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The Quick 10: A Roller Derby Primer

Here in Des Moines, we're enjoying the inaugural season of the Des Moines Derby Dames, an amateur roller derby team. It's been a lot of fun, and I have to say, it's making me wonder how well my skating skills of yesteryear have held up (probably not well. I couldn't even skate backwards at elementary school skating parties). There's something about the campy getups and unabashed violence that just makes a girl want to lace up. The sport has gone in and out of style over the years, but if you're ready to jump in on the most recent incarnation, here are a few things you'll need to know.

1. Although it has evolved over the years, roller derby has been around since the early "˜30s, the creation of Leo Seltzer. It originally started out as a roller skating marathon. Coed teams would race "across the country" on a wooden track by going 4,000 miles, watching bulbs on a map light up to show where they would be if they were actually gliding across the U.S. on eight wheels.

2. The, um, "physical" side of the sport didn't really show up until 1938, when a sports writer suggested that Seltzer introduce elbowing, whipping and slamming into the mix to keep things interesting. Seltzer wasn't crazy about the idea, but he agreed to give it a shot. Skaters and fans loved it and spectacular falls and shoves have been a beloved part of the game ever since.

3. In case you're not familiar with the sport, here are a couple of terms you need to know. "Whip" refers to a move involving two girls of the same team. Girl B comes up behind Girl A; Girl A grabs Girl B's arm and flings ("whips") her out in front. Typically, the girl being whipped out in front is the Jammer "“ the Jammer is the only skater who can score points on the team. She gets points by passing members of the opposing team, which is why it's a good thing for someone to whip her out ahead of the pack.

4. You're intrigued now, aren't you? Here are the rest of the rules.

5. You won't ever see someone wearing #1 on an official roller derby team, and the reason is quite sad. On March 24, 1937, a touring group of Roller Derbyists were in a bus when it blew a tire near Salem, Illinois. It collided with a bridge abutment, rolled over and burst into flames. According to different sources, the number of deaths totaled 19 or 20. Out of respect to those who died, the #1 has been retired from roller derby entirely. Anything else goes, though, including decimals and fractions.

6. Back in the early days of derby, famous fans included George Burns, Gracie Allen, Cary Grant, W.C. Fields and Jack Benny.

7. If you were around in the early "˜70s, you may have experienced roller derby at its peak popularity. The record attendance for a game occurred in 1972 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, with 50,118 fans showing up to watch the Chicago Midwest Pioneers play the Los Angeles Thunderbirds. That same year, Kansas City Bomber starring Raquel Welch as "the hottest thing on wheels" hit movie theaters. Sadly, things started to deteriorate the following year. One famous derby girl of the era attributes the problem to the 1973 oil crisis, which left teams unable to travel.
8. Although I think the fun names are one of the best parts of the sport, some players are bucking the trend and starting to use their own names (gasp).

9. My favorite names tend to be pop culture based (surprise, surprise) including: Lucille Brawl, Kelly KaPOWski, Hot Whips Houlihan and Assaultin' Pepa.

10. You, too, can create your own roller derby name. In fact, we have way too much fun coming up with ridiculous monikers. But if you're not good at wordplay, never fear "“ there are a couple of Roller Derby name generators out there that will do the dirty work for you. You can get a team name as well.

Do we have any derby girl _flossers? I shouldn't limit it to derby girls "“ although that's the trend these days, there are some co-ed teams and a few all-male teams. We'd love to hear about your experience in the comments. And if you're not a derby girl, feel free to fill us in on what your name would be if you were one. I just saw Eleanor Bruiseavelt and Sandra Day O'Clobber on a website and I'm pretty charmed by those.

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10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes
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iStock

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.

1. THEY’VE BEEN AROUND SINCE THE 17TH CENTURY.

While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.

2. A GERMAN IMMIGRANT BROUGHT THE TRADITION TO THE STATES.

It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.

3. THEY HAVEN’T ALWAYS BEEN STRIPED.

Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.

4. THEY’RE A (RELATIVELY) VIRTUOUS HOLIDAY TREAT.

Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.

5. THEY DON’T ALWAYS FIT ON A CHRISTMAS TREE.

The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.

6. EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN WAY OF EATING THEM.

Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.

7. MORE THAN A BILLION ARE MADE EACH YEAR.

According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?

8. A PRIEST PLAYED A MAJOR ROLE IN THE CANDY’S MOVE TO MASS PRODUCTION.

Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.

9. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN (ODDLY-TIMED) HOLIDAY.

December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.

10. THE PROCESS FOR MAKING THEM BY HAND IS MESMERIZING.

Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

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10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films
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1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.

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