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Why is Boston Called “Beantown”?

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Boston Public Library 

Which nickname sounds a bit out of place: “The Athens of America,” “The Cradle of Liberty,” “The Hub of the Universe,” or “Beantown”? New England’s largest city goes by all four aliases, yet the last one sticks out like a sore thumb. So, how did Boston get such an odd title in the first place?

There’s no definite answer, but this hasn’t stopped historians from speculating. One theory hinges on the fact that Massachusetts has long been noted for its baked beans, a tradition dating back to her Native American roots. However, in the late 1600s, the area was synonymous with a very different product: rum. Along with their neighbors in Rhode Island, Massachusites distilled alcohol en masse, enabling their colony to break into the notorious “Triangle Trade.” Boston’s booze was usually taken to Africa, where it would be exchanged for new slaves. They, in turn, were later traded for (among other things) molasses, a key ingredient in rum.

But molasses served another culinary function: colonists started putting it in their baked beans. Though the natives had traditionally used maple syrup instead, this new preparation method spread like wildfire in the greater Boston area. Eventually—according to legend—sailors and merchants on the triangular route began calling the city “Bean Town.”

Another story paints a very different picture. Boston hosted a Civil War veterans' convention during the summer of 1890. To commemorate this gathering, the Beverly Pottery Company handed out small, ribbon-bound bean pots as souvenirs. Afterwards, when asked where they’d gotten such neat little gifts, many of the vets supposedly replied “bean-town.”

Then again, perhaps a publicity gimmick is to blame. In 1907, Boston threw its first annual Old Home Week. Former residents who’d since left the area were encouraged to revisit their old haunts during a week-long celebration. An aggressive advertising campaign helped draw continental attention to the event, with posters and stickers being distributed nationwide, many of which included wholesome sketches of bean pots. As the yearly shindig grew, tourism slogans like “You Don’t Know Beans Until You Come to Boston” also started catching on. Theoretically, “beantown” might’ve been born in the process.

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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 Long Could a Person Survive With an Unlimited Supply of Water, But No Food at All?
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How long could a person survive if he had unlimited supply of water, but no food at all?

Richard Lee Fulgham:

I happen to know the answer because I have studied starvation, its course, and its utility in committing a painless suicide. (No, I’m not suicidal.)

A healthy human being can live approximately 45 to 65 days without food of any kind, so long as he or she keeps hydrated.

You could survive without any severe symptoms [for] about 30 to 35 days, but after that you would probably experience skin rashes, diarrhea, and of course substantial weight loss.

The body—as you must know—begins eating itself, beginning with adipose tissue (i.e. fat) and next the muscle tissue.

Google Mahatma Gandhi, who starved himself almost to death during 14 voluntary hunger strikes to bring attention to India’s independence movement.

Strangely, there is much evidence that starvation is a painless way to die. In fact, you experience a wonderful euphoria when the body realizes it is about to die. Whether this is a divine gift or merely secretions of the brain is not known.

Of course, the picture is not so pretty for all reports. Some victims of starvation have experienced extreme irritability, unbearably itchy skin rashes, unceasing diarrhea, painful swallowing, and edema.

In most cases, death comes when the organs begin to shut down after six to nine weeks. Usually the heart simply stops.

(Here is a detailed medical report of the longest known fast: 382 days.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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