one seemed as though it would be the luck of the draw.

Clark eventually found one bearing the notorious photo, bought it, then went home to make a brief 11-second YouTube video showing off the toy’s light-up feature and cackling laugh. “I actually just made it to show a buddy in Cincinnati,” he says. “I didn’t think it would be shared.”

But it was. The next morning, Clark’s snippet had 100,000 views. That led to a longer video review of the Evilstick that garnered 1.3 million visits. Clark had an otherwise unremarkable YouTube presence; the handful of other videos he made had garnered just a few thousand hits each. But with his introduction to the Evilstick, the internet had found a new obsession.

In the rapidly expanding comments section, Clark and his viewers began exchanging theories about the toy’s origins. They determined the image of the woman taking a knife to her wrists could be traced to a horror photographer named Butcher Ludwig, who posted the image on his website and on Facebook years prior. Taken in 2002, it was part of his “Macabre Muses” series, which depicted a vampire ready to feast on her own blood for sustenance.

“[The model] was about 20 at the time of the photo,” Ludwig tells Mental Floss. “I’m not even sure she knows she’s been so well-known.”

Ludwig did not give permission for his photo to appear on the toy. When he was notified of its existence, he says he was shocked someone had “massacred” his photo. Someone had taken his original image and given the model a pair of demonic eyes. Though it’s protected by copyright, it’s almost certain someone involved in the toy’s production saw his image online and downloaded it without his consent.

But who? Clark and his commenters tried searching to see if the barcode—the only real identifying mark on the Evilstick package—led anywhere. It did. “I tracked it down to a factory in China,” Clark says. “I contacted them through [online wholesaler] Alibaba and they said, yes, they made it. I wanted to see if I could talk to someone involved.”

Clark posted on his YouTube page that he appeared close to solving the mystery. People waited. He suddenly went quiet and never made another video again.

 

Quickly, speculation turned to the possibility of the Evilstick being a cursed object—one that had punished Clark for his curiosity. His last message, which mentioned he had things nearly figured out, resembled the words of someone who had flown too close to powers he couldn’t understand.

The reality was a little bit more mundane. “People were saying I had been killed by the curse of the Evilstick and that’s why I never made another video,” he says. “I found that hilarious, and it kind of made me not want to do anything more.”

The Chinese factory—Clark doesn’t recall the name—stopped responding to his emails asking for clarification, and the trail went cold. The alternative speculation was that it actually wasn’t a knockoff item at all but a deliberate act of product tampering. Like the poisoned Halloween candy legends of years past, it was conceivable that someone planted a gory image in a young child’s toy to be a nuisance or maybe to spin a new urban legend. After all, Allen and Clark were the only two documented people to have purchased the spookiest variant of the Evilstick.

A look at the image hidden in the Evilstick
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0 // Model photo courtesy of Butcher Ludwig

But that doesn’t explain Justin Sevakis. The commercial home video producer had actually uncovered an Evilstick back in 2008, six years before the Dayton discovery. Sevakis was living in New York City at the time and came across the toy while shopping with a friend. Highly familiar with the anime industry—his company, MediaOCD, compiles Japanese-language series for U.S. releases—he recognized Cardcaptor Sakura on the packaging immediately.

“It’s actually a very well-known property,” Sevakis tells Mental Floss. “There was an American dub of the cartoon called Cardcaptors that aired on Fox Kids.” Taking the toy home, it sat in his living room, a perfect blend of Japanese anime iconography and a highly misguided sense of appropriateness. To Sevakis, there was nothing exceptionally sinister about the Evilstick. It was yet another consequence of bootleg manufacturing and a lack of attention to detail.

“Dollar stores are drenched in bootleg anime stuff,” he says. “Sailor Moon, Gundam.” While the gory photo was unusual, a cobbled-together knockoff was part and parcel of the counterfeit trade. “It even had a cheap feel,” Sevakis says. “Like you’d been handling fireworks.”

Sevakis’s earlier excavation of the Evilstick means aftermarket tampering is unlikely. The fact that so few people have come across the wand with Ludwig’s image means it probably appeared in just a small selection of the stock. Yet someone still went through the trouble of altering Ludwig’s photo to be even more upsetting. And while Moustafa was correct in that it was transparently named an “Evilstick,” nothing else about the toy or its material communicated it was a horror-themed novelty. It seemed calculated to disarm parents or children until it was taken home: In order for the sound and light to work, a tab protecting the battery had to be pulled first—a task most people wouldn’t bother with until after it was purchased.

Clark has since lost track of whom he was communicating with back in 2014. Ludwig, too, says he was able to locate the company via the barcode and exchanged emails with someone who said they could do nothing about his intellectual property rights complaint. Today, the barcode doesn’t appear to trigger any company of origin. The Evilstick seemed to swoop in, terrorize a small group of children, and then disappear without a trace.

Sevakis no longer has one. Clark rebuffed several offers to buy his before “renting” it out to an episode of the syndicated series The Doctors, which was eager to report on the morbid toy. He subsequently sold it to a buyer in Canada. “Obviously,” he says, “she’s been cursed, too.”

Today is National Necktie Day in Croatia—Birthplace of the Necktie

Srdjan Stevanovic, Getty Images
Srdjan Stevanovic, Getty Images

If you're wearing a necktie to work today, you can thank (or blame) the Croatians for this stylish invention. The necktie's predecessor, a short knotted garment called the cravat, is a source of pride in this Western Balkan nation—so much so that they celebrate Cravat Day each year on October 18.

It's unclear when exactly the necktie was invented, but Croatian soldiers wore red cravats as part of their uniform during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). According to The Atlantic, Croatian mercenaries carried it to Western Europe that same century, and the French borrowed the idea and dubbed it the cravate. It became even more stylish when Louis XIV of France started wearing a lace cravat in 1646 at the tender age of 7, according to The Dubrovnik Times. The English eventually helped spread the accessory around the world, and it morphed into the elongated form we're most familiar with today.

In 1997, a nonprofit organization called the Academia Cravatica was founded to promote the cravat as a symbol of Croatian ingenuity. "By spreading the truth about the cravat, we improve Croatia's image in the international public," the organization states. "The fact that Croats invented the Cravat makes us proud to be Croats." (According to Time Out, Croatia also invented the first MP3 player, the zeppelin, the parachute, and fingerprint identification.)

The cravat is also tied up with national identity. The words Croat and cravat are etymologically linked, and were once different spellings of the same word. One sample sentence by David Hume in 1752 reads, "The troops are filled with Cravates and Tartars, Hussars, and Cossacs."

The holiday isn't normally a big to-do, but the county's capital city, Zagreb, occasionally gets pretty festive. In 2003, when the holiday first debuted in Croatia, the Academia Cravatica wrapped an oversized red necktie around Pula Arena, a Roman amphitheater. It took two years to prepare and five days to install—and at 2650 feet long, it ended up being the largest necktie in the world, as recognized by Guinness World Records.

Cravat Day was formally declared a holiday by Croatian Parliament in 2008, and it's been a hallmark of Croatian culture ever since. A few events were planned in Zagreb today, including a march featuring the "city's famous Cravat Regiment." So if you happen to be in the Croatian capital, now you know why more than 50 historic statues are looking dapper in their red cravats.

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