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Why Are There Two Dakotas and Two Carolinas?

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It’s possible you’ve heard of North and South Dakota. You may have also heard about North and South Carolina. If so, then you already know that these states are strong, independent honeys makin’ money.

But why did these states divide to become geographic variants of each other? Here are the answers.

North and South Carolina

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris' Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718

The foundation and settlement of the Carolinas—originally dubbed the Carolana Colony—was a comedy of errors ... an extremely bloody and diseased comedy of errors.

Early French settlers arrived only to be immediately driven out by Native American tribes. There was open rebellion, corrupt officials, uncontrollable strains of malaria and smallpox, and a dirty lunatic who called himself the pirate Blackbeard (top) prowling up and down the Carolina ports tormenting landlubbers. (His ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was recently discovered off the coast of North Carolina.) When it came to becoming a thriving new colony, Carolana was all thumbs.

In 1629, Sir Robert Heath claimed the Cape Fear territory under King Charles I of England. Heath made no attempts at colonizing the area (because, see above), and following the execution of King Charles I in 1649, Heath fled to France where he died. Heath’s heirs would eventually try to reassert their claim to the territory, but King Charles II ruled the claim invalid and passed the land off to an 8-person club of very rich white men, known as the Lords Proprietors. The Lords—helmed primarily by Lord Shaftesbury and an enigmatic assistant named John Locke—would retain control of the area from 1663 to 1729.

The Lords Club proved to be totally ineffectual. They fought constantly and were unable to make decisions that made sense for the enormous land. The governors they had appointed were nothing but a hilarious laundry list of disasters: "John Jenkins was deposed," "Thomas Miller was overthrown and jailed by ... 'armed rebels'," "Thomas Eastchurch was forbidden to enter the colony," and "Seth Sothel was accused ... of numerous crimes for which he was tried, convicted, and banished." The Proprietors themselves disagreed about everything from the church to dealing with the Tuscarora and Yamasee tribes (all-out war would eventually break out with both tribes).

In 1710, after nearly two years of the Carolina territory living virtually ungoverned, the Proprietors appointed Edward Hyde as the governor of North Carolina, rather than the government of Carolina. In 1729, North and South Carolina were officially recognized as separate royal colonies until the Revolutionary War.

Other than this horror show of a beginning and total inability of its early leaders to agree on anything, there does not seem to be any significant reason for the split.

North and South Dakota

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Unless you were a fur trapper or a trapped fur, it was unlikely that you were anywhere near the Dakota territory before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Neither the bitter cold nor gruesome violence between settlers and Sioux did much to lure people to the area.

Not until the 1874 discovery of gold in the Black Hills—sacred land to the Sioux—did prospectors really begin settling the area, wherein the word “settling” means "cannibalizing the land and escalating hostilities with the Sioux." (Ironically, Dakota is a Sioux word meaning “friends” or “allies.”) Railroads quickly followed the gold rush; settlers poured into the Dakota prairie and the population surged. Until 1883, the capital of Dakota Territory had been located in southeastern Yankton. Northerners, growing quickly and in need of governance, refused to recognize the remote area as the state capital and declared their own: Bismarck. This caused enough tension to facilitate a split in the land, and rather than pull this car over until you two knock it off, I mean it, Congress indulged the young state and cut a line straight down the 46th parallel.

In 1889, under the Enabling Act, both North and South Dakota were admitted to the union, becoming the 39th and 40th states, respectively. South Dakotans—in addition to creating their own constitution—christened Pierre as their capital, selected for its proximity to the new geographical center of the state. The town of Yankton was unceremoniously dumped. (Rumor has it that if you chant "Yankton" three times while looking in the mirror on Halloween, it will appear extremely rejected and sad.)

Most historians agree that the real reason for Congress’s eagerness to accept the separate Dakotas was a Republican ploy to bolster numbers in Congress. Former Indiana Senator Benjamin Harrison, a Republican (and noted man with a beard), became president in 1889. Congress had been predominantly Democratic until Harrison took office, and the admission of the two Dakotas gifted the House with a Republican majority.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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 Do You Steer a Bobsled?
 Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
Quinn Rooney, Getty Images

Now that the Olympics are well underway, you might have developed a few questions about the games' equipment. For example: How does one steer a bobsled? Let's take a crack at answering this pressing query.

How do you steer a bobsled?

Bobsled teams careen down an icy, curving track at up to 90 miles per hour, so steering is no small concern. Drivers steer their sleds just like you steered your childhood sleds—by manipulating a pair of ropes connected to the sled's steel runners. The driver also gets help from the rest of the crew members, who shift their weight to aid with the steering.

Why do speed skaters wear glasses?

speed-skating

Speed skaters can fly around the ice at upwards of 40 mph, so those sunglasses-type specs they wear aren't merely ornamental. At such high speeds, it's not very pleasant to have wind blowing in your eyes; it's particularly nightmarish if the breeze is drying out your contact lenses. On top of that, there's all sorts of ice and debris flying around on a speed skating track that could send you on a fast trip to the ophthalmologist.

Some skaters also say the glasses help them see the track. American skater Ryan Bedford recently told the Saginaw News that his tinted shades help him focus on the track and filter out distracting lights and camera flashes from the crowd.

What kind of heat are the biathletes packing?

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As you might guess, there are fairly strict rules governing what sort of rifles biathletes carry on the course. They are equipped with guns chambered for .22 LR ammunition. The gun must weigh at least 3.5 kilograms without its magazines and ammunition, and the rifle has to have a bolt action or a straight-pull bolt rather than firing automatically or semi-automatically.

Is a curling stone really made of stone?

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You bet it is, and it's not just any old stone, either. Curling enthusiasts swear by a very specific type of granite called ailsite that is only found on the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig. Ailsite supposedly absorbs less water than other types of stone, so they last longer than their competitors.

Ailsa Craig is now a wildlife sanctuary, so no new ailsite has been quarried since 2002. As a result, curling stones are incredibly expensive. Kays of Scotland, which has made the stones for every Olympics in which curling has been an official event, gets prices upwards of $1,500 per stone.

What about the brooms?

The earliest curling brooms were actual brooms made of wood with straw heads. Modern brooms, though, are a bit more technologically advanced. The handles are usually made of carbon fiber, and the heads can be made of synthetic materials or natural hair from horses or hogs. Synthetic materials tend to be more common now because they pull all of the debris off of the ice and don't drop the occasional stray bristle like a natural hair broom might.

What are the ski jumpers wearing?

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It may look like a ski jumper can pull on any old form-fitting bodysuit and hit the mountain, but things are a bit more complicated than that. Their suits have to be made of a spongy material and can't be thicker than five millimeters. Additionally, the suits must allow a certain amount of air to pass through them; jumpers wearing suits without sufficient air permeability are disqualified. (This rule keeps jumpers from wearing suits that could unfairly act as airfoils.) These rules are seriously enforced, too; Norwegian skier Sigurd Petterson found himself DQed at the 2006 Torino Games due to improper air permeability.

Those aren't the only concerns, though. In 2010, judges disqualified Italian jumper Roberto Dellasega because his suit was too baggy.

What's up with the short track speed skaters' gloves?

Gloves
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

If you watch a bit of short track speed skating, the need for gloves quickly becomes apparent. When the skaters go to make passes or careen around a turn, they need the gloves to keep from cutting their hands due to incidental contact with other skaters' blades.

There's more to the gloves than just safety, though. Since the skaters' hands often touch the ice during turns, they need hard fingertip coverings that won't add friction and slow them down. The tips can be made of any material as long as it's hard and smooth, but you've got to give American skater Apolo Ohno some style points for the gold-tipped left glove he broke out in 2010.

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