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How Far Does Mario Have to Run (and Swim) in Super Mario Bros.?

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In Super Mario Bros., Mario has a pretty rough day. He's forced to rescue a princess completely on his own, which seems suspicious given the fact that most royal families have designated security details at their disposal. What kind of third-rate dynasty hires a plumber to save an heiress?

Despite being woefully under-qualified, Mario agrees to transport to a magical world where he runs, jumps, swims, and kills everything in sight to get to a castle where a smartass toadstool tells him the princess isn't there. He does this seven different times before getting it right. Besides the psychological damage of all that growing and shrinking, killing, and repeated dying, what kind of physical toll is Mario subjected to?

As brilliant reader John D. asked, how many miles does Mario have to travel before he finally gets to Princess Peach?

To figure this out, I took Ian Albert's level maps that he painstakingly stitched together from screenshots (check out his website and amazing maps here) and measured their width. In the NES version of the game, Mario's relative size (in his smaller, pre-mushroom ingestion phase) was then calculated as if he were a normal human man. He stands astride, so the measurements were based on an approximation of someone with their feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, or 26 inches.

If we assume Mario takes a route with no bonus areas or warps, the total distance from his initial starting point to the final castle is about 17,835 feet, or 3.4 miles.

But what about the water levels? If you isolate these, Mario swims an estimated 1218.5 feet, or 371 meters, during his ordeal, which is about 7 and a half laps in an Olympic-sized pool.

The longest single level is the eighth world's first stage, and it comes in at about 1039 feet. The shortest is world four, stage three, which is around 425 feet long.

If Mario does in fact visit every bonus area, the total distance he travels increases by 1574 feet, and his full journey becomes about 3.7 miles. Of those bonus areas, 344 feet are underwater, so Mario tacks on another 105 meters to his swim total.

Mario doesn't go in a straight line and he is occasionally transported to different locations and worlds, so these numbers are just an approximation. But think about all the time you spent toiling away at your NES. All those hours and days spent mashing buttons—jumping on Goombas, falling into abysses, ducking projectiles—all that work resulted in little more than Mario completing a 5K to raise awareness for princess theft.

Thanks to reader John D. for the question and idea. All screengrabs are from ian-albert.com.

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holidays
What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?
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Horses may no longer be the dominant form of transportation in the U.S., but the legacy of our horseback-riding history lives on in language. When telling people off, we still use the phrase “... and the horse you rode in on.” These days, it’s rare for anyone you're telling to go screw themselves to actually be an equestrian, so where did “and the horse you rode in on” come from, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the basics. The phrase is, essentially, an intensifier, one typically appended to the phrase “F*** you.” As the public radio show "A Way With Words" puts it, it’s usually aimed at “someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot.” As co-host and lexicographer Grant Barrett explains, “instead of just insulting you, they want to insult your whole circumstance.”

The phrase can be traced back to at least the 1950s, but it may be even older than that, since, as Barrett notes, plenty of crude language didn’t make it into print in the early 20th century. He suggests that it could have been in wide use even prior to World War II.

In 1998, William Safire of The New York Times tracked down several novels that employed the term, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) and No Bugles, No Drums (1976). The literary editor of the latter book, Michael Seidman, told Safire that he heard the term growing up in the Bronx just after the Korean War, leading the journalist to peg the origin of the phrase to at least the late 1950s.

The phrase has had some pretty die-hard fans over the years, too. Donald Regan, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1984, worked it into his official Treasury Department portrait. You can see a title along the spine of a book in the background of the painting. It reads: “And the Horse You Rode In On,” apparently one of Regan’s favorite sayings. (The book in the painting didn't refer to a real book, but there have since been a few published that bear similar names, like Clinton strategist James Carville’s book …and the Horse He Rode In On: The People V. Kenneth Starr and Dakota McFadzean’s 2013 book of comics Other Stories And the Horse You Rode In On.)

It seems that even in a world where almost no one rides in on a horse, insulting a man’s steed is a timeless burn.

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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