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The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs (The West)

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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.

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(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.

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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