The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs (The West)

We may not be much help in filling out your bracket. But throughout this week we’re going to bring you a _flossy take on March Madness: one interesting fact about each of the 68 teams in the tournament field. Today we'll wrap things up with the West region.

© MARK BLINCH/Reuters/Corbis

(1) Duke has turned out numerous productive NBA players, but the non-athlete grads have done pretty well for themselves, too. Blue Devil alums include Richard Nixon (Law School), Melinda Gates, Charlie Rose, Judy Woodruff, Ron Paul (Med School) and mental_floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur. Also, Ken Jeong of The Hangover and Community.

(16) Hampton’s campus in southeastern Virginia is home to the Emancipation Oak, which was named one of the 10 Great Trees of the World by the National Geographic Society. In 1861, Mary Peake Smith of the American Missionary Association taught newly freed slaves under the oak. The slaves had found refuge at nearby Fort Monroe after fleeing Confederate-held Norfolk County. Two years later, the local African-American community gathered under the tree to hear the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
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(8) Michigan was not nicknamed the Wolverine State because a large number of the largest member of the weasel family roamed within its borders.

In fact, the first verified sighting of a wolverine in Michigan wasn’t until 2004. Instead, the state nickname may date back to a border dispute between Ohio and Michigan in 1803 known as the Toledo War. It’s unclear whether the Ohioans applied the nickname to their rivals as a derogatory term or if Michiganders coined it themselves as a source of pride. Wolverines were well known as a fierce and ornery species that would kill much larger prey. Regardless, Michigan would become known as the Wolverine State and the University of Michigan adopted the nickname for its athletic teams.

(9) Tennessee's nickname dates back to the War of 1812. President Madison asked Andrew Jackson to find 1500 fellow Tennesseans to voluntarily help him fight the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Later, during the Mexican War, Tennessee’s governor put out a call for 2800 men, but 30,000 volunteers showed up. All of this voluntary participation earned the state, and later its biggest college, a nickname.
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(5) Arizona’s colors used to be sage green and silver, representing the state’s sage bush and its mining history. When a school newspaper writer suggested the color combo was unable to “produce a decorative college pin, flag or varsity sweater,” a committee voted to change the colors to the red and blue we know today. (Some say the school got an amazing price break for purchasing athletic jerseys with common colors.)

(12) Memphis will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year after being founded as the West Tennessee State Normal School in 1912. The school has changed its name several times since then, most recently from Memphis State University to the University of Memphis in 1994.
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(4) Texas has French-American architect Paul Philippe Cret to thank for the 307-foot Beaux-Art Main Building, better known as The Tower, that defines the Austin campus. The tower features a carillon of 56 bells that the resident carilloneurs play songs with three times a week. Cret, who was commissioned by the university’s regents to design the master plan for campus, was the head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania for more than 30 years after honing his design skills in his native France.

(13) Oakland University sits on what was originally a massive estate owned by Matilda Dodge Wilson, the widow of auto magnate John Francis Dodge. While the land itself was a nice gift, it included the Tudor revival mansion Meadow Brook Hall. Not only is the house still loaded with the Wilsons’ amazing art collection that includes everything from Gainsboroughs to Van Dycks, it also hosts one of the world’s priciest collector car shows each year.

Still not enough to impress you? Meadow Brook is also a celebrity wedding destination. Eminem remarried ex-wife Kim Mathers on the grounds in 2006 – the reunion only lasted a couple of months - and NBA forward Shane Battier tied the knot in the hall in 2004.
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(6) Cincinnati alumni and faculty have been pioneers in many fields, but the university also has a spot in the annals of on-campus fast-food history. McDonald’s opened its first-ever collegiate outpost in Cincinnati’s Tangeman University Center on October 2, 1973. In a development that’s sure to surprise no one who’s ever been around cash-strapped, perpetually hungry college kids, the outlet soon became the largest McDonald’s in the world according to UC Magazine.

(11) Missouri adopted the Tiger nickname in 1890 to honor a local Civil War militia called The Missouri Tigers. According to the school's website, Mizzou originally had two tiger mascots, a male and a female, but neither had a specific identity. In a 1984 name-the-mascot contest, the tiger became Truman—after the Missouri-born former president.
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(3) UConn has a huge edge when it comes to recruiting students who prefer to consume their frozen dairy treats on a grand scale; the school’s Winter Weekend festivities include the One Ton Sundae. According to a story in the school’s Daily Campus, the tradition began in 1978 when a group of students from the Student Union Board of Governors pulled a boat out of a nearby lake, cleaned up the inside, and proceeded to fill it with “literally a ton of ice cream” for the student body to share. The group still sponsors the annual event. Students and non-students pay a buck or two for a plastic bucket that they can fill with ice cream from the massive boat and slather with toppings. [Image courtesy of UConn's Student Union Board of Governors.]

(14) Bucknell may or may not be able to recreate the tournament magic it used to pull off a stunning upset of Kansas in 2005, but the Bison athletic department will always have one boast to fall back on: it churned out one of the finest pitchers ever to play baseball. Christy Mathewson won 373 games in the Majors and was one of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural inductees in 1936. Before he hit the big leagues, the Christian Gentleman – that was his terrific nickname – played baseball and football at Bucknell. (He was a darn good football player, too; he made the All American team as a drop kicker in 1900.) Bucknell’s football team still plays its home games in Christy Mathewson – Memorial Stadium.
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(7) Temple was founded in 1884 as a night school, and people jokingly referred to its students as “night owls.” When the school started fielding teams, it was only natural to call them the Owls.

(10) Penn State is making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2001, which would be reason to celebrate in Happy Valley if such a place existed. As the school’s website explains, “The University Park campus and the community of State College are located in the Nittany Valley, near its confluence with Penns Valley. The origin of the name Happy Valley as applied to this location is murky.” Like many nicknames, the Happy Valley moniker was most likely fueled by sports writers and broadcasters.
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(2) San Diego State adopted purple and gold as its official colors after the San Diego Normal School merged with San Diego Junior College in 1921. The color scheme was a poor choice, as purple and gold also happened to be the colors of nearby St. Augustine High School and conference rival Whittier College. A movement to change the school’s colors was launched and students voted on replacement options in 1927. Scarlet and black beat out purple and gold by a vote of 346-201.

(15) Northern Colorado’s teams are the Bears, and while the mascot may not be all that unusual, its history is. In 1914 Alaska’s Commissioner of Education, alum Andrew Thompson, gave Northern Colorado a real Native American totem pole as a gift. A bear sat atop the totem pole, so the school switched its mascot from the Teachers to the Bears. “Totem Teddy” became a campus landmark over the years.

There was just one tiny problem, though; the totem really belonged to the Tlingit people of Angoon, Alaska. In 2003 the school returned to totem to its rightful owners under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.

Ethan Trex, Stacy Conradt, Meg Evans and Jason English also contributed to today's bracket. See Also: The Southwest, The Southeast and The East.


Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
10 Monster Facts About Pacific Rim
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Legendary Pictures took a gamble on Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster/robot slugfest. Since it wasn’t based on a preexisting franchise, it lacked a built-in fanbase. That can be a serious drawback in our current age of blockbuster remakes and reboots. The movie underperformed domestically; in America, it grossed just over $100 million against its $180 million budget. Yet Pacific Rim was a huge hit overseas and acquired enough fans to earn itself a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, which arrives in theaters this week. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.


Idris Elba in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Warner Bros.

One foggy day in 2007, Beacham—who’d recently moved to California—was walking along Santa Monica Beach. As he looked out at the Ferris wheel on the city’s eponymous pier, he pictured a looming sea monster. Then he imagined an equally large robot gearing up to fight the beast. “They just sort of materialized out of the fog, these vast godlike things,” Beacham said. He decided to pursue the concept further after coming up with the idea of human co-pilots who’d need to operate their robot as a team, which added a new thematic dimension.

“I didn’t know I had something I wanted to write until I realized these robots are driven by two pilots, and what happens when one of those people dies? What happens to the leftovers? Then it became a story about loss, moving on after loss, and dealing with survivor’s guilt," Beacham said. "That made the monsters scarier because now you care about the people who are in these robots.”


Pacific Rim was picked up by Legendary Pictures and handed over to director Guillermo del Toro. A huge fan of monster cinema, del Toro enthusiastically co-wrote the final screenplay with Beacham. Sixteen concept artists were hired to sketch original robot and creature designs for the film. “We would get together every day like kids and draw all day,” del Toro told the New York Daily News. “We designed about a hundred Kaijus and about a hundred Jaegers and every week we would do an American Idol and we would vote [some of] them out.”


In “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” the tenth episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's sixth season, Charlie Day’s character gives us a darkly comedic monologue about rodent extermination. Little did the actor know that the performance would open a big opportunity for him. Impressed by the rat speech, del Toro offered Day the part of Dr. Newton Geizler, Pacific Rim’s socially-inept kaiju expert. “He said to himself, ‘That’s my guy. That guy should be in my next movie because if he killed rats, he can kill the monster,’” Day recalled during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the movie set, del Toro often joked about how much he enjoys It’s Always Sunny. As a way of repaying his director, Day helped get del Toro a minor role in the series.


Most of the film’s special effects were computer-generated, but not everything was digital. For the robot cockpit scenes, del Toro had his team build the interior of a full-scale Jaeger head. The finished product stood four stories tall and weighed 20 tons. And like a Tilt-A-Whirl from hell, it was designed to rock around violently on its platform via a network of hydraulics. Once inside, the actors were forced to don 40-pound suits of armor. Then the crew strapped their feet into an apparatus that Charlie Hunnam has compared to a high-resistance elliptical machine.

Certain shots also required del Toro to dump gallons of water all over his exhausted, physically-strained stars. So yeah, the experience wasn’t much fun. “We saw every one of the actors break down on that set except for the female lead actress Rinko Kikuchi," del Toro said. "She’s the only actor that didn’t snap."


Del Toro wanted Gipsy Danger, his ‘bot, to have the self-confident air of a wild west gunslinger. To that end, he and concept artist Oscar Chichoni developed a swaggering gait that was based on John Wayne’s signature hip movements. The Jaeger’s Art Deco-like design was influenced by the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings.


Hailed as the “fortieth greatest guitarist of all time” by Rolling Stone, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello rocked the MTV generation with hits like “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.” Pacific Rim bears his mark as well. The film’s lead composer was Ramin Djawadi, whose other works include the Game of Thrones theme. Wanting to add a “rock element” to the Pacific Rim soundtrack, he and del Toro reached out to Morello. The guitarist didn’t need much persuading.

“When they asked me to put some giant robot riffs and screaming underwater monster licks on the film score, I was all in,” Morello said. Djwadi was pleased with the rocker's contributions to the project. As he told the press: “Tom’s unique style and sounds really defined our robots.”


A definite highlight of this movie is Gipsy Danger’s duel with the winged kaiju Otachi in downtown Hong Kong. Both characters were computer-generated, as were the majority of the streets, cars, and towers in this epic sequence. However, there is one moment which was at least partly realized with practical effects. Gipsy punches through the wall of an office building early in the fight. We see her fist rip through a series of cubicles and gradually decelerate until it lightly taps a chair with just enough force to set off a Newton’s Cradle desktop toy. For that shot, effects artists at 32Ten Studios constructed a miniature office building interior featuring 1/4-scale desks, cubicles, and padded chairs. The level of detail here was amazing: 32Ten’s staff adorned each individual workspace with lamps, computers, wastebaskets, and teeny, tiny Post-it notes.


Rinko Kikuchi in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Audiences reacted strongly to Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori, who inspired an alternative to the famous Bechdel test. Some critics praised the culmination of her relationship with Raleigh Beckett (Hunnam). Although it’s common practice for the male and female leads in an action flick to end their movie with a smooch, Mori and Beckett share a platonic hug as Pacific Rim draws to a close. Del Toro revealed that he shot three different versions of that final scene. “We did one version where they kiss and it almost felt weird. They’re good friends, they’re pals, good colleagues,” del Toro said.


At the end of the credits, there’s a tribute that reads: “This film is dedicated to the memories of monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda.” Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013—two months before Pacific Rim’s release. A great stop-motion animator, he breathed life into such creatures as the towering Rhedosaurus in 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Ishiro Honda was another giant of the kaiju genre, having directed Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, and numerous Godzilla films. Del Toro has great respect for both men. When Harryhausen died, the director said, “I lost a member of my family today, a man who was as present in my childhood as any of my relatives.” He also adores the Japanese monster classics and says he’d love to see a Pacific Rim-Godzilla crossover someday. Maybe it’ll happen.


If you’re not familiar with the practice of “Sweding,” let us fill you in: The 2008 comedy Be Kind, Rewind is about two co-workers at a VHS rental store who accidentally erase every tape in stock. Hoping to save their skins, they create ultra low-budget remakes of all the films they’ve destroyed using cardboard sets and cheap costumes. It’s a process these guys call “Sweding” as a ploy to convince everyone that their (unintentionally hilarious) knockoffs were produced in Sweden. Since Be Kind, Rewind was released, Sweding has become a legitimate art form.

When Pacific Rim’s first trailer debuted in 2013, YouTubers Brian Harley and Brodie Mash created a shot-for-shot, Sweded duplicate of the preview. Instead of state-of-the-art CG effects, their version used toy helicopters, duct-tape monster masks, and an ocean of packing peanuts—and del Toro loved it. At WonderCon 2013, he praised the video, saying that it inspired the editing used in Pacific Rim’s third trailer. Harley and Mash happened to be at the same gathering. When del Toro met the comedic duo, he exclaimed “I loved it! My daughters loved it, we watched it a bunch of times!” Then he invited the Sweding duo to attend Pacific Rim’s premiere in Hollywood.

Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
The DEA Crackdown on Thomas Jefferson's Poppy Plants
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.

The bloom has come off Papaver somniferum in recent years, as the innocuous-looking plant has come under new scrutiny for its role as a building block in many pain-blunting opiates—and, by association, the opioid epidemic. That this 3-foot-tall plant harbors a pod that can be crushed and mixed with water to produce a euphoric high has resulted in a stigma regarding its growth. Not even gardens honoring our nation's Founding Fathers are exempt, which is how the estate of Thomas Jefferson once found itself in a bizarre dialogue with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over its poppy plants and whether the gift shop clerks were becoming inadvertent drug dealers.

Jefferson, the nation's third president, was an avowed horticulturist. He spent years tending to vegetable and flower gardens, recording the fates of more than 300 varieties of 90 different plants in meticulous detail. At Monticello, his Charlottesville, Virginia plantation, Jefferson devoted much of his free time to his sprawling soil. Among the vast selection of plants were several poppies, including the much-maligned Papaver somniferum.

The front view of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate.

"He was growing them for ornamental purposes,” Peggy Cornett, Monticello’s historic gardener and curator of plants, tells Mental Floss. “It was very common in early American gardens, early Colonial gardens. Poppies are annuals and come up easily.”

Following Jefferson’s death in 1826, the flower garden at Monticello was largely abandoned, and his estate was sold off to help repay the debts he had left behind. Around 115 years later, the Garden Club of Virginia began to restore the plot with the help of Jefferson’s own sketches of his flower borders and some highly resilient bulbs.

In 1987, Monticello’s caretakers opened the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, complete with a greenhouse, garden, and retail store. The aim was to educate period-accurate gardeners and sell rare seeds to help populate their efforts. Papaver somniferum was among the offerings.

This didn’t appear to be of concern to anyone until 1991, when local reporters began to obsess over narcotics tips following a drug bust at the University of Virginia. Suddenly, the Center for Historic Plants was fielding queries about the “opium poppies” in residence at Monticello.

The Center had never tried to hide it. “We had labels on all the plants,” says Cornett, who has worked at Monticello since 1983 and remembers the ensuing political scuffle. “We didn’t grow them at the Center. We just collected and sold the seeds that came from Monticello.”

At the time, the legality of growing the poppy was frustratingly vague for the Center’s governing board, who tried repeatedly to get clarification on whether they were breaking the law. A representative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw no issue with it, but couldn’t cite a specific law exempting the Center. The Office of the Attorney General in Virginia had no answer. It seemed as though no authority wanted to commit to a decision.

Eventually, the board called the DEA and insisted on instructions. Despite the ubiquity of the seeds—they can spring up anywhere, anytime—the DEA felt the Jefferson estate was playing with fire. Though they were not a clandestine opium den, they elected to take action in June of 1991.

“We pulled up the plants," Cornett says. “And we stopped selling the seeds, too.”

Today, Papaver somniferum is no longer in residence at Monticello, and its legal status is still murky at best. (While seeds can be sold and planting them should not typically land gardeners in trouble, opium poppy is a Schedule II drug and growing it is actually illegal—whether or not it's for the express purpose of making heroin or other drugs.) The Center does grow other plants in the Papaver genus, all of which have varying and usually low levels of opium.

As for Jefferson himself: While he may not have crushed his poppies personally, he did benefit from the plant’s medicinal effects. His personal physician, Robley Dunglison, prescribed laudanum, a tincture of opium, for recurring gastric issues. Jefferson took it until the day prior to his death, when he rejected another dose and told Dunglison, “No, doctor, nothing more.”


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