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American Ninja Warrior / Facebook
American Ninja Warrior / Facebook

9 Fierce Facts About American Ninja Warrior

American Ninja Warrior / Facebook
American Ninja Warrior / Facebook

Now in its eighth season, American Ninja Warrior continues to challenge elite athletes with obstacle courses unlike any other—to the point that only two of the show’s competitors has ever successfully achieved "Total Victory" (both in season seven). Here are a few things you might not know about the series. May the best ninja warrior win.

1. THE SHOW DOESN’T HOLD CASTING CALLS.

Unlike other competition shows, American Ninja Warrior doesn’t hold traditional casting calls. Prospective contestants can send in a submission tape, then producers choose around 100 people to “run” in each of the cities they are visiting. If your tape doesn't get you one of those handpicked spots, there’s always a walk-on line. But you’ll need a different type of training for that. “The walk-on line is like waiting for Black Friday sales,” producer Brian Richardson told mental_floss. “You sleep in a tent for a week or more outside the course, with no guarantees. We usually only have time to run 20 to 30 people from the walk-on line. Sometimes people spend a week camping out and never get to run the course.”

2. THE COURSE IS EVEN MORE INTIMIDATING IN PERSON.

Richardson admits competitors are caught off-guard by how complicated the obstacles are when trying to run them in the flesh, as opposed to from the safety of their couch. “For most of our competitors, they've practiced on similar looking obstacles at home or at their gym,” he says. “But when they step up to compete—under the lights, in front of a crowd, with a camera in their face—it's a lot more intimidating.”

3. SMALL CHANGES CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE IN A COURSE.

While some of the obstacles on American Ninja Warrior come directly from Sasuke, the Japanese program upon which it is based, others are totally original to the stateside series and aren’t created overnight. “We work with the company that builds our obstacles, ATS, and brainstorm for months on ideas to test strength, balance, and agility,” explains Richardson. “It might start as a drawing on a napkin. Then we'll build a prototype and test it in the ATS warehouse. Ultimately, if it passes all the tests, then we will make it part of our course. Even when it's built on the course, we test it with athletes dozens and dozens of times to dial in the difficulty. Moving a rope six inches closer or farther away can make a world of difference.”

4. CERTAIN BODY TYPES MAY HAVE A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE.

Given the show’s title, you’d expect the competitors most likely to complete each course would be the big muscle guys with out-of-this-world strength, but that’s not always the case. “Typically, in most of the American sports, size and strength are a big advantage,” says American Ninja Warrior co-host Matt Iseman. “What we've seen in this, it's really strength‑to‑weight ratio. So the less weight you have to carry on the course, the better your strength does on that. I think we saw that last year with the biggest story, Kacy Catanzaro, who is five-feet tall [and] less than 100 pounds. No one thought she was strong enough, but the reality is she was so light—and she is incredibly strong—that she didn't have all this mass.”

5. NFL PLAYERS WANT IN ON THE ACTION.

Whether the leanest contestants have a competitive edge or not, co-host and former NFL player Akbar Gbajabiamila says pro football players often contact him to get on the course. “I get guys like NFL star quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers, telling me, ‘I love this show,’” he says. “I get guys like Charles Woodson texting me, like, ‘Man, this is amazing.’ Other guys texting me or tweeting me, saying, ‘Look, give me your number. I want to get on this obstacle course because I think I could do it.’”

6. NOT ALL COMPETITORS HAVE A CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH.

Since the start of the show, American Ninja Warrior has run some pretty inspiring competitors through their courses, like those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, and even recent open-heart surgery patients. “You don't have an excuse when you see how hard some of these competitors work and the adversity that they overcome,” says Iseman.

7. STAGE 4 WAS THE TOUGHEST OBSTACLE TO BUILD.

When asked about which obstacle was the toughest to build, Richardson says it's probably "Stage 4 in Las Vegas. It's four stories high, and with the way the desert winds blow in Vegas, it can be scary to be up at the top."

8. PRODUCERS ARE CHALLENGED BY THE NINJAS THEMSELVES.

Given that the show's producers are dealing with people who consider themselves ninja warriors, these contestants are stealthy, recreating obstacles at home to figure out the best way to work the course. Which means that producers must always remain one step ahead of their competitors. “Our best athletes train year-round for ANW now,” says Richardson. “There are gyms devoted to Ninja training that are popping up all over the country, so people have a lot more access to obstacles like the Warped Wall. We want to test them every year, so we have to keep creating obstacles that are fun, and challenging, and entertaining to watch at home.”

9. VIDEO SUBMISSIONS HAVE INCREASED 50-FOLD SINCE THE SHOW'S DEBUT.

In its first season, producers received tapes from 1000 American Ninja Warrior hopefuls. Last year, producers were slammed with approximately 50,000 videos of folks vying for a spot on the show.

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Food
How to Make Miles Davis’s Famous Chili Recipe
STF/AFP/Getty Images
STF/AFP/Getty Images

Miles Davis, who was born on May 26, 1926, was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 20th century, and changed the course of jazz music more times in his life than some people change their sheets. He was also pretty handy in the kitchen.

In his autobiography, Miles, Davis wrote that in the early 1960s, “I had gotten into cooking. I just loved food and hated going out to restaurants all the time, so I taught myself how to cook by reading books and practicing, just like you do on an instrument. I could cook most of the great French dishes—because I really liked French cooking—and all the black American dishes. But my favorite was a chili dish I called Miles's South Side Chicago Chili Mack. I served it with spaghetti, grated cheese, and oyster crackers."

Davis didn’t divulge what was in the dish or how to make it, but in 2007, Best Life magazine got the recipe from his first wife, Frances, who Davis said made it better than he did.

MILES'S SOUTH SIDE CHICAGO CHILIK MACK (SERVES 6)

1/4 lb. suet (beef fat)
1 large onion
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground veal
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt and pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin seed
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 can beef consommé
1 drop red wine vinegar
3 lb. spaghetti
parmesan cheese
oyster crackers
Heineken beer

1. Melt suet in large heavy pot until liquid fat is about an inch high. Remove solid pieces of suet from pot and discard.
2. In same pot, sauté onion.
3. Combine meats in bowl; season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin.
4. In another bowl, season kidney beans with salt and pepper.
5. Add meat to onions; sauté until brown.
6. Add kidney beans, consommé, and vinegar; simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
7. Add more seasonings to taste, if desired.
8. Cook spaghetti according to package directions, and then divide among six plates.
9. Spoon meat mixture over each plate of spaghetti.
10. Top with Parmesan and serve oyster crackers on the side.
11. Open a Heineken.

John Szwed’s biography of Davis, So What, mentions another chili that the trumpeter’s father taught him how to make. The book includes the ingredients, but no instructions, save for serving it over pasta. Like a jazz musician, you’ll have to improvise. 

bacon grease
3 large cloves of garlic
1 green, 1 red pepper
2 pounds ground lean chuck
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 jar of mustard
1/2 shot glass of vinegar
2 teaspoons of chili powder
dashes of salt and pepper
pinto or kidney beans
1 can of tomatoes
1 can of beef broth

serve over linguine

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entertainment
4 Fascinating Facts About John Wayne
Fox Photos, Getty Images
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Most people know John Wayne, who would have been 111 years old today, for his cowboy persona. But there was much more to the Duke than that famous swagger. Here are a few facts about Duke that might surprise you.

1. A BODY SURFING ACCIDENT CHANGED HIS CAREER. 

John Wayne, surfer? Yep—and if he hadn’t spent a lot of time doing it, he may never have become the legend he did. Like many USC students, Wayne (then known as Marion Morrison) spent a good deal of his extracurricular time in the ocean. After he sustained a serious shoulder injury while bodysurfing, Morrison lost his place on the football team. He also lost the football scholarship that had landed him a spot at USC in the first place. Unable to pay his fraternity for room and board, Morrison quit school and, with the help of his former football coach, found a job as the prop guy at Fox Studios in 1927. It didn’t take long for someone to realize that Morrison belonged in front of a camera; he had his first leading role in The Big Trail in 1930.

2. HE TOOK HIS NICKNAME FROM HIS BELOVED FAMILY POOCH. 

Marion Morrison had never been fond of his feminine-sounding name. He was often given a hard time about it growing up, so to combat that, he gave himself a nickname: Duke. It was his dog’s name. Morrison was so fond of his family’s Airedale Terrier when he was younger that the family took to calling the dog “Big Duke” and Marion “Little Duke,” which he quite liked. But when he was starting his Hollywood career, movie execs decided that “Duke Morrison” sounded like a stuntman, not a leading man. The head of Fox Studios was a fan of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne, so Morrison’s new surname was quickly settled. After testing out various first names for compatibility, the group decided that “John” had a nice symmetry to it, and so John Wayne was born. Still, the man himself always preferred his original nickname. “The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me,” he once said. “I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne.”

3. HE WAS A CHESS FANATIC. 

Anyone who knew John Wayne personally knew what an avid chess player he was. He often brought a miniature board with him so he could play between scenes on set.

When Wayne accompanied his third wife, Pilar Pallete, while she played in amateur tennis tournaments, officials would stock a trailer with booze and a chess set for him. The star would hang a sign outside of the trailer that said, “Do you want to play chess with John Wayne?” and then happily spend the day drinking and trouncing his fans—for Wayne wasn’t just a fan of chess, he was good at chess. It’s said that Jimmy Grant, Wayne’s favorite screenwriter, played chess with the Duke for more than 20 years without ever winning a single match.

Other famous chess partners included Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum. During their match, Mitchum reportedly caught him cheating. Wayne's reply: "I was wondering when you were going to say something. Set 'em up, we'll play again."

4. HE COINED THE TERM "THE BIG C."

If you say you know someone battling “The Big C” these days, everyone immediately knows what you’re referring to. But no one called it that before Wayne came up with the term, evidently trying to make it less scary. Worried that Hollywood would stop hiring him if they knew how sick he was with lung cancer in the early 1960s, Wayne called a press conference in his living room shortly after an operation that removed a rib and half of one lung. “They told me to withhold my cancer operation from the public because it would hurt my image,” he told reporters. “Isn’t there a good image in John Wayne beating cancer? Sure, I licked the Big C.”

Wayne's daughter, Aissa Wayne, later said that the 1964 press conference was the one and only time she heard her father call it “cancer,” even when he developed cancer again, this time in his stomach, 15 years later. Sadly, Wayne lost his second battle with the Big C and died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72.

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