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The Coca-Cola You'll Never See On Shelves

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There are a lot of variants of Coca-Cola these days: Vanilla, lemon, lime, cherry, even coffee and green tea flavors. Some of us probably still remember the abomination that was New Coke, the flavor "update" from 1985. Backlash was swift and severe, and Coke went back to its classic formula just months after New Coke hit shelves.

But that national outrage was nothing compared to what would have happened if White Coke had appeared in stores during the Cold War.

During negotiations over the division of Germany, Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, brought a little treat for Georgy Zhukov, Marshal of the Soviet Union. The gift was simple, but Eisenhower was anxious to share it: Coca-Cola, a favorite drink from back home. For Zhukov, it was love at first sip—but there was a problem. Coca-Cola was (and is) about as American as mom and apple pie. Though Zhukov had a reputation for being able to challenge Joseph Stalin and live to tell the tale, he knew his newfound love for Coke would never fly. So, he found a workaround.

Zhukov made a request through top U.S. military officials—some say it went all the way up to President Harry Truman—for a clear version of the drink that looked like vodka. Perhaps urged by the government to encourage diplomatic relations, Coke obliged, taking out the caramel syrup but retaining the flavor: White Coke. In order to further disguise the distinctive beverage, it was shipped to General Zhukov in cylindrical bottles labeled with the Soviet star. His first shipment was 50 cases.

It’s probably good that Zhukov got it while he could. Though Pepsi was available in the Soviet Union beginning in 1973, Coca-Cola didn’t make its legal debut until 1985—11 years after Zhukov’s death.

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Big Questions
Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?
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The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

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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History
The Funky History of George Washington's Fake Teeth
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo

George Washington may have the most famous teeth—or lack thereof—in American history. But counter to what you may have heard about the Founding Father's ill-fitting dentures, they weren't made of wood. In fact, he had several sets of dentures throughout his life, none of which were originally trees. And some of them are still around. The historic Mount Vernon estate holds the only complete set of dentures that has survived the centuries, and the museum features a video that walks through old George's dental history.

Likely due to genetics, poor diet, and dental disease, Washington began losing his original teeth when he was still a young man. By the time he became president in 1789, he only had one left in his mouth. The dentures he purchased to replace his teeth were the most scientifically advanced of the time, but in the late 18th century, that didn't mean much.

They didn't fit well, which caused him pain, and made it difficult to eat and talk. The dentures also changed the way Washington looked. They disfigured his face, causing his lips to noticeably stick out. But that doesn't mean Washington wasn't grateful for them. When he finally lost his last surviving tooth, he sent it to his dentist, John Greenwood, who had made him dentures of hippo ivory, gold, and brass that accommodated the remaining tooth while it still lived. (The lower denture of that particular pair is now held at the New York Academy of Medicine.)

A set of historic dentures
George Washington's Mount Vernon

These days, no one would want to wear dentures like the ones currently held at Mount Vernon (above). They're made of materials that would definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth. The base that fit the fake teeth into the jaw was made of lead. The top teeth were sourced from horses or donkeys, and the bottom were from cows and—wait for it—people.

These teeth actually deteriorated themselves, revealing the wire that held them together. The dentures open and shut thanks to metal springs, but because they were controlled by springs, if he wanted to keep his mouth shut, Washington had to permanently clench his jaw. You can get a better idea of how the contraption worked in the video from Mount Vernon below.

Washington's Dentures from Mount Vernon on Vimeo.

There are plenty of lessons we can learn from the life of George Washington, but perhaps the most salient is this: You should definitely, definitely floss.

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