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How Did Spring Break Get Its Start?

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Spring comes but once a year, and it comes with a rebirth of flora, warmer weather, and a week (or two) dedicated to enjoying the change—which many college kids take advantage of in mid-March with a little tradition known as Spring Break. Thanks to MTV, we all know what Spring Break is about: Bikinis, debauchery, plenty of alcohol, and collegiates flocking to beaches en mass to work on their tans and run amok. Where did this tradition start?

As far back as history has been recorded, people have celebrated the arrival of Spring—including the ancient Greeks and Romans, who were all about self-indulgence. Of course, those rowdy crowds centered their jamboree on their respect for Dionysus or Bacchus, the Greek and Roman gods of wine. But what we now know as Spring Break really began because of two events: When Fort Lauderdale built Florida's first Olympic-size pool in 1928, and when MGM released Where The Boys Are in 1960. 

Fort Lauderdale's pool, considered mammoth at the time, brought the nation's top competitive swimmers to the city during their break from classes, and by the late '30s, more than 1500 student-athletes were flocking to the city's College Coaches' Swim Forum. The first of these forums was hosted in 1938, and droves of college swimmers made Fort Lauderdale their exclusive Spring Break home well into the '60s. By that time, non-student athletes began to take part in what these swimmers had created; Time first mentioned the phenomenon in their 1959 article titled "Beer & the Beach." The bacchanal had gone mainstream.

A year later, MGM released Where The Boys Are, a coming-of-age film that followed four college women during their spring vacation. And just like everything in a postmodern society, reality reflects art. Spring Break became a very real thing for any collegiate male or female who wanted to escape to sand and sun. In 1986, MTV launched its first Spring Break special in Daytona Beach, Florida, and found an annual tradition in showing what really happens on this mid-semester get-away.

By the end of the '80s, the city that first made Spring Break famous—as evidenced by the 370,000 students who invaded in 1985—said it had had enough of the raunchy and unruly guests it had invited all those years ago. The city adopted stricter public drinking laws, and then-mayor Robert Dressler went on Good Morning America to say that Spring Breakers weren't welcome anymore. Of course, by that time, there were plenty of other cities hosting their own annual parties—ensuring that Spring Break is a tradition that won't die out anytime soon.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Many Rings Does Saturn Have?
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Of all the planets surrounded by rings, Saturn is the most famous. These planetary rings are massive enough that Galileo was able to see them using a simple telescope way back in 1610, though it wasn't until half a century later that another scientist was able to figure out what the "arms" Galileo saw actually were. NASA has since called them "the most recognized characteristic of any world in our solar system."

So how many rings does Saturn have, anyway? If you can see them from your backyard, there must be a lot, right?

Scientists don't know for sure exactly how many rings Saturn has. There are eight main, named ring groups that stretch across 175,000 miles, but there are far more than eight rings. These systems are named with letters of the alphabet, in order of their discovery. (Astronomers have known about ring groups A, B, and C since the 17th century, while others are newer discoveries. (The most recent was just discovered in 2009.)

The rings we can see in images of the planet—even high-resolution images—aren't single rings, per se, but are in fact comprised of thousands of smaller ringlets and can differ a lot in appearance, showing irregular ripples, kinks, and spokes. The chunky particles of ice that make up Saturn's rings vary in size from as small as a speck of dust to as large as a mountain.

While the gaps between Saturn's rings are small, the 26-mile-wide Keeler Gap is large enough to contain multiple moons, albeit very small ones. The largest ring system—the one discovered in 2009—starts 3.7 million miles away from Saturn itself and its material extends another 7.4 million miles out, though it's nearly invisible without the help of an infrared camera.

Researchers are still discovering new rings as well as new insights into the features of Saturn's already-known ring systems. In the early 1980s, NASA's Voyager missions took the first high-resolution images of Saturn and its rings, revealing previously unknown kinks in one of the narrower rings, known as the F ring. In 1997, NASA sent the Cassini orbiter to continue the space agency's study of the ringed planet, leading to the discovery of new rings, so faint that they remained unknown until Cassini's arrival in 2006. Before Cassini is sent to burn up in Saturn's atmosphere in September 2017, it's taking 22 dives through the space between the planet and its rings, bringing back new, up-close revelations about the ring system before the spacecraft dives to its death.

Though it's certainly possible to see Saturn's rings without any fancy equipment, using a low-end telescope at your house, that doesn't mean you always can. It depends on the way the planet is tilted; if you're looking at the rings edge-on, they may look like a flat line or, depending on the magnification, you might not be able to see them at all. However, 2017 happens to be a good year to see the sixth planet, so you're in luck.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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