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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

TheOneRing.net 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.

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Food
8 Surprising Uses for Peeps
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You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.

1. S'MORES

Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.

2. WREATHS

Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)

3. PEEPS-KABOBS

If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.

4. ART SUPPLIES

With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).

5. CAKE TOPPERS

Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.

6. PEEPS POPS

There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.

7. PEEPS KRISPIES TREATS

We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.

8. DIORAMAS

Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
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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.

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