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The mental_floss Guide to the NCAA Tournament: The West

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We may not be much help in filling out your bracket, but we can promise one interesting fact about each of the 68 teams in the tournament. Let's tip things off with the West Region.

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(1) Michigan State
In May, a Michigan State professor from the School of Social Work will begin teaching an online course called “Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse: Catastrophes and Human Behavior."

(16) Long Island
The Arnold and Marie Schwartz Athletic Center on the Long Island University campus has been owned by the university since 1962. But before Arnold and Marie got their hands on it, it was the Paramount Theatre. When it opened in 1928, it was the first theatre designed specifically to show movies with sound.

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(8) Memphis
Memphis has a live tiger mascot. Tom I was introduced at a Memphis State-Cincinnati football game in 1972 and lived at the Memphis Zoo until his death in 1992. Tom III, who was born at the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue and Educational Center, was introduced in November 2009.

(9) St. Louis
St. Louis University's mascot is the Billiken. What is a Billiken, exactly? According to the "What is a Billiken?" page on the school's website, the school has no idea. But they do know the Billiken is "a good-luck figure who represents things as they ought to be."
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(5) New Mexico
According to the school, it picked the Spanish word for “wolf” as its nickname in 1920. The school paper wrote, “The Lobo is respected for his cunning, feared for his prowess, and is the leader of the pack. It is the ideal name for the Varsity boys who go forth to battle for the glory of the school. All together now; fifteen rahs for the LOBOS.”

(12) Long Beach State
Both Steve Martin and Steven Spielberg dropped out of Long Beach State. The school gave Martin an honorary doctorate in 1989; instead of the traditional mortarboard, he wore an arrow-through-the-head hat. And Spielberg returned 34 years after dropping out to earn his BA. His film professor accepted Schindler's List in place of the short student film normally required to pass the class.
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(4) Louisville
Louisville contains at least one sight that art lovers can’t miss: one of the original monumental size bronze casts of Rodin’s The Thinker. U of L’s version of the sculpture sits outside of Grawemeyer Hall and is actually the very first bronze cast of The Thinker that Rodin made. The cast itself dates back to 1903, but it’s been at its current spot on Louisville’s campus since 1949.

(13) Davidson
The Davidson campus outside of Charlotte was designated a registered national arboretum (a place where trees are on display) in 1982 and boasts more than 3,000 tagged varieties of trees and shrubs across 100 acres. For any Davidson students who enjoy hijinks, the twigs of the campus’s rare gingko tree can really stink up a dorm room if you hide some in your hallmate’s radiator.
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(6) Murray State

Murray State features an odd campus attraction: a tree with dozens of shoes nailed to it. If two students meet at Murray State and later marry, tradition dictates that each nails a shoe to the tree. If the couple has children, they nail a baby shoe to the tree. The shoe tree visitors to campus can view is actually the second shoe tree; the original was lost in a lightning strike. (Downside of filling a tree with nails, we guess.)

(11) Colorado State
The school's most notorious graduate was Anwar al-Awlaki, who earned a BS in civil engineering in 1994. A top recruiter and coordinator for al-Qaeda, al-Awlaki was killed by a predator drone strike in 2011.
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(3) Marquette
Chris Farley went to Marquette and donned his Marquette Rugby jacket during a scene in Tommy Boy. (Tommy also went to Marquette, though it took him seven years to graduate.)

(14) Brigham Young
Provo, Utah, is home to both BYU and Ancestry.com, which boasts more than 1.7 million paying subscribers. The company began as a print publisher of Ancestry magazine and genealogy books.

(14) Iona
Iona counts Don McLean among its famous alumni. McLean, who grew up in New Rochelle, NY, attended night school and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from his neighborhood school in 1968.
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(7) Florida
Constructed in 1953, the school's 157-foot Century Tower houses a 57,760-pound carillon that is played using 61 keys and 25 pedals. Students can take a carillon class in which they ultimately have to play the Century Tower carillon for their grade.

(10) Virginia

While the Cavalier is the official mascot of the University of Virginia, their unofficial mascot is the wahoo—a saltwater game fish whose claim to fame is that it can drink twice its own body weight, temporarily increasing its size to fend off enemies. This would be quite a handy skill in the tournament. [Image credit: Jaryd Waegerle, Wahoo Wire]
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(2) Missouri
Missouri’s mascot is named Truman the Tiger after Harry Truman, the only U.S. president from Missouri.

(15) Norfolk State
Norfolk State, located in southeastern Virginia, is one of the largest historically black colleges in the country. Paul Hines, a coach on the T.C. Williams football team featured in Remember the Titans, attended Norfolk State for two years before finishing at Virginia State College.

Your esteemed fact-finding crew: Jamie Spatola, Stacy Conradt, Ethan Trex, Colin Perkins, Scott Allen and Meg McGinn. They'll be back with another region later tonight.

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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