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JoJo Whilden / Netflix
JoJo Whilden / Netflix

19 Binge-Worthy Facts About Orange Is the New Black

JoJo Whilden / Netflix
JoJo Whilden / Netflix

Orange is the New Black's fourth season is here! Before you sit down to binge-watch, get to know Piper, Alex, and Crazy Eyes even better with these facts about what goes on behind the scenes of Litchfield Penitentiary.

1. COMPETITION FOR THE RIGHTS TO PIPER KERMAN'S MEMOIR WAS STIFF.

Jenji Kohan, who was already well-known for creating Weeds, read Piper Kerman's memoir and thought it would be perfect for a TV show adaptation. According to Kohan:

"I'm always looking for those places where you can slam really disparate people up against one another, and they have to deal with each other. There are very few crossroads anymore. We talk about this country as this big melting pot, but it's a mosaic. There's all these pieces, they're next to each other, they're not necessarily mixing. And I'm looking for those spaces where people actually do mix—and prison just happens to be a terrific one."

Kohan wasn’t the only one who wanted to adapt it. She had to call Kerman and “beg” her for the rights. Kerman was particularly impressed with Kohan’s devotion to telling the story properly as “she asked [her] question after question after question.”

2. KOHAN ALWAYS HAD BIG PLANS FOR THE SHOW'S OTHER CHARACTERS.

Kohan knew that Piper (played by Taylor Schilling) would appeal to network execs, but she wanted to go much deeper than that story. "In a lot of ways Piper was my Trojan Horse,” said Kohan. “You're not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it's a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially.”

3. THE REAL-LIFE ALEX VAUSE HAS SPOKEN OUT ABOUT WHAT REALLY WENT DOWN.

Catherine Wolters, the inspiration for Alex, has claimed that the show gets a lot wrong when it comes to Alex and Piper's relationship. The two had already been involved in the trafficking business long before they met each other, according to Wolters. She also said that their relationship definitely didn’t carry over to prison, where they only spent around five weeks in the same facility. But, Wolters admitted that making the show about their real relationship would be “so wretched and stinky, it would quite possibly result in a collapsed universe. So I guess it’s a good thing Piper and Jenji stick with the fun little tidbits.”

4. LAURA PREPON ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR PIPER.

Jennifer Euston, the show’s casting director, and Kohan agreed that Prepon was too composed and confident to play neurotic Piper. They didn’t believe that the audience would worry for her in the role. From then on, the two designed Alex around Prepon—including the character’s glasses and black hair.

5. UZO ADUBA WAS OFFERED THE ROLE OF "CRAZY EYES" ON THE SAME DAY SHE DECIDED TO QUIT ACTING.

Uzo Aduba also auditioned for a different role before she was offered the part of Crazy Eyes. The former Boston University sprinter (and marathonercame in and read for Janae Watson, the track star. Frustrated that she hadn't heard back, she decided to quit acting and go to law school instead. Little did she know that Kohan thought she’d be perfect for a different part: the very same day she "quit" acting, Aduba was offered the part of Crazy Eyes.

6. ADUBA TAPS INTO HER INNER CHILD TO PLAY CRAZY EYES.

In the first script, Aduba claimed that Crazy Eyes was described as “innocent like a child, except children aren’t scary.” She used that description to develop her character’s distinctive persona and mannerisms. As Aduba put it, “That felt like the key to the door that might open this character because someone who is innocent like a child, to me, meant somebody who operates out of impulse … who acts and then thinks. Children don’t have agendas. They’re not calculating.”

7. TARYN MANNING RESEARCHED DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS GROUPS TO PLAY PENNSATUCKY.

Taryn Manning watched a number of documentaries about religious groups, including Jesus Camp and The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. She also spent time studying YouTube videos of faith healing and other evangelist rituals.

8. KERMAN CONTINUES TO GIVE NOTES FOR THE SHOW.

Though they've deviated from the stories Kerman recounts in her memoir, Kohan still looks to her for advice. According to the showrunner, “She gives notes, mostly about accuracy. You know, ‘I don’t think that would happen.’ And she comes to set for visits, which must be strange for her. But she’s really kind of trusted us with her baby and we really, completely took off from where she started.”

9. THE WRITERS VISITED A REAL WOMEN'S PRISON.

Kohan and her writing staff paid a visit to California's Chino Prison. Kohan also spoke with the prison’s warden, who explained how social groups tend to form in both men's and women’s prisons. He told her that, generally speaking, women are more communal and seek out groups, rather than spend time alone.

10. REGINA SPEKTOR WROTE THE THEME SONG SPECIFICALLY FOR THE SHOW.

Regina Spektor and Kohan had already collaborated a couple of times. (Spektor did a cover of “Little Boxes” for the opening of an episode of Weeds.) Because of their solid working relationship, Kohan reached out to her and asked if she’d write the theme song for Orange Is the New Black. In order to write it, Spektor was sent a few unfinished episodes in the middle of filming season one. She has said that seeing the characters come to life helped her put together a finished version of the song.

11. THOSE ARE REAL FORMER PRISONERS IN THE OPENING CREDITS.

Kohan hired non-actresses to pose for the opening credit sequence—all of them formerly incarcerated women. In order to get the right facial expressions, the women were asked to visualize three things: “a peaceful place,” “a person who makes you laugh,” and finally, “something that you want to forget.”

12. THE COSTUME DESIGNER HAS TO GET CREATIVE.

Costume designer Jennifer Rogien has described the job of dressing the inmates as “a creative challenge.” She must use real prison uniforms—either orange or beige—without altering anything too dramatically, unless the alterations are things a prisoner could have done herself. Rogien has to rely on subtle touches that serve to set the characters apart, such as rolled sleeves or hems. Her time to really shine comes during the flashback scenes, set in various decades and places. Rogien sees those as an opportunity to not only define the characters, but to “highlight the contrast between the world inside and the world outside.”

13. THERE'S AN AMERICAN PIE REFERENCE IN THE PILOT.

Given that both Jason Biggs and Natasha Lyonne were in American Pie, the writers couldn’t resist sneaking in a reference or two. In the pilot, Biggs's Larry complains to Piper that he tells her everything: "The webcam horror, the penis shaving incident ...," which are both things that happened to his character, Jim, in the 1999 comedy. In a later episode, Lyonne’s Nicky tells Red, “I thought I was, like, your Spock.” This is a nod to Kate Mulgrew's stint playing Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.

14. LAVERNE COX'S BROTHER PLAYS SOPHIA PRE-TRANSITION.

Cox's twin brother, musician M. Lamar, stepped in to play a pre-transition Sophia in one episode. The casting director auditioned a ton of actors before she discovered that Cox even had a twin. "She insisted that he should audition for the role," Cox said. "He auditioned, and he got the part."

15. JODIE FOSTER HAS DIRECTED TWO EPISODES.

It was Jodie Foster who pursued the gig. After reading the book, she asked her agent if she could somehow get involved. The Oscar winner ended up directing the third episode in season one and the season two pilot.

16. THE CAST AND CREW LIKE WORKING ON A SHOW THEY KNOW PEOPLE WILL EVENTUALLY BINGE-WATCH.

The people behind Orange Is the New Black are well aware that you’re going to binge-watch their show, and they've even adapted their production process accordingly. For instance, Kohan doesn't worry as much about writing each character into every single episode because she knows that the audience doesn’t have to wait a full week for the next installment featuring their favorites.

From a professional standpoint, Schilling enjoys knowing that the audience is binge-watching her. "As an actor doing regular TV, if there's a really special scene you did, in like episode five or eight, this way the people are more likely to see it, rather than drop out after a month and miss it," she said. "It's more like theater in terms of immediacy and rapid response, and gratification for the actors."

17. LITCHFIELD IS A REAL PLACE—BUT ITS WOMEN'S PRISON IS NOT.

The show is set in Litchfield Penitentiary in upstate New York—however, there's no women's prison in the real Litchfield. (In real life, Kerman served her time at FCI Danbury in Danbury, Connecticut.)

18. LORRAINE TOUSSAINT HAD NO IDEA VEE WAS GOING TO BE SO EVIL.

Lorraine Toussaint didn’t meet Kohan until her very first day on set, when she decided to pick the showrunner's brain about Vee, inmate she was about to play. “I had some basic questions I needed answered so I could at least finish out that first day,” Toussaint later recalled. “Somewhere in the conversation was an ‘Oh, by the way, she’s a sociopath.’ I said, ‘Huh? Really? Um …’ and she said, ‘Oh, yes, a bona-fide, complete and absolute sociopath.’ I thought, Oh! I wish I had known that! I might have thought twice about this.”

19. FILMING VEE'S ATTACK ON RED WAS CHALLENGING.

The actresses in that scene have cited it as one of the most difficult to film. In order for the scene to work, Kate Mulgrew had to be harnessed to a heavy camera so that Toussaint could also be in the shot and get very close to her face. As Mulgrew explained, “You can easily be hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing, and this was perilously close.”

All images courtesy of Netflix.

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Flurry Road: 5 Tips for Safe Driving on Winter Roads
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For drivers in the Upper Midwest, traveling during the winter can range from slightly unsettling to deadly. Between 2011 and 2015, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Auto Insurance Center, an average of 800 fatalities occurred annually as a result of weather-related accidents. Icy roads, poor visibility, and other factors can make cold-weather commuting a dicey proposition.

While we can’t control the weather (yet), we can increase our odds of navigating slush-filled roadways successfully. Mental Floss spoke with American Automobile Association (AAA) driving education expert William Van Tassel, Ph.D., for some key tips on how to get your winter driving in gear.

1. GATHER SUPPLIES.

Before you even start your car up for a trip through inclement weather, Van Tassel recommends you pack a worst-case scenario trunk full of supplies. “In case of emergency, you want things on board like water, a blanket, a flashlight, gloves, and kitty litter,” he says. (That last one is for traction in case you get stuck in a snowbank.) You should also have road flares, a shovel, an ice scraper, and a fully-charged cell phone to call for assistance if needed.

2. SLOW DOWN.

Posted speed limit signs assume you’re driving on clear and clean roadways. If snow or ice has accumulated, you need to adjust your speed accordingly. “In slick conditions, tires lose a lot of traction,” Van Tassel says. “You should be cutting your speed down by half or more.” Unfortunately, a lot of people learn this the hard way. “After a snowstorm, we’ll see more crashes on day one than days two or three.”

Van Tassel also cautions to avoid becoming overconfident on snow tires. While they provide better traction in bad weather, it’s not license to speed up.

3. MAINTAIN A SAFE DISTANCE FROM OTHER CARS.

You should be doing this regardless, but bad weather makes it even more crucial. Keep your vehicle at a safe distance from cars behind, in front, and off to the sides, as well as away from pedestrians or cyclists. If you need to brake suddenly, you need time—and space—to avoid a collision. “You really want more space in front,” Van Tassel says. Try to stay between seven and 10 seconds behind the vehicle ahead. That means seeing a landmark and then counting down until you pass the same marker. If you’re only a few seconds behind, you’re too close.

4. DON’T STEER INTO SKIDS.

“That was an old rule of thumb,” Van Tassel says. “The problem is, by the time I remember to steer into a skid, I’m already in a ditch.” If you feel your vehicle sliding, it’s better to steer in the direction you want to go. “You’ll drive where you look, so don’t look at a telephone pole.”

To help maintain control of the car, you want to focus on doing one thing at a time. “If you’re going through a turn, brake, finish braking, then turn. Don’t brake and turn at the same time.”

5. KEEP YOUR HEADLIGHTS ON.

Yep, even in broad daylight. Bad weather limits visibility, and headlights allow both you and your fellow drivers to orient a vehicle. “You’re twice as visible to other drivers that way,” Van Tassel says. “When people can see you, they can avoid you.”

Van Tassel also recommends that drivers avoid relying on fancy car technology to keep them safe. While blind spot monitoring and lane changing sensors are useful, they’re not there so you can zone out. “The tech is there to back you up if you need it. Drive the car, but don’t rely on those things,” he says.

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25 Polite Compliments You Can Pay a Coworker
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January 24 is National Compliment Day, and a great way to celebrate is by making a concerted effort to praise the people you work with. Be sure to consider when an appropriate time and place for a compliment would be (for instance, shy people would rather be commended on their stellar presentation in private rather than in front of a crowd), but know that whether a coworker is a longtime friend or more of an acquaintance, lauding their work performance and letting them know you appreciate their skills could really make their day.

1. "YOU HAVE A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOR."

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Every office has one person who knows how to ease tensions at work by cracking a quick joke or sharing a funny link. If this person's sense of humor makes your job a little more enjoyable, make sure to let them know.

2. "NICE JOB ON THAT PRESENTATION."

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Public speaking is intimidating, especially to someone who's new to their job and not used to giving presentations. Notice your coworker is nervous before a big meeting? Seek them out afterwards. Letting them know you enjoyed and learned from what they said will hopefully make them feel more confident next time.

3. "YOU ALWAYS KNOW WHEN TO LEND A HAND."

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You probably know someone who's always willing to help out with a project when you need it most, and odds are they rarely receive the recognition they deserve. Next time a coworker offers some relief when you're feeling overwhelmed, don't let it go unnoticed. Set aside time to tell them you see the great work they're doing and you appreciate it.

4. "YOU'RE A SAVVY PROBLEM-SOLVER."

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Being able to see problems differently is a valuable skill in the workplace. It can open up a team to new ideas and save precious time and resources. Sometimes you may be the person to spot the way out of a problem, and other times it's a coworker who points out the solution that was right in front of your face. If you're grateful for their point of view, they deserve to hear it.

5. "YOU'RE A GREAT COMMUNICATOR."

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Without communication, collaborating with the people in your workplace would be impossible. A great communicator knows how to understand other people's perspectives, explain their own, and make sure they're never keeping anyone in the dark. They're also not above receiving a compliment every now and then.

6. "I LOVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM."

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For some people, getting up and going to work each day is easy: They're personally invested in the company they work for and enjoy helping it succeed. Maybe you're not there yet, but you might see this level of passion and enthusiasm in at least one person you work with. Don't let that inspiring attitude go unrecognized.

7. "I APPRECIATE YOUR TRUST."

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Effective management is just as much about offering guidance and support as knowing when to back off. Sometimes leaving employees room to breathe is the best thing managers can do to encourage growth and creativity. It's also a thankless move that often goes unrewarded. Expressing your appreciation to your manager can make a big difference in their day.

8. "WHAT A FUN PARTY (LUNCH/HAPPY HOUR/ETC.)."

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People take certain work events for granted without stopping to consider the employees who make them possible. Birthday cakes don't magically appear and after-work happy hours don't plan themselves. Behind every fun break you get from your day-to-day duties, there's a coworker who took the initiative to make it happen, and they would like to hear that you enjoyed the fruits of their labor.

9. "YOU'VE GOT A KILLER WORK ETHIC."

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We all wish we could be the employee who blows through projects without breaking a sweat. If you're not that person, the least you can do is pay the tireless person in your workplace a compliment—especially after a big project that had them tackling most of the work.

10. "YOUR POSITIVE ATTITUDE IS INFECTIOUS."

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Just like one pessimistic employee can bring down the whole office, a positive person can have the opposite effect. It's hard to feel grumpy about starting a new week when the colleague sitting next to you does everything with a smile on their face.

11. "YOU ASK GREAT QUESTIONS."

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Asking about something you're not familiar with at work can be intimidating, whether it's about a new policy or procedure or perhaps about the ins and outs of a department you don't usually work with. But asking for help or clarification is also the only way to learn and grow. Complimenting a coworker who asks a lot of questions lets them know that not only is that OK, it's valued.

12. "I LOVE YOUR IDEAS."

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When someone introduces a great idea at work, people often respond in one of two ways: They get upset that they didn't think of it themselves, or they admire the person for their brilliance. If you want to strengthen work relationships and feel better in the long run, we suggest expressing the latter.

13. "YOU'RE GREAT AT TAKING INITIATIVE."

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Employees who take initiative help businesses run smoothly. Managers don't have to worry about babysitting them, and their coworkers never end up picking up their slack. Next time you go into work, find the person you know who always takes initiative and compliment them for their efforts.

14. "YOU'RE VERY CREATIVE."

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Even if your job isn't particularly inspiring, you may have coworkers who find everyday opportunities to be creative. Their creativity might shine through in the form of a sharply designed flyer, a well-written memo, or an innovative solution to the problem at hand. Sometimes people who don't work in a traditionally artistic field are rarely complimented for their creativity—you can change that.

15. "I APPRECIATE YOU TAKING RESPONSIBILITY."

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Do you know someone at work who's taken responsibility—whether for a botched performance, a failed pitch, or a missed deadline—even when they could have gotten away with keeping quiet? That's not easy to do. Recognize their actions, and they may be inclined to do it more often.

16. "YOU'RE SO FLEXIBLE."

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Sure, you can promise your coworker this is the absolute last time you'll ask them to push a meeting back a couple of days or move up a deadline by a week. Or, you can compliment them on being so flexible and thank them for working around the changes so efficiently.

17. "I LOVE YOUR CONFIDENCE."

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Confidence in the workplace is hard to ignore. It radiates from everything a person does, and when you're working on a project with such a person, it can make you feel more confident as well. Let this employee know that you appreciate their poise and self-assuredness.

18. "I APPRECIATE HOW TECH-SAVVY YOU ARE."

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Who do you turn to when your screen freezes, or when the long email you spent the last 15 minutes crafting suddenly disappears? Likely, instead of running to I.T. every time, you ask a nearby coworker who always seems to have the answers. Even if they don't share their know-how for the praise, they deserve a compliment and gratitude.

19. "YOU'RE A GREAT BAKER."

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People who bake for their coworkers are a special breed. By sharing what they made with the office, it means that they not only took the time to cook with you in mind, but also that they're sharing a bit of their personal likes or hobbies with you. What better time to compliment the chef than when they bring platter of fresh cookies to the morning meeting?

20. "I ADMIRE YOUR LEADERSHIP."

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A good leader is many things, including fair, compassionate, and hard-working. But whatever qualities your manager exhibits that make you appreciate working for him or her, find a chance to let them know you commend their leadership, and that you're a better employee because of it.

21. "YOU HAVE A MIND FOR DETAIL."

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Details make a big difference at work, whether you're writing a big report or a thank you email. Sometimes the details that make the biggest impact on a project are hard to notice on their own. See if you can spot the smart, subtle details the next time you're evaluating your coworker's work, and tell them if you're impressed by what you find.

22. "YOU'RE ON MY WAVELENGTH."

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It may not always top lists of most valuable skills to take into the workplace, but empathy can do wonders for office culture. When team members practice empathy and really make an effort to understand the people they work with, they make everyone's job easier. This is one skill that definitely deserves recognition.

23. "THANKS FOR BEING SO RELIABLE."

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No matter what you do for work, it's impossible to do your job entirely on your own. Reliable coworkers you can depend on for support, guidance, and inspiration are a priceless resource. If they make the effort to show up and work hard consistently, the least you can do is show them you appreciate it.

24. "YOU'RE A REAL TEAM PLAYER."

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In order to succeed as a team, your colleagues need to have the right attitude. Maybe there's one person on your team who sets a good example for the rest of you: They know exactly when to step back and listen to other people's ideas and when to come forward with their own. Sometimes being a good team player means swallowing your pride to do what's best for the group, and that's behavior worth celebrating.

25. "YOU GIVE GREAT ADVICE."

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At some point in your career, you've likely relied on a more experienced coworker for advice. Without mentors, many of the world's most successful people wouldn't be where they are today. Never be ashamed to ask for guidance, and once you receive it, make sure to show your gratitude.

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