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This John Oliver Video on Infrastructure is Worth Your Time

On his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver often takes on important issues—net neutrality, sugar content, climate change. But last night, he touched on a topic that I'm hugely passionate about: America's infrastructure.

Before I came to mental_floss, I was an editor at Popular Mechanics, where I contributed to a year-long investigation of U.S. infrastructure, watching workers lay rebar in the second span of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac, walking along the crumbling locks and dams on the busiest part of the Ohio River in Illinois, and checking out the massive machinery being used to build its replacement in Kentucky (construction began in 1988 and still continues today). I have a lot of photos of myself wearing hard hats.

What PopMech found then—and what's still the case today, as Oliver points out—is that America's infrastructure is in bad shape. Really bad shape. Every year, the American Society of Civil Engineers releases an infrastructure report card. In 2013, the most recent year available, the average grade was D+. Solid waste earned the highest grade, a B-; bridges earned a middling C+; and inland waterways are at a D-.

Aside from the horrifying possibility of a bridge collapse, how might the failure of infrastructure affect you? Let's make an example of inland waterways. Rivers and canals are the unsung heroes of freight transportation: One barge carries enough cargo to fill 15 train cars or 58 tractor trailers. If a lock and dam goes down, all those trucks have to hit the road, causing congestion and pollution.

The problem, according to Oliver, is that "when our infrastructure isn't being destroyed by robots and/or saved by Bruce Willis, we tend to find it a bit boring." Sure, infrastructure isn't necessarily sexy, but, as the host points out, it is important—and pretty interesting. (Just look at all of these awesome bridges!) When I did my reporting, I talked to scientists who are doing all kinds of cool infrastructure-related things, like developing self-healing concrete and polymers for bridges and roads that could repair itself in the event of a crack, self-sensing skins that would alert authorities when cracks occur, and carbon-fiber reinforced polymer jackets that could be retrofitted to concrete columns to keep them from failing.

"Every summer, people flock to see our infrastructure threatened by terrorists or aliens," Oliver says. "But we should care just as much when it's under threats from the inevitable passage of time. The problem is, no one has made a blockbuster movie about the importance of routine maintenance and repair." You can probably guess what happens next. (It involves Edward Norton, Steve Buscemi, and plenty of puns.) Hopefully, Oliver's take on the subject, along with his faux trailer, will help draw attention to this huge problem.

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26 Facts About LEGO Bricks

Since it first added plastic, interlocking bricks to its lineup, the Danish toy company LEGO (from the words Leg Godt for “play well”) has inspired builders of all ages to bring their most imaginative designs to life. Sets have ranged in size from scenes that can be assembled in a few minutes to 5000-piece behemoths depicting famous landmarks. And tinkerers aren’t limited to the sets they find in stores. One of the largest LEGO creations was a life-sized home in the UK that required 3.2 million tiny bricks to construct.

In this episode of the List Show, John Green lays out 26 playful facts about one of the world’s most beloved toy brands. To hear about the LEGO black market, the vault containing every LEGO set ever released, and more, check out the video above then subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date with the latest flossy content.

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Of Buckeyes and Butternuts: 29 States With Weird Nicknames for Their Residents
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Tracing a word’s origin and evolution can yield fascinating historical insights—and the weird nicknames used in some states to describe their residents are no exception. In the Mental Floss video above, host John Green explains the probable etymologies of 29 monikers that describe inhabitants of certain states across the country.

Some of these nicknames, like “Hoosiers” and “Arkies” (which denote residents of Indiana and Arkansas, respectively) may have slightly offensive connotations, while others—including "Buckeyes," "Jayhawks," "Butternuts," and "Tar Heels"—evoke the military histories of Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. And a few, like “Muskrats” and “Sourdoughs,” are even inspired by early foods eaten in Delaware and Alaska. ("Goober-grabber" sounds goofier, but it at least refers to peanuts, which are a common crop in Georgia, as well as North Carolina and Arkansas.)

Learn more fascinating facts about states' nicknames for their residents by watching the video above.

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