The OTHER March Madness Tournaments

The NCAA basketball tournament starts today and lasts for the rest of the month. March Madness is not limited to basketball, however. All around the internet you'll find non-sports tournaments you can participate in yourself, filling out brackets, voting for your favorites, and following the process to determine the #1 something-or-other.

March Madness Drama Derby

Vulture's March Madness Drama Derby aims to determine the greatest television drama of the past 25 years. I was a little shocked to find out how many of my all-time favorites are too old to participate! The winners of each matchup are determined by a panel of TV bloggers and critics, but you can express your opinion and vote in the alternate universe of Facebook. The ultimate winner will be announced March 23rd.

Candy Madness

So Good has a different food tournament every year. This year it's Candy Madness. The field of 64 candies are led by #1 seeds M&M's, Hershey's Bar, Snickers, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Voting in the first round will begin Thursday at noon.

YA March Madness Tourney

Four literary blogs have teamed up to host the YA March Madness Tourney. You can vote to determine the best young adult book of the year! Take a look at the bracket, and go vote in the regions of Paranormal at GReads, Contemporary at ChickLovesLit, Fantasy/Mythology at The Book Cellar, and Sci-Fi/Dystopian at Bookalicious. The voting is scheduled to begin today. There's also a bracket-predicting contest to go along with the tournament. The tournament winner will be crowned April 2.

2012 Fandom Steel Cage Match

The 2012 Fandom Steel Cage Match March Madness pits television and movie characters against each other. Now in the sweet sixteen round, the four regions are comedy, teen, sci-fi, and drama. Voting is only open to Livejournal members, but everyone can follow the tournament.

Geek Tournament

The 2012 Geek Tournament from Transformer Generation Dad is already in the second round of voting. The tournament is to crown your favorite science fiction ...stuff. This year, there are actually four tournaments with four winners instead of regional play, because how can a captain compete with a universe? The four tournaments are for best captain, best crew, best ship, and best universe. The brackets are offered in a spreadsheet, of course.

Worst Company In America

Consumerist's 7th Annual Worst Company In America tournament has a bracket of 32 companies. This year, nine of the companies are telecoms, the ones we all complain about. The voting begins today with Bank of America vs. Chase, Charter Communications vs. CenturyLink (Qwest), and Target vs. Best Buy duking it out in the elimination round. Get the latest updates with this link.

Name of the Year

The Name of the Year Tournament is in constant tournament mode to decide the funniest name of a real person for each year. The Final Four in the 2011 Name of the Year tournament have just been decided. Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson, Delorean Blow, Taco B.M. Monster, and Neptune Pringle III made the cut, although the opponents they beat have some pretty strange names, too. You can vote in Richardson vs. Blow and Monster vs. Pringle now. Check out the previous years' winners, too.

MTV News Musical March Madness

MTV News Musical March Madness seeds 64 bands. Voting is now open in the first round: click your favorite bands on the interactive brackets to vote. The number one seeds are The Black Keys, Foo Fighters, Evanescence, and Mumford & Sons.

Middle-earth March Madness presents The Middle-earth March Madness Tournament. The original 46 Tolkien characters have been whittled down to the 32 who made the bracket. As of yesterday, the brackets had been chosen but not yet revealed, so check back at the site for updates.

The Ladies' Tournament

Esquire magazine is holding The Ladies' Tournament to determine the hottest woman of 2012. The regions are Movies, where Charlize Theron is the #1 seed; Television, where Sofia Vergara holds the #1 seed; Models + Music, in which Kate Upton has the #1 seed; and Royals, seeding Kate Middleton at #1. See the entire bracket here. Round one voting is in progress now. Logo design by Ben Running.

The Ultimate Tournament Bracket Bracket

And now for the meta entry. The Bleacher Report took at look at all these other non-NCAA tournament brackets and decided to create a tournament that everyone can argue about: a bracket of online tournament ideas! There are 68 different bracket concepts fighting each other for supremacy. The regions are TV & Movies, Pop Culture (pictured), Food, and Sports. You can imagine this would lead to some very strange competitions, like "4. Simpsons Quotes vs. 13. Judd Apatow Projects" and "8. Things in a Can vs. 9. Best Non-Food Item Used as Food." After the first couple of rounds, they would get even sillier. I don't believe there will be any actual voting in this tournament; it's just food for thought. However, there is a downloadable bracket for your convenience.

There are also plenty of annual March Madness online tournaments that we told you about in previous years that are returning for more fun this year:

Fug Madness 2012 brackets are out; the play-in round is today and the first-round voting starts Thursday. Vote for the celebrity of the year!

Muppet Madness starts today! This year, participants are drawn heavily from the latest Muppet film.
The regions are divided into New Characters, Celebrities, Classics, and Old Favorites.

The Morning News Tournament of Books is open for first-round voting.

Hulu's Best in Show 2012 determines the best TV series of the year, first round voting is going on now.

A Beer in the Hand is preparing to run the 2012 Beer Tournament, and is asking your help in ranking beers for this year's brackets. Update: The beer bracket is ready!

The Romance Novel Tournament from dabwaha once again has a bracket of 64 novels ready for your voting, which begins Wednesday.

The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family

In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.


As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.


Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.


A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.


Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.


The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.


The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 


All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters


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