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Mushroom Clouds in Mississippi: the Little-Known History of Nuclear Testing in the American South

When you think of nuclear test sites, remote Pacific islands and desert wastelands come to mind. Not many people think of Hattiesburg, MIssissippi -- but the United States carried out two nuclear tests in a little town just outside that city in 1964, in an operation that went by the reassuring-to-no-one moniker Project Dribble. No one saw any mushroom clouds, though, because the two nukes they tested were detonated underground, in a 3,000-foot-deep shaft drilled into a reservoir of ancient salt called the Tatum Salt Dome (left over from the Mesozoic era, when that part of the state was covered by sea water). Those were the early days of the Nuclear Test Ban, and we were trying to figure out if other nations could cheat by doing underground tests that could fool seismographs -- so we did a few of our own. Here's a bit of Shatner-narrated footage of the tests:

An area five miles downwind and two miles upwind from the test site was evacuated. Inconvenienced residents were paid $10 per adult and $5 per child for their trouble, and many came back to find collapsed shelves in their kitchens, cracks in their ceilings, and wells that had gone dry. People a few miles from the site who weren't evacuated said that they felt three separate shocks, during which the soil rose and fell like ocean waves. Two miles from the blast, the shockwave shook pecans from the pecan trees. In Hattiesburg, thirty miles away, tall buildings swayed for several minutes, and people noticed rivers and streams running black from churned-up silt. All this from a bomb one-third the strength of the one dropped on Hiroshima twenty years earlier. When a crew lowered a television camera and some equipment into the underground crater after the explosion, it measured more than a hundred feet in diameter. Three months later, the air in the hole it made was still four hundred degrees.

The government reimbursed people for damage to their homes, and to ease fears about radioactive drinking water, they built a pipeline to serve people who lived near the test site. Over the years, there have been scattered claims of higher-than-average rates of illness in the area, and at least one person was paid by the government to resolve unspecified health claims, but there hasn't been any great public outcry. A lot of younger people in Lamar County, Mississippi have never heard of Project Dribble -- but if they were to venture past the gates erected by the Department of Energy to the test site, they would find a stone monument and a brass plaque warning future generations not to drill in the area. (Let's hope that plaque can last 10,000 years or so, when people -- if there are any -- will really need it.)

Oh, and as for the test results, we figured out that you could indeed fool a seismograph by performing nuclear tests in underground caves, which significantly muffle shockwaves. Thanks to Project Dribble, though, we pioneered new ways to catch nuclear cheaters.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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