50 Facts About the 50 State Capitals

This week, John Green goes around the country pointing out interesting things about all the state capitals.

Don't miss an episode—subscribe here! Images and footage provided by Shutterstock. Here's a transcript courtesy of Nerdfighteria Wiki:  

Hi, I'm John Green. Welcome to my salon—hey there, fake fireplace. This is mental_floss on YouTube. 

1. Did you know that Montgomery, Alabama has a minor league baseball team named the Montgomery Biscuits? And their mascot is a biscuit—his name is Monty. That's the first of 50 facts about the 50 state capitals in the United States that I'm gonna share with you today.

2. At 3,255 square miles Juneau, Alaska is the largest capital city. It's larger than the entire state of Delaware. It's also the second-largest city in the United States, second only to Sitka, Alaska. 

3. Arizona's capital, Phoenix, was originally named "Pumpkinville" in the late 1800s. And there weren't even any pumpkin growers there, just melons that kind of looked like pumpkins. 

4. Helena, Montana also considered the name Pumpkinville, as well as "Squashtown". That's right! Two state capitals were almost named Pumpkinville. 

5. Little Rock, Arkansas is home to the largest bridge in North America built exclusively for pedestrians. Before it was built in 2006, a local county judge said, "We're going to build that dam bridge"—apparently referring to the dam that the bridge goes over, not the offensive word. Anyway, the bridge is now most commonly known as "The Big Dam Bridge."

6. Before he became famous, Mark Twain worked for a California newspaper, the Sacramento Union. In 1866 he traveled to Hawaii and sent the newspaper letters to publish. 

7. The U.S. city that brews the most beer? Denver, Colorado.

8. In 1902 Teddy Roosevelt became the first president to publicly ride in an automobile when he was driven through Hartford, Connecticut.

9. Dover, Delaware was founded by William Penn, also known as not the guy on your Quaker Oats box. He named Dover after a city in England. You know, like they did with all the early American cities. 

10. In the 1500s the first North American Christmas celebration took place in Desoto, which today is known as Tallahassee, Florida. 

11. According to The New York Times, Atlanta, Georgia is hip-hop's center of gravity. Many artists got their start there including Ludacris, who once deejayed for a local radio station under the stage name "Chris Luvaluva".

12. The only royal palace in the United States can be found in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was used by Hawaiian monarchs from 1879 until the overthrow of the monarchy occurred in 1893. 

13. There's a to-scale replica of the Liberty Bell in front of the Boise, Idaho capitol building. The only difference? The one in Boise doesn't have a crack. Because crack is wack. Meredith, you're better than that.

14. In 1921 the Maid Rite Sandwich Shop in Springfield, Illinois opened the first ever drive-thru in America.

15. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to my beloved Indy 500, takes up 253 acres. That means that Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Coliseum, and Vatican City could all fit inside of it. 

16. Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, is French for "of the monks." In what I'm sure is one of America's greatest regrets, Des Moines was almost named "Fort Raccoon." 

17. In 2010 the mayor of Topeka, Kansas wanted Google to install their fiber-optic broadband Internet in the city, and to get the company's attention, mayor Bill Bunten announced the city would unofficially change its name to "Google" for a month. Google responded on April Fool's Day, saying they would change their name to Topeka.

18. Edgar Allan Poe's only play, Politain, was inspired by a real-life murder, and even though the play takes place during the 16th century in Rome, the actual murder it's based on occurred in 1825 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Here I made a list of the things Frankfort, Kentucky and Rome have in common. 

19. In 1988, Baton Rouge, Louisiana saw the infamous "Earthquake Game" at Louisiana State University's football stadium. A last second touchdown caused the crowd to cheer so loudly that it registered as an earthquake on a local seismograph. 

20. America's oldest wooden fort can be found in Augusta, Maine. Old Fort Western was built in 1754 and was later used by Benedict Arnold before his invasion of Canada. This was back in the old days, when Central Maine was the west.

21. Annapolis isn't just a James Franco movie that no one saw, it's also the capital of Maryland and home to the largest crab feast in the world. Each year people eat over 300 bushels of crabs and over 3,000 ears of corn at the Annapolis Rotary Crab Feast.

22. In 1919, Boston, Massachusetts flooded, with molasses. A fifty-foot-tall tank of molasses broke and around 2.3 million gallons of molasses destroyed surrounding streets. 21 people died. 

23. Lansing only became the capital of Michigan because so many other cities wanted to be capital. The Michigan House of Representatives was forced to choose Lansing to end the political turmoil that determining a capital had become. The decision was shocking because Lansing was much less populated than the other cities that wanted to be capital, like Ann Arbor and Marshall and Jackson. 

24. In the 1800s, Saint Paul, Minnesota was called "Pig's Eye Landing," named after a local tavern owner. Wait Pig's Eye Landing! Pigs?! Time to put a quarter in the staff "pork chop party fund." Cha-ching!

25. It's believed that the song "Jackson" popularized by Johnny Cash and June Carter is about the capital of Mississippi. In the 1960s that area of the state was known for wild partying and illegal gambling. 

26. The Missouri state capitol building in Jefferson City has had some tough luck. In 1837, the first one burned down about ten years after it was built. Then the second one was struck by lightning in 1911 and burned to the ground. That's bad news for Jefferson City, but it's great news for Marty McFly and Doc Brown. 

27. What do Dick Cheney, Hilary Swank, and Johnny Carson all have in common? Very little, except that they all lived in Lincoln, Nebraska at some point or another. On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln, for whom the city was named, never lived there. 

28. If you never want to visit Carson City, Nevada just watch the films that were partially shot there. Like Misery, An Innocent Man, or, John Wayne's last movie, The Shootist. On the other hand 0% of the 1952 western, Carson City was filmed there. 

29. In 2011 Michelle Bachman made a speech in New Hampshire in which she said "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world at Lexington and Concord." She didn't realize that the capital of New Hampshire, Concord, was not the Massachusetts city where the Revolutionary War started. 

30. When William Taft was elected president, a company in Trenton, New Jersey was commissioned to custom-make a large bathtub for him. It held 50 gallons and weighed 600 pounds. Of course, Taft would later get stuck in a White House bathtub, but there's no record that it was that bathtub.

31. Mission San Miguel is the oldest church in the United States, and it was built in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 1600s.

32. Meanwhile Albany, New York's great claim to fame is that perforated toilet paper was invented there. 

33. At Pullen Park in Raleigh, North Carolina there's a bronze statue of Andy and Opie from The Andy Griffith Show. You know, it was like this one, except bigger and it didn't feature Rob Swanson. Anyway, in 2004 the plaque was stolen. It read "The Andy Griffith Show. A simpler time, a sweeter place, a lesson, a laugh, a father and a son."

34. In 2007 almost 9,000 people gathered in Bismarck, North Dakota to set the world record for most snow angels in one place.

35. In 1964, Jerry Mock became to first woman to fly around the world alone. The trip started and ended in Columbus, Ohio. It took her 29 days. 

36. There's  a pre World War II banjo living in the American Banjo museum in Oklahoma City that is worth over $175,000. More like banj-wow. Meredith, I expect better. 

37. Waldo Park, one of the smallest parks in the world can be found in Salem, Oregon. Finally we have answered the question "Where's Waldo...Park?" It's in Oregon, it's 12 feet by 20 feet and contains a single tree, which was planted in 1872.

38. In 1906 Teddy Roosevelt visited the capitol building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and said "It's the handsomest building I ever saw."

39. The world's largest termite is a statue in Providence, Rhode Island. At 58 feet long it's 920 times larger than a real termite. 

40. "Hootie and the Blowfish" was formed at the University of South Carolina in its capital city of Columbia. In a scene straight out of Pitch Perfect, Mark Bryan overheard Darius Rucker singing in the dorm showers and the rest is history.

41. Pierre, South Dakota is named after fur trader Pierre Chouteau Jr., whose family was responsible for goods that early Americans couldn't live without, like beaver hats. 

42. Both Trisha Yearwood and Kathy Mattea worked as tour guides at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee before they became famous country singers themselves. 

43. The unofficial slogan of Austin, Texas is "Keep Austin Weird." They have to keep it unofficial because if that were an official slogan it wouldn't be weird enough. The phrase was invented by a local community college librarian who resented Austin's descent into rampant commercialism. Now a bunch of businesses capitalize on the idea by selling products featuring the motto. 

44. In 2007, Forbes named Salt Lake City America's vainest city, claiming that they have 6 plastic surgeons to every 100 people and spend millions more on beauty products than citizens of similarly-sized cities. That was a lot of szzzzs.

45. Every Valentine's Day, an unknown Valentine phantom decorates Montpelier, Vermont with huge red hearts. Everywhere from stores, to schools, to the capitol building are surprised with these red hearts. And when same-sex marriage was legalized in September of 2009, the bandit struck again—this time, with rainbow hearts.

46. Patrick Henry made his famous "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech at a church in Richmond, Virginia. And they gave him death. 

47. Olympia, Washington used to be the home of Olympia Beer, but now it's owned by Pabst Brewing Company because, you know, everything's a sell out. 

48. Every Valentine's Day, the Grumble Run is hosted in Charleston, West Virginia. It's a 5K race that usually lasts a long time because participants stop often to eat, to smoke, and just in general to grumble. 

49. A local Madison, Wisconsin rock band, "The Gomers," is so popular that 2 mayors have turned February 1st into "Gomer Day." Mayor Susan Bowman's proclamation mentions multiple compelling reasons, including that "The Gomers are really good recyclers". 

50. And finally, I return to my salon to tell you that the world's largest outdoor rodeo is Cheyenne Frontier Days, in Wyoming. 

Thanks for watching mental_floss here on YouTube which is made with the help of all of these nice people. Every week we endeavor to answer one of your mind-blowing questions. This week's question comes from Colt S. who asks "How many seconds are in a year?" The answer, Colt, is 31,536,000 seconds, although leap years have 31,622,400 seconds. Thank you again for watching. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”