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The Fontastic Stories Behind 5 Common Typefaces

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Every time we read printed material, we’re interacting with a font. It’s easy to take them for granted, but every typeface has an inventor and a story. Let’s take a look at the origins of five common ones.

The ubiquitous typeface that fills our computer screens and books owes its existence to the British newspaper The Times. In 1929, typography expert Stanley Morison had blasted The Times’ printing and typeface for being too difficult to read and aesthetically unpleasing. The paper’s publishers accepted Morison’s criticism and asked him to develop a new face for The Times. Morison collaborated with the paper’s in-house draftsman Victor Lardent to create a new font that became known as Times New Roman.

The new font debuted in The Times on October 3, 1932. The paper held a one-year window of exclusivity on the typeface, and once the font hit the open market it quickly became a favorite of book publishers thanks to its readability.

The widely used typeface began its life with a less melodious name: Neue Haas Grotesk. Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman developed the typeface for Switzerland’s Haas Type Foundry in 1957. The font’s neutral design made it useful in a huge number of applications, but the name wasn’t as marketable. When German company D. Stempel AG began marketing the typeface a few years later, it wanted a fresh name that could be used internationally. The company settled on one that paid tribute to the font’s Swiss roots; Confederatio Helvetica was the Latin name for Switzerland.

The typewriter-esque typeface on your computer was originally a typewriter font. IBM commissioned the typeface from Howard “Bud” Kettler in 1955, but the company failed to secure legal proprietary rights to the font. That oversight meant that when Courier debuted, it was fair game for anyone in the typewriter world to grab and use on their typewriters. It soon became one of the world’s dominant typefaces.

When Kettler was working on the typeface he referred to it as “Messenger.” However, shortly before the font’s release he changed the name to Courier. His reasoning: “A letter can be just an ordinary messenger, or it can be the courier, which radiates dignity, prestige, and stability.”

Not everyone still thinks the typeface radiates dignity and prestige. For years, the U.S. State Department used Courier New 12 as its default font for treaties and other official diplomatic documents. In 2004, the department announced that it was banning Courier from its official documents and replacing it with Times New Roman 14. Although Times New Roman is the older of the two fonts by 23 years, the State Department explained the move by saying the font provided more modern look than Courier.

The much-maligned font favored by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is the creation of former Microsoft designer Vincent Connare. Connare created the font in 1994 as a casual, kid-friendly offering for Microsoft products.

In April 2009, Connare explained the font’s birth to The Wall Street Journal. Microsoft had been designing their user-friendly interface Microsoft Bob, and the test version of the children’s edition included a talking cartoon dog. Connare didn’t like that the words in the dog’s speech bubbles were written in Times New Roman, so he consulted two comic books, The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen, and spent a week working on a new, less stolid font. The font’s name came from the comic-book inspiration and the lack of serifs – small projecting features at the ends of strokes – on most letters.

Over the years, the font has become commonplace in situations where a more serious counterpart would probably have been a better option, and typography nerds love to hate and mock Comic Sans. To Connare’s credit, he seems to get a kick out of the violent hatred of the font. As he said in the aforementioned WSJ story, “If you love it, you don't know much about typography. If you hate it, you really don't know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby.”

As ridiculous as Comic Sans seems now, one of its more absurd little flourishes has fallen by the wayside. The font’s original rendering of the currency symbol for the euro had a small eyeball on the top right of the symbol. Connare has said Microsoft dropped the eyeball after the European Union threatened to sue company over defacing its symbol.

The popular Web font was also the brainchild of Connare. The name springs from a joking conversation about trebuchets, or large medieval catapults, that Connare heard in a cafeteria on Microsoft’s campus. One Microsoft employee asked another, “Can you make a trebuchet that could launch a person from main campus to the new consumer campus about a mile away?”

Connare was almost finished designing the new font and was on the lookout for a good name. When he heard the word trebuchet he said, “I thought that would be a great name for a font that launches words across the Internet.”

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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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