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Did Alan Turing Inspire the Apple Logo?

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In 1954, computer scientist and brilliant mathematician Alan Turing died after biting into an apple laced with cyanide—a real-life version of Snow White and the poison apple.

It’s long been assumed that it was suicide, perhaps because he was frustrated and overwhelmed by the chemical castration the British government forced upon him after he admitted to having a sexual relationship with a man, which was against the law at the time. Recently, some have speculated that Turing’s death-by-apple wasn’t necessarily intentional. He was known to be careless with his experiments, and accidentally inhaling cyanide or accidentally placing an apple in a cyanide puddle wouldn't have been outside of the realm of possibilities. Still another theory is that British Security Services considered Turing a high security risk because he was gay, and may have sabotaged him rather than risk that Turing would spill government secrets or defect and work for the enemy.

Whatever happened, the fact remains that a half-eaten apple was found by Turing’s bedside. Fast forward about two decades, to a few guys making personal computers in a garage. They had a name for their product and were now in need of a logo. The men were aware of Turing’s contributions to computers and coding, and decided to honor him and comment on his persecution by removing a single bite from the apple graphic they had picked to represent their company. And that’s how we got the iconic Apple logo on the back of all of our phones, computers, and iPods.

So the story goes, anyway. But as nice as it is, it simply isn't true, according to the designer who created the logo, Rob Janoff. “I’m afraid it didn’t have a thing to do with it,” he said in 2009. “It’s a wonderful urban legend.” Janoff says the single bite out of the Apple logo originally served a very practical purpose: scale. The size of the bite showed that the shape was an apple, not a cherry or any other vaguely round fruit. Other theories—that the logo references Eve biting into the forbidden fruit or Newton’s discovery of gravity—are also misguided.

If you’re curious about the multicolored stripes on early versions of the logo, there’s a very practical reason for those, too: “The Apple II was the first home or personal computer that could reproduce images on the monitor in color. So it represents color bars on the screen,” Janoff has explained.

But that’s not to say that the idea of paying homage to Turing is something the creators of Apple were against. When actor Stephen Fry once asked his good friend Steve Jobs if the famous logo was based on Turing, Jobs replied, “God, we wish it were.”

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

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
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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