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In the Beginning: The Origins of 9 Cat Breeds

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We’ve covered the origins of various dog breeds before, so it’s about time we gave cat lovers some info, too. Let’s take a look at how several of your favorite breeds grew to prominence.

1. Siamese

Yes, they are Siamese even if you don’t please. The precise origins of the breed are somewhat murky, but it’s generally accepted that the breed did originate in Siam. In fact, written records from the Siamese capital of Ayudha mention cats fitting the Siamese’s description as far back as 1350.

Interestingly, the first documented Siamese cat to come to the United States had a fancy home: the White House. In 1878 President Rutherford B. Hayes received a Siamese cat named Siam as a gift from the American consul in Bangkok. Siam joined quite the presidential menagerie; the Hayes family also had two dogs, a mockingbird, and a goat.

Sadly, Siam died the following year after a short illness. Here’s where things get odd. The Hayes family was heartbroken at the loss of their beloved cat, and the president’s personal steward supposedly gave Siam’s body to the Department of Agriculture with clear instructions to preserve the cat. This odd decision means that Siam should probably be somewhere in the collections of either the Smithsonian or the Department of Agriculture, but repeated searches have failed to turn up the groundbreaking cat.

2. Devon Rex

This playful breed is relatively young; the first specimens emerged in 1960 in Devon, England. At that time a feral tomcat lived in an abandoned tin mine outside of Buckfastleigh, and he sired a litter with Miss Beryl Cox’s adopted stray. The kittens had striking faces, giant ears, and curly coats, and Cox worked to propagate more of the new breed, which was dubbed Devon Rex.

3. Peterbald

Another young breed, the first Peterbalds were born in late 1994 in St. Petersburg, Russia. That year a Donskoy bred with an Oriental, and the resulting kittens became wildly popular among St. Petersburg’s cat fanciers.

4. Bengal

The Bengal’s spots and rosettes make it look like a tiny tiger, and indeed, the breed originally came about from crossing domestic cats with wild Asian leopard cats. Although they’re now fully domesticated, the Bengal name is a nod to the Asian leopard cat’s scientific name, Prionailurus bengalensis.

5. Sphynx

They may have an Egyptian name, but the Sphynx breeds come from a place with a decidedly chillier climate: Toronto. In 1966 a black and white Toronto cat had a hairless kitten that its owners named Prune. They then bred Prune to a series of other cats in an attempt to create more hairless kittens, and although the recessive hairless gene made this a tricky business, eventually some more hairless kittens turned up. After these kittens were crossed with Devon Rex, the Sphynx breed really took off. The name came about when breeders realized their little hairless cats looked like tiny copies of the Sphynx.

6. Manx

These cats may not have much in the way of tails, but they do have plenty of proposed backstories. One tale theorizes that the Manx was running late for the departure of Noah’s Ark, and the Bible’s favorite shipbuilder accidentally slammed the cat’s tail in the door as the floodwaters rose. The truth isn’t quite as exciting: the breed actually originated on the Isle of Man sometime before 1750. They take their English name from their home island, but in the native Manx language they’re known as stubbin. [Image Credit: Jonik.]

7. Maine Coon

The official state cat of Maine probably got its start in Maine long ago, so the name is partially accurate. The “coon” part is hard to swallow, though. Thanks to the breed’s raccoon-like coloring and fluffy tails, cat fanciers formerly thought they arose from cross breeding between wild cats and raccoons. Great story, but it’s biologically impossible.

That’s not the only folktale around the Maine coon’s origin, though. One myth tells that when Marie Antoinette became nervous during the French Revolution, she sent a ship full of her belongings, including her six favorite Angora cats, to the United States in anticipation of escaping France. Obviously the guillotine kept her from making the trip, but legend has it that her cats arrived on this side of the pond and got down to breeding with the locals. Again, the story probably isn’t true; most breeders think the Maine coon emerged when native American shorthaired cats bred with long-haired breeds brought over from Europe.

8. Nebelung

Now here’s a breed with an epic name. These beautiful blue-gray felines first appeared with Cora Cobb’s two cats: Siegfried, named after the dragon-slayer in the epic poem the Nibelungenlied, and Brunhilde, named after the legendary queen in the same poem, who were both born in the mid-1980s. After working to produce more litters of the beautiful longhaired cats, Cobb and her collaborators named the breed Nebelung, a portmanteau of the name of the poem from which the breed’s forefathers got their names and Nebel, the German word for mist or fog. [Image Credit: Nebelung.]

9. Snowshoe

Sadly, they don’t have little snowshoes instead of paws. Instead, this breed has white paws and a distinctive “V” facial pattern. The breed got its start in the 1960s when Dorothy Hinds-Daugherty of Philadelphia had a litter of Siamese kittens and found that three of the kittens had these unique markings. She began a breeding program that started producing these relatively rare, beautiful cats. [Image Credit: Cooseman22.]

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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.

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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