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The Complete History of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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If you were a kid in the 1980s or 90s, you probably spent some time reading, watching, or playing with four adolescent reptilian martial arts experts with irregular DNA. To make sure I got the scoop on everyone’s favorite pizza-obsessed heroes in a half-shell, I went straight to the source—co-creator Peter Laird—who was kind enough to answer our burning questions about the franchise. If you're looking for a thorough history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this is a pretty good place to start.

From a Simple Sketch

Struggling artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were living in Northampton, Massachusetts, when they came up with the Turtles in November 1983. As a joke, Eastman drew a turtle standing on its hind legs, wearing a mask, with nunchucks strapped to its arms. Eastman wrote “Ninja Turtle” on the top of the page. Laird laughed and then drew a more refined version of the turtle.

Not to be outdone, Eastman drew four turtles, each armed with a ninja-style weapon. Laird outlined the group shot in ink and added “Teenage Mutant” to the “Ninja Turtles” title.

As Eastman and Laird began fleshing out the Turtles to create a comic book, they had to give the Turtles names. At first they tried Japanese names, but it just wasn't working. So they tried great Renaissance artists instead – Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo. Laird told me, “It felt just quirky enough to fit the concept.”

In May 2012, that original drawing of the Turtles sold at auction for $71,700.

The Daredevil Connection

There are many aspects of the Turtles that are a nod to Marvel Comics’ superhero Daredevil. For example, Splinter, the Turtles’ father figure and sensei, is an homage to Daredevil’s sensei, Stick. The Foot Clan is a take-off of the ninja clan in Daredevil known as The Hand. However, the coolest connection is that the Turtles and Daredevil seem to share the same origin story.

In Daredevil #1, Matt Murdoch sees a truck barreling down on an old man, so Murdoch knocks the man out of the way. As the truck swerves, a canister flies out the back and strikes Murdoch in the face. The canister is filled with a radioactive substance, which blinds Murdoch, but enhances his other senses to super-human levels. Later, he uses his heightened senses to fight crime as Daredevil.

For the Turtles' origin, the same scenario plays out, except the canister bounces off the boy’s head and smashes into a bowl of baby turtles, who fall, along with the canister, into an open manhole. Splinter finds the turtles crawling around in a viscous fluid seeping out of the broken canister, which is the mutagen that turns the Turtles and Splinter into human-sized heroes.

First Time's a Charm

In March 1984, Eastman and Laird created a new company, Mirage Studios, so named because there was no actual studio other than Laird’s living room. Then, Eastman used his $500 tax return, Laird emptied his bank account of $200, and they borrowed $1300 from Eastman’s uncle to print 3,000 copies of their first comic book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. After printing costs, they had just enough money left to run an ad in Comics Buyer’s Guide Magazine, an industry publication.

Thanks to that one ad, comic distributors across the country started calling, and Mirage sold all 3,000 copies within a few weeks. With more orders coming in, they printed another 6,000 copies and easily sold through those, too. By May, they’d made enough money to pay back Eastman’s uncle and split a roughly $200 profit.

Although the comic was meant to be a “one-shot,” a single issue, self-contained story, they realized they might be on to something. So, in January 1985, they completed issue #2 and quickly received orders for 15,000 copies, which was so successful that distributors demanded 30,000 reprints of #1, and even more of a second print of #2. #3 fetched orders totaling 50,000 copies, and sales continued to climb, peaking at issue #8, which sold 135,000 copies thanks to a guest appearance by Dave Sim’s character Cerebus, a barbarian aardvark.

The first issue of the comic originally sold for $1.50. But if you’re looking for a first-print copy of TMNT #1 today, it'll cost you in the neighborhood of $2,500 - $4,000.

The Comic Books

TMNT ran under the Mirage Studios banner from 1984 – 1995 for 75 regular issues, as well as dozens of mini-series, one-shots, and limited series spin-off titles.
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Archie Comics used the cartoon Turtles for 72 issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, which ran from 1988 – 1995.
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The Mirage Turtles moved to Image Comics in 1996 for 13 issues and a mini-series, before being canceled in 1999. While at Image, the series took some odd turns: Splinter became a bat, Donatello changed into a cyborg, Leonardo lost a hand, and Raph became the new Shredder.
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When Peter Laird brought the Turtles back to Mirage in 2001, he completely ignored the Image years and they are no longer considered part of the TMNT canon. His new series ran until 2010 with 30 issues in print, and #31 available only online. Although the series was not officially concluded, Laird has no immediate plans to publish more.
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Since August 2011, publisher IDW has been running a new TMNT comic, featuring artwork from co-creator Kevin Eastman.

Going Soft

The original Mirage comic book really wasn’t made for youngsters. The Turtles diced up enemies while spouting the occasional curse word, and one of the Turtles’ allies was hockey mask-wearing vigilante Casey Jones, who beat down even low-level crooks with baseball bats and hockey sticks. But when Playmates Toys expressed interest in producing TMNT action figures in 1986 (we'll get to those), the comic’s PG-13 attitude wouldn’t fit Playmates' 4-8 year old target audience. In addition, part of Playmates’ marketing was an animated cartoon, which had to pass television censors. So to make the Turtles viable for the younger set, the Turtles had to soften up.

Among other changes, the Turtles became wise-cracking jokers obsessed with pizza, the Shredder became a typical bumbling cartoon villain, members of the Foot Clan were now robots so parents wouldn’t complain that the Turtles were too violent, and instead of “Damn,” the Turtles shouted easily-marketable catchphrases like, “Turtle Power!” and “Cowabunga!”

Perhaps the most defining change was the Turtles’ costumes. In the comic, the interior artwork was in black-and-white, but the color covers showed the Turtles all wearing red masks; the only way to tell them apart was by their specialty weapon. In an effort to de-emphasize the weapon-as-identifier, each character was given his own signature color, displayed on the mask and elbow/knee pads – blue for Leonardo, orange for Michelangelo, red for Raphael, and purple for Donatello. In addition, they wore belt buckles with their first initial.

Difficult Decisions

As owners of the franchise, Eastman and Laird had the final say on changes to their creations. However, neither of them was thrilled about the concessions made.

As Eastman said in a 1998 interview for The Comics Journal, “The resolution at the end of the day, even when Pete and I both agreed that, well, there’s some stuff we really don’t like, and some stuff that we wish we hadn’t said yes to, stuff that they wanted to do…But we said…we’ll always have our black-and-white comics to tell the kind of stories we want to tell.”

To this day Laird makes no bones about how unhappy he is with many aspects of the “softened” Turtles. In March 2012, Laird said this on his blog:

“…had I (again, speaking solely for myself and not for Kevin) been making the key creative decisions for that first animated series, it would have been VERY different. Among other things, there would likely have been no moronic henchmen like Bebop and Rocksteady. The Shredder would have been seriously malevolent. April would not have been a reporter and constantly need to be rescued by the Turtles. The Turtles would not have been so ridiculously obsessed with pizza, and the Shredder would not have had as one of his businesses a restaurant called ‘Ninja Pizza’…And the show would not have had a joke or gag every five seconds.”

The Cartoons

Before Playmates would commit to a full toyline for the Turtles, they tested the waters with a five-part cartoon mini-series. It debuted in December 1987 and had to be aired three times before it finally found an audience. Once it gained traction, Playmates ordered more episodes, and the show stayed on the air from 1988 – 1996 for a total of 188 episodes in the regular series.

The show featured the voice work of many top performers.

Raphael was played by Rob Paulsen, who would later voice Pinky and Yakko Warner on Animaniacs, as well as hundreds of other animated characters.
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Townsend Coleman played Michelangelo and later voiced the animated version of The Tick, another indie comic that went mainstream.
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Cam Clarke was a veteran anime dubber before he voiced Leonardo. Clarke later starred as Kaneda in the English dub of the anime classic, Akira.
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Donatello was voiced by actor Barry Gordon, whose resume includes parts on Leave It to Beaver, Archie Bunker’s Place, and many animated TV series, like Swat Kats and Pole Position.
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Oh, and The Fresh Prince’s uncle, James Avery, starred as the voice of the Shredder.

Eastman and Laird were sued for $5 million by Buffalo Bob Smith, host of the Howdy Doody Show, because he claimed they stole “Cowabunga!” from his program. The word was first used as the catchphrase greeting of a Native American character named Chief Thunderthud, however it had been adopted by surfers in the 1960s. After a few months of legal wrangling, Smith settled for $50,000.

The Turtles returned in an animated series produced by 4Kids Entertainment, which ran from 2003-2009. This time, co-creator Peter Laird had an active hand in the production, which resulted in a series that was much closer to the original comic book.

In 2000, Eastman sold his stake in the Turtles to Laird, who in turn sold the rights to Viacom in 2009. A few years later, in 2012, Viacom, through its subsidiary Nickelodeon, released a new CGI cartoon that is now into its second season, with a third season set to debut next year. The cartoon has been quite a hit, regularly ranking in the top 5 animated shows for kids ages 2-11.

The cast for the new show features some big stars, including Jason Biggs as Leonardo and Sean Astin as Raphael. Rob Paulsen (who played Raphael in 1988) is Donatello this time. Greg Cripes, best known as Beast Boy on the popular cartoon Teen Titans, plays Michelangelo, and Mae Whitman of Parenthood and Scott Pilgrim is April O’Neil.

The Action Figures

Before TMNT, Playmates Toys made almost exclusively dolls and plastic playsets for toddlers. But they were looking to get into the lucrative action figure market, so when TMNT's license manager Mark Freedman approached them, it was a perfect match.

From 1988 – 1997, Playmates produced around 400 TMNT figures, as well as dozens of vehicles and playsets. For the first four years of Turtlemania, about $1.1 billion worth of toys were sold, making the Turtles the #3 top-selling toy figures ever at the time, behind only G.I. Joe and Star Wars.

Thanks to the Nickelodeon cartoon, the Turtles are back on toy shelves again. In addition to toys, you can find our heroes in a half-shell on nearly every conceivable piece of merchandise possible, from birthday party supplies to beach towels to lunch boxes and toothbrushes. Looks like Turtlemania is here to stay.

Although nearly all of the Turtles toys have been produced by Playmates, one exception has been LEGO, which started licensing the franchise in 2013. LEGO released two exclusive mini-figures during 2012’s New York Comic-Con - a battle-damaged Kraang figure, as well as an all-black Turtle known as “Dark Leonardo.”

The Movies

In 1990, the Turtles hit the big screen with the live-action film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With a budget of $13.5 million, the film raked in over $200 million at the worldwide box office.

Director Steve Barron made some of the biggest music videos of the MTV-era. His resume includes Michael Jackson’s sidewalk-lighting “Billie Jean,” the sketchy world of A-ha’s “Take On Me,” and the computer animated workmen in Dire Straits’ "Money for Nothing."

The Jim Henson Creature Shop used a state-of-the-art control system called “puppetechtronics” to bring the Turtle costumes to life. To create facial expressions, a single puppeteer would use a joystick for the eyes, an electronic glove to work the jaws, and a headset with infrared sensors tracking the puppeteer’s face to work the lips.

The cast included Elias Koteas as Casey Jones, Corey Feldman as the voice of Donatello, Kevin Clash (better known as the former voice of Elmo) as Splinter, and a small, early role for Sam Rockwell, star of 2009’s critically-acclaimed Moon.

Tatsu, the Shredder’s second in command, was played by Toshishiro Obata, a real-life martial arts expert. He has actually created his own style of Japanese swordsmanship called Shinkendo, which is currently being taught in 90 dojos across the world.

The film spawned two sequels — 1991’s Secret of the Ooze and 1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III — both of which performed to diminishing returns at the box office, earning $78 million and $42 million, respectively.

The appearance by Vanilla Ice and his “Ninja Rap” in Ooze is not to be missed.

In 2007 came the computer-animated film TMNT. The cast included Chris Evans (Captain America), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon beauty Zhang Ziyi, Kevin Smith, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Patrick Stewart, and Laurence Fishburne. On a budget of $34 million, the film made $95 million at the box office.

The Turtles returned in 2014 as a live-action film directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) from producer Michael Bay. The production has been troubled, starting with Bay’s remarks in 2012 that the film would be called simply Ninja Turtles, and that the Turtles would be aliens from another planet. Fans were not happy, but Bay’s dismissive response was simply, “Take a chill pill.”

However, the negative feedback was enough for Bay to eventually put the project on hold for a rewrite. With a new script, and the addition of Teenage Mutant to the title, the film began shooting in April 2013 with stars Megan Fox as April O’Neil, William Fichtner as The Shredder, and Will Arnett as cameraman Vernon Fenwick. The Turtles and Splinter are CGI creations, but their voices and movements are being portrayed by relatively unknown actors Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, and Danny Woodburn, best known as Kramer's friend Mickey on Seinfeld.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Official Trailer #2

In the trailers that have been released, the Turtles appear much larger than in previous iterations, and they have a more human-turtle hybrid appearance, which has been met with mixed reactions from fans. The film is set for an August release.

Movies That Never Were

Image credit: Peter Laird

A live-action film called TMNT: The Next Mutation began pre-production in 1994, but was never made. In the movie, the mutagen in their bodies would have affected the Turtles’s physiology. According to Laird, Leonardo could change his skin into a “nearly impenetrable chrome-like surface.” Michelangelo could project human features onto his body, allowing him to blend into the surface world. Donatello gained psychic powers, but at the cost of his eyesight. Raphael morphed into “Raptor Raph,” a monster with long, sharp teeth and foot-long claws. And Splinter would have the ability to change into a giant, muscled “super rat mutant” creature.

According to Eastman and Laird, in the early days of the comic book, Roger Corman’s New World Pictures approached them about a comedy adaptation using contemporary stand-up comics Gallagher, Sam Kinison, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Billy Crystal, dressed in turtle shells and green face make-up.

Another, unrelated project was an R-rated film that would have featured roller-skating, semi-nude nuns with Uzis, battling the Turtles.

The Video Games

The Turtles have been featured in 23 arcade and home video games since 1989, on just about every console and computer system imaginable. Their self-titled debut is one of the best-selling NES games not made by Nintendo, with roughly 4 million copies sold, despite also being considered one of the toughest games for the NES.

Turtles on Tour

In 1990, Pizza Hut sponsored the Coming Out of Their Shell Tour, a stage musical that featured the Turtles as a rock band. The show debuted at Radio City Music Hall, then set out on a 40-city tour across the country. However, if you missed the show, a live recording, as well as a making-of special, were available on VHS.

The soundtrack was in record stores, but you could also get a copy at Pizza Hut, free with the purchase of any large one-topping pizza and a commemorative collector’s cup.

The Fifth Turtle

Eastman and Laird heard more than once that, “If four Ninja Turtles are good, then five Ninja Turtles must be better!” Although they resisted the idea, the duo did come up with a fifth Turtle concept that almost came to be.

For the never-produced fourth Turtles film, they created Kirby, named after their idol, Jack Kirby, a legendary comic book artist who helped develop The Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and other iconic superheroes. The character would have been introduced via a magic crystal that could bring drawings to life. Concept art of Kirby, which recently sold for $500 at auction, shows he was a somewhat savage-looking Turtle with striped skin and four fingers instead of three.

The “more the better” attitude won out on Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (no relation to the unproduced film), a live-action TV series that ran from 1997 – 1998. The show was produced by Saban Entertainment, the people behind Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and featured the same cheesy, rubber-suited production values. The series introduced Venus de Milo, a female ninja turtle, complete with shell breasts. She was retconned onto the show as being a previously unseen fifth turtle in the bowl.

The show was not a hit with fans and even less so with Laird. When I asked what Turtles merchandise he now regrets, his response was, “The only licensed product that I truly regret is…Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation.”

Turtle Controversies

As harmless as the 1988 cartoon series was, it was still heavily edited for broadcast in the UK and much of Europe. Due to more stringent censors, many of the action sequences had to be trimmed so that the Turtles weren’t seen using weapons too often. Poor Michelangelo suffered the worst; in the UK, nunchucks are restricted, which meant his fight scenes were cut and replaced with him using a grappling hook instead. The name of the show was even changed to Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, because the word “ninja” had a violent connotation.

In 1990, some 250,000 turtles were imported into Britain to feed the demand of young Turtles fans who wanted them as pets. For only a few pounds, kids could easily buy a small turtle, not knowing that it would grow to be the size of a dinner plate. When the kids no longer wanted to take care of the animals, they were often dumped in rivers and ponds, where they devastated native ecosystems. The problem became so severe that the European Union banned the sale of the most popular breed, red-eared terrapins, in 1997.

The Turtles came under fire from the American Farm Bureau (AFB) in 1991, when they starred in the Random House book Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ABCs for a Better Planet. The book covered environmental issues, including a statement saying some animals are injected with cancer-causing artificial growth hormones, and that much of the world’s grain goes to feeding cattle, rather than to starving people. In addition, there was mention of pesticides that can remain in fruits and vegetables even after they get to the supermarket. The Farm Bureau responded by saying they were concerned that the publisher “would stoop to using a children’s publication to advance such a biased and incorrect view of American agriculture.” It’s unclear if pressure from the AFB was the cause, but the book was never reprinted.

One episode of the 4Kids cartoon series, “Insane in the Membrane,” was so dark it was pulled just before it aired in America. The Shredder has tortured scientist Baxter Stockman by slowly dismembering him. So Stockman creates a clone and transplants his consciousness into it. However, his new body decomposes, exposing muscle and bone, and he is forced to sew fallen body parts back on.

Thanks again to Peter Laird for his cooperation. For more TMNT history than you can shake a nunchuck at, check out his blog. A slightly shorter version of this post appeared in 2012.

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Food
46 Mouthwatering Facts About Pizza
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If you live in the United States, it’s statistically likely you’ll eat around 6000 slices of pizza over the course of your life. But how much do you actually know about that delicious combo of dough, cheese, and sauce? Where did pizza come from? What makes a great slice?

Whether you’re a fan of thin crust, deep dish, or the New York slice, here are 46 facts that’ll tell you everything you need to know about pizza, in honor of National Cheese Pizza Day:

1. The word “pizza” dates back over a thousand years—it was first mentioned in a Latin text written in southern Italy in 997 CE.

2. In 1835, Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, traveled to Naples, where he observed that the Neapolitan poor ate nothing but watermelon during the summer and pizza during the winter.

3. The first pizza place in America was Lombardi’s in New York City—originally a grocery store, Lombardi’s started selling pizza in 1905.

4. During the first few decades of the 20th century, pizza was predominantly eaten and sold by working class Italian immigrants...

5. … But after World War II, American GIs came home from Italy with a craving for pizza, bringing the food to a broader consumer base for the first time.

6. The first American cities to start selling pizza were New York, Boston, New Haven, Conn., and Trenton, N.J. All four of these cities had an influx of Southern Italian immigrants around the turn of the century.

7. At first, pizzas were sold exclusively by the pie. But in 1933, Patsy Lancieri (of Patsy's Pizzeria in New York City) started selling pizza by the slice—a trend that was quickly picked up by other pizzerias.

8. Humans aren’t the only ones who love the taste of pizza: There’s even a mini pizza for dogs called the “Heaven Scent Pizza” made of flour, carrots, celery, and parmesan cheese.

9. The first-known Chicago deep dish pizzas were created in 1943 by the restaurant that later became the Pizzeria Uno chain.

10. Domino’s was founded in 1960. The restaurant chain’s founder, Tom Monaghan, is one of three people in the world who hold an advanced degree in "Pizza-ology” from the “Domino’s College of Pizza-ology”—a business management program he founded in the ‘80s.

11. Domino’s dropped its “30 minutes or less” guarantee in 1993 after a series of lawsuits accused the company of promoting unsafe driving.

12. The Domino's delivery offer is still good in some places around the world. The guarantee has been great for business in Turkey, for instance. 

13. The first frozen pizza hit the market in 1962. It mostly tasted like cardboard until the genius food inventor Rose Totino got her hands on it. 

14. The Hawaiian pizza was invented in 1962 by Sam Panopoulos, a native of Greece who ran a pizza place in Canada. 

15. In the late ‘60s, the U.S. Army’s 113th Military Intelligence Unit spied on reporters and politicians using fake pizza deliveries.

16. Pizza may have originated in Italy, but countries around the world have developed their own regional spins on the classic food. In Brazil chefs top their pizzas with green peas, the French love fried eggs on their slices, and in China a crust made of mini-hot dogs is surprisingly popular.

17. The first pizza ordered by computer happened in 1974: The Artificial Language Laboratory at Michigan State needed to test out its new “speaking computer,” so they used it to order a pepperoni, mushroom, ham, and sausage pizza from a local pizza joint. 

18. In the 1980s, the Pizza Connection trial became the longest running criminal jury trial in American history, running from 1985 to 1987. It prosecuted a group of mafia members who were using pizza restaurants as a front for drug trafficking.

19. Chuck E. Cheese's was founded by Nolan Bushnell, the co-founder of Atari, as a way to make more money off of the game consoles.

20. Chuck E. Cheese may be the most famous animatronic pizza-selling animal in the world, but in the '80s, ShowBiz Pizza Place’s “Rock-A-Fire Explosion” gave the rat a run for his money. ShowBiz's animatronic band played hit pop songs and original tunes at locations across America, and were the creation of Aaron Fechter (who also invented Whac-a-Mole).

21. When pizza chefs around the world need help with their recipes, they turn to “Dough Doctor” Tom Lehmann. Lehmann, who lives in Manhattan, Kansas, is a pizza expert who’s been working with the American Institute of Baking since 1967. One of the biggest challenges he's faced? Low-carb dough requests during the height of the Atkins diet craze.

22. Plenty of famous people got their start making and delivering pizzas. Stephen Baldwin and Bill Murray both worked at pizza restaurants, and Jean Claude Van Damme used to deliver pizzas. 

23. The only pizza-themed superhero movie made to date is called Pizza Man—released in 2011, the film stars Frankie Muniz as a pizza delivery guy who acquires super powers from eating a genetically modified tomato.

24. In 2013, former child star Macaulay Culkin formed a pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band called Pizza Underground. The band performs hits like “I’m Waiting for the Delivery Man” and “All the Pizza Parties.”

25. Pizza played a role in helping police catch an alleged serial killer known as the “Grim Sleeper” in 2010 when an undercover officer took a DNA sample from a slice of pizza the killer had been snacking on at a family birthday party. 

26. Pizza has also helped prevent several crimes: In 2008 when a pizza delivery man in Florida was confronted by robbers, he threw the hot pizza he was delivering at them and escaped harm.

27. In 2014, a woman called 911 to report a burglary and sexual assault, but because the burglar was still in her home, she came up with a novel way to get the attention of police: she pretended to order a pizza. Fortunately, the police figured out that something was not quite right with the pizza order, and instantly responded to the call.

28. In 2001, Pizza Hut delivered a six-inch salami pizza to the International Space Station—the first pizza delivered to outer space

29. A little over a decade later, in 2013, a group of NASA-funded scientists invented a 3D printer that could cook pizza in just 70 seconds, literally spraying on flavor, smell, and micronutrients.

30. The U.S. Military Lab recently invented a ready-to-eat pizza that can last for up to three years. The pizza is intended for soldiers abroad who are craving a slice… and also presumably for anyone preparing for a zombie apocalypse.

31. Pizza is such an iconic food, it even inspired an art show. In 2013, the Marlborough Broome Street Gallery in New York curated a show called “Pizza Time!” featuring more than 25 pizza-inspired works of art. The works ranged from paintings like “Caveman on Pizza,” which featured a sunglasses-wearing caveman surfing a giant slice of pizza, to works of art made of actual pizza, like John Riepenhoff’s “Physical Pizza Networking Theory.”

32. Pizza chefs use a wide variety of pizza lingo to show they’re in the know. For example, a ball of dough that’s been stretched and is ready for toppings is called a “skin,” mushrooms are often referred to as “screamers,” and slices of pepperoni are called “flyers,” for the way they’re thrown around the pizza kitchen like Frisbees.

33. Pizza chefs call the internal cell structure of pizza dough “the crumb”—most pizza makers try to achieve a crumb that’s airy with large holes.

34. The four primary kinds of mozzarella used to make pizza are mozzarella di bufala (made from the milk of water buffalo in Italy, and used on Neapolitan-style pizzas), fior di latte (similar to mozzarella di bufala, but made from cow’s milk), burrata (a fresh Italian cheese known for its creamy filling), and “pizza cheese" (the less perishable whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella used by the majority of American pizzerias).

35. In 2014, food scientists studied the baking properties of different cheeses, and found scientific evidence for a commonly known fact—mozzarella makes the best pizza cheese.

36. Ever eat a soggy slice of pizza that seemed to have a gross gooey layer between the base and the toppings? There’s a term for that. It’s called the “Gum Line,” and it's dreaded by pizza chefs. It’s caused when dough is undercooked, has too little yeast, or is topped with sauce or cheese that’s recently been pulled from the refrigerator and hasn’t had a chance to reach room temperature.

37. Think spinning pizza dough sounds simple? Think again. Dough-spinning has its own professional-level sporting event where pizza teams compete in acrobatic dough-spinning competitions at the World Pizza Championships.

38. But spinning pizza dough isn’t just for show: It’s the best way to evenly spread dough, create a uniform crust, and even helps the dough retain moisture.

39. There’s an association called the Associazione Verace Pizza Nepoletana (“True Neapolitan Pizza Association”) that sets specific rules about what qualifies as a true Neapolitan pizza and certifies pizza restaurants accordingly.

40. According to legend, the “Pizza Margherita” takes its name from Queen Margherita of Savoy who, in 1889, sampled three pizza flavors made by master pizza chef Raffaele Esposito and expressed a preference for the version topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, and designed to resemble the Italian flag. Nice story—and while the Queen did eat Esposito's pizza, there's no evidence of what was on the menu, and a lot of skepticism that this was mostly a marketing scheme concocted (complete with forged historical documents!) to boost business. 

41. Over the years a number of strange pizza-flavored products have been released, including potato chips, condoms, ice cream, beer, and e-cigarettes.

42. There’s a pizza museum in Philadelphia called Pizza Brain that is home to the world’s largest collection of pizza memorabilia.

43. Pizzerias sell the most pizzas on Halloween, the night before Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Super Bowl Sunday.

44. The largest pizza in the world was 131 feet in diameter, and weighed 51,257 pounds.

45. The inventors of Bagel Bites got the inspiration for their first recipe off the back of a Lender's Bagel bag.

46. Research firm Technomic estimated in 2013 that Americans eat 350 slices of pizza each second, and that 40 percent of us eat pizza at least once a week.

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12 Cheesy Facts About Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! Program
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If you went to school in the U.S. in the past three decades, you were probably exposed to BOOK IT!, the reading reward program by Pizza Hut that has kids devouring books by the dozen in order to earn free pizza and other rewards. According to Pizza Hut, more than 14 million students across 620,000 classrooms (or roughly 1 in 5 Americans over the past three decades) have participated in BOOK IT! Here's what you need to know about the delicious—and educational—program.

1. THE PROGRAM WAS INSPIRED BY THE SON OF PIZZA HUT'S THEN-PRESIDENT.

Inside a Pizza Hut restaurant, a woman pins a blue Book It button on a boy's shirt. Based on the hairstyles and clothing, the photo dates from the mid 1980s.
Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! program was created in Pizza Hut's Wichita, Kansas, offices in 1984. According to a video created by Pizza Hut, the program was created after President Ronald Reagan put out a call to America's businesses, encouraging them to get involved in education. Arthur Gunther, then-president of Pizza Hut, thought of his son, Michael, who had had trouble with reading due to eye problems when he was growing up. Gunther—who later told the Los Angeles Times that he was "truly motivated by my son and my love for him"—met with educators in the Kansas area with the goal of coming up with a program that would encourage kids to read and help them develop reading skills; what was developed became Pizza Hut's BOOK IT! program.

The idea behind BOOK IT! was simple: Reward students with certificates, stickers, buttons, and a single-topping Personal Pan Pizza for reading books. It was tested in Kansas schools before it—and its signature blue button—was rolled out nationwide in 1985.

Just over a month later, more than 7 million grade school students had participated across 233,080 classrooms. Gunther reported that three-quarters of students in the program exceeded their regular reading level. It also cost the chain an estimated $50 million in free pizza, plus $2.7 million in printed materials.

2. ITS CREATORS GOT A LETTER FROM PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN.

On June 2, 1987, Reagan sent a message to BOOK IT! organizers, reading, in part:

"During this 'Year of the Reader,' we can all reflect that reading is essential to the vitality of the mind and to the success and accomplishment of almost every endeavor. As the Book-It Program prepares for yet another tremendous year of bringing the gift of reading to youngsters, I want to commend all those associated with the program for the outstanding work you do. Your efforts give help and inspiration to many and strengthen our Nation. I salute you."

3. BOOK IT! POPPED UP ON TV.

In a 1988 episode of Small Wonder, Vicki's class participated in BOOK IT! In the episode, two students have to finish their reading assignments. This being late-'80s primetime TV, one of the students creates a hip-hop book report comparing Robin Hood to Mr. T. They earned that pizza.

4. BILL CLINTON DECLARED AN OFFICIAL "BOOK IT! DAY" IN ARKANSAS.

October 3, 1988 was a very special day. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton issued an official proclamation declaring it "BOOK IT! Day," stating that the program was "an effective tool in motivating elementary students to read." He further noted that across Arkansas that year, 5711 classrooms with 142,775 students participated in the program.

5. PIZZA HUT COFOUNDED NATIONAL YOUNG READERS WEEK ...

Pizza Hut extended BOOK IT! in 1989 with a week-long reading event that brought "celebrity" role models into schools to demonstrate the importance of reading to kids. ("Celebrities" are often local figures like school principals, though can include pop stars—see item 11 below!) Dubbed National Young Readers Week, the event was created alongside the Library of Congress Center for the Book. Pizza Hut proceeded to issue a challenge to school principals "to become shining examples for literacy by choosing one day to read their heart out all day long, from first bell to the last during National Young Readers Week." The event runs during the second week of November each year.

6. ... AND THE "BATMAN PRINCIPAL" WON THE CHALLENGE IN 2016.

Principal John Rizzo of Jonestown Elementary in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, won the National Young Readers Week principal challenge in 2016. He dressed up as Batman and visited classrooms in his school, promoting reading. Rizzo then went on the roof of the school to read to students. "We try to develop lifelong learners, especially lifelong learners of books and reading," the Bat-Principal told ABC27 News.

7. BOOK IT! IS FOR HOMESCHOOLERS, TOO.

While many students are exposed to BOOK IT! in public schools, it's available to homeschoolers too. The program runs from October 1 through March 31 each year, and students ages 5 to 12 (grades K to 6) are eligible to participate. BOOK IT! prohibits clubs and other such non-school groups from participating, suggesting that this could dilute the value of the rewards. The program is also available to virtual and online schools, with the proper paperwork.

In its first few decades, BOOK IT! kids recorded their reading with paper logbooks—and that's still an option. But there's an app for that, too. The app syncs student progress with a teacher dashboard, allowing teachers to keep track of ongoing participation.

8. CLASS PIZZA PARTIES ARE STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

The BOOK IT! FAQ explicitly prohibits "group redemptions and parties," including class pizza parties. The guidelines say:

"An important part of the BOOK IT! Program is individual recognition of your students for meeting their reading goals and our team members are trained to provide individual recognition."

9. LOTS OF PEOPLE SELL THEIR OLD BOOK IT! BUTTONS ON EBAY.

A vintage BOOK-IT pin from 1985.
The 1985 BOOK-IT! pin.

Vintage BOOK IT! promo items appear to be slightly collectible, especially the logo button which debuted in 1985. eBay has dozens of pins dating from the '80s and '90s—you can even see how the logo design changed over the years.

10. THE OFFICIAL BOOK IT! STORE SELLS SOME WEIRD STUFF.

For a brand based on reading and pizza, the official BOOK IT! store takes the merchandise to a slightly odd place. With USB car chargers, magnetic fridge clips, and squeezable dart rockets, you'd be forgiven for thinking BOOK IT! was aimed at grownups.

On the other hand, they also carry the "retro" t-shirt design and reader awards, which are great for kids.

11. BOOK IT! WAS EXAMINED IN A RESEARCH STUDY

In 1999, a paper studying BOOK IT! was published. Entitled "Effects of extrinsic reinforcement for reading during childhood on reported reading habits of college students" (Psychological Record, 1999, by Flora, S. R., & Flora, D. B. [PDF]), the paper examined how pizza functioned as an extrinsic reward for reading. In other words, although reading carries intrinsic rewards like enjoying the story, the addition of extrinsic motivators like pizza or money (not part of the BOOK IT! program) can affect students' reading behavior. The study sought to determine whether those extrinsic rewards negatively affected later reading behavior—the concern being that perhaps without pizza or cash, students might stop reading.

From the paper's abstract (emphasis added):

Neither being reinforced with money or pizzas increased or decreased the amount college students read nor influenced their intrinsic motivation for reading. Answers to direct questions about BOOK IT! and parental pay for reading suggest that when a child is extrinsically reinforced for reading the child will increase the amount read, enjoyment of reading may increase, and if they do not yet know how to read fluently, the programs may help the child to learn to read. These results provide no support for the myth that extrinsic rewards for reading undermine intrinsic interest in reading. Rather, extrinsic rewards for reading set the conditions where intrinsic motivation for reading may develop.

12. JUSTIN BIEBER READ THE CAT IN THE HAT FOR BOOK IT!

In 2011, BOOK IT!'s "America's Biggest Bedtime Story" program presented Justin Bieber reading The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. The program exists to encourage parents to read bedtime stories to their kids. Bieber read the story to benefit the Pencils of Promise charity. The next year, BOOK IT! recruited Tim Tebow to read Green Eggs and Ham. (Back in 2007, John Lithgow kicked off the trend, reading his own kids' book, The Remarkable Farkle McBride.)

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