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5 Fascinating Facts About Girl Scout Cookie Names

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Girl Scout Week may be over, but Girl Scout cookie season is still going strong.

The cookies were first sold in 1917. Back then, the scouts baked the cookies themselves and sold them door to door. By the 1920s, they were using a simple sugar cookie recipe, perhaps based on one published in a July 1922 issue of The American Girl magazine. In 1935, the words “Girl Scout Cookies” appeared on the boxes for the first time, and in 1936, the national organization began using commercial bakers. The rest is cookie-selling history.

While you may know your Tagalongs from your Do-si-dos, here are a few things you might not know about the names of Girl Scout cookies.

1. Cookies have different names, depending on who bakes them.

For a while, each Girl Scout council could choose its own baker, and at one point there were 29 different companies making the cookies. To streamline the process, that number went down to four in the late 1970s, and in the 1990s, it decreased even further to two: ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers (a division of a company you might have heard of).

You'd think these companies would cooperate and call each cookie by the same name—and you would be wrong. Each company distributes to different areas of the country, each cookie recipe is slightly different, and, each, except for the Thin Mint, has a different name.

That coconutty, caramelly, chocolatey concoction known as the Samoa in the Bay Area is called a Caramel deLite just a stone's throw away in Sacramento. (Why deLite? Perhaps because it has five fewer calories than the Samoa, and one less gram of fat.) If you're in Nebraska, you're eating Peanut Butter Patties. A Windy City resident? You're munching on Tagalongs. Forth Worthians indulge on Peanut Butter Sandwiches while their Dallas neighbors do Do-si-dos. And in New Jersey, the south has Shortbreads while it's Trefoils in the north.

2. Thin Mints go by another name in Canada.

While the Girl Guides of Canada were established two years before the Girl Scouts, they began selling cookies later, in 1927. Past cookie varieties included vanilla crème, maple cream, and shortbread, but nowadays, the Canadian cookie selection is much more streamlined than the Girl Scouts'. In the spring they offer "classic chocolate and vanilla cookies," and in the fall, their version of Thin Mints: Chocolately Mint cookies.

3. Samoa the cookie is named for Samoa the island—maybe.

Samoas, second in sales only to the iconic Thin Mints, were added to the Little Brownie cookie line in 1975. While we know why it’s called the Caramel deLite in some places and Samoa in others, no one seems sure where the name Samoa comes from.

One popular theory is the coconut connection. Of the island Samoa's top exports, number eight is coconut oil while number 15 is coconuts, brazil nuts, and cashews.

A more tenuous idea is that the word Samoa kind of sounds like “some more,” as in, "Give me some more of those delicious coconut thingies." Of course s’more was already taken, so maybe the Girl Scouts and Little Brownie Bakers went with the next best thing.

4. Trefoil is a leafy metaphor for the Girl Scout promise.

A trefoil, in case you didn’t know, is a kind of three-leafed plant—hence the shape of the shortbread cookie with the same name. The word trefoil comes from the Latin trifolium, “three leaf.”

The trefoil is also the emblem of both the Girl Scouts of the U.S. and the Girl Guides of Canada. For the Girl Scouts, the three leaves stand for a three-fold promise: "to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout law." That’s one wholesome cookie.

5. Savannah Smiles is a creepy name for a cookie.

A rather less wholesome back story lies behind the Savannah Smiles cookie—or at least the name. The crisp lemon cookie shaped like a smile was introduced in 2012 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the very first Girl Scouts meeting, which was held in 1912 in Savannah, Georgia.

If the name Savannah Smiles sounds familiar, that's because it was a 1982 family-friendly movie about an unhappy little girl named Savannah who runs away from home, but in the end is happily reunited with her mother. However, the actress who played Savannah, Bridgette Andersen, didn't have such a happy ending; she died of an apparent drug overdose at age 21.

Or you might know Savannah Smiles as the name of a 2007 song by indie band The Stage Names. What was Savannah Smiles the song about? A porn star who went by the stage name of Savannah and committed suicide at 24. If that bums you out, call the cookies by the ABC Bakers' name: Lemonades.

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.


It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.


It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.


While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.


It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.


May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.


Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.


Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.


American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.


Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

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