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17 Simpsons Cultural References Explained for Younger Viewers

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The Simpsons is great for a whole slew of reasons, not least because of the near-perfect satire it's produced throughout (most of) its nearly three decades on air. Any given episode of The Simpsons is a bombardment of cultural references, some more arcane than others. The show has been on since 1989, and allusions that were once obvious may now be opaque for younger fans who are catching up via re-runs.

These 17 favorites have been hand-picked for no real reason beyond the fact that they're favorites. There are thousands more, but this should be a fun place to start.

We're sure many of these are obvious for die-hard fans who have been watching since the late '80s, and we congratulate you. Feel free to brag in the comments, Genius at Work, or take that time to find out why, in episode 2F09 when Itchy plays Scratchy's skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes the same rib twice in succession but produces two clearly different tones.

1. Billy Beer.

Homer excitedly drinks this beer in two separate episodes. In season three’s “The Otto Show,” he finds a can in his old “concert jacket” and chugs it, and in season nine’s “Lisa the Skeptic,” Homer gulps down an old can and says, “We elected the wrong Carter.”

Billy Beer was named after and endorsed by Jimmy Carter’s younger brother, Billy. This hard-drinking, down-home first sibling owned a gas station in Plains, Georgia and became a cause celebre (and a bit of a liability) during his brother’s presidential campaign.

In 1977, the failing Falls City Brewing Company wanted to capitalize on his fame, so they approached Billy Carter and offered to partner with him to sell a beer that bore his name. At first, Billy Beer flew off the shelves, but its skunky taste and Billy’s proclivity to get hammered at promotional events and admit that he still drank PBR hurt the brand, and Falls City Brewing Company closed for good in 1978.

You can still find unopened cans of Billy Beer on eBay, but check your concert jacket first.

2. Ayatollah Assaholla.

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In season seven’s “Two Bad Neighbors,” Homer looks through the attic to find things to sell at Evergreen Terrace's street sale. Marge urges him to part with his “Ayatollah Assaholla” shirt, saying, “Can we get rid of this Ayatollah T-shirt? Khomeini died years ago,” to which Homer replies, “But Marge, it works on any Ayatollah! Ayatollah Nakhbadeh, Ayatollah Zahedi... Even as we speak, Ayatollah Razmara and his cadre of fanatics are consolidating their power.”

Khomeini became Ayatollah after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and supported the hostage crisis in which 52 U.S. citizens were held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days. In America, ticked-off citizens expressed their hatred for Khomeini in many ways, including T-shirt designs (although “Ayatollah Assaholla” looks to be a Simpsons original).

Many point to Jimmy Carter’s inability to resolve this crisis as the reason his re-election bid failed. Well, that and Billy Beer.

3. "A Young Joe Piscopo."

Narrating a flashback in season four’s “Lisa’s First Word,” Marge takes us to "the unforgettable spring of 1983” when “a young Joe Piscopo taught us how to laugh.”

In 1980, SNL creator Lorne Michaels left the show and ratings plummeted due to an unpopular cast. Two standouts, however, were Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo, and their talent carried Saturday Night Live through its lowest years. In 1984, Piscopo was at the peak of his fame and decided to leave the show to pursue greener pastures. His career never recovered, but he did manage to appear on a couple bodybuilding magazine covers.

4. "Just ask Claus von Bulow."

In season five’s “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” Bart witnesses an accident that results in Mayor Quimby’s nephew being wrongfully accused of assaulting a waiter. After the mayor clumsily tries to rig the trial, Bart explains, “the system works. Just ask Claus von Bülow."

Claus von Bülow is a wealthy socialite who was accused of trying to murder his wife in 1980 by administering an insulin overdose. He was convicted of murder in 1982 but appealed the ruling and earned a second trial where his high-powered defense team managed to get that original conviction reversed.

5. The Toilet Where Lupe Velez Drowned.

While giving the Simpsons a tour of Springfield’s gossipy landmarks in season eight’s “Homer’s Phobia,” new friend John (voiced by John Waters) points out the plumbing supply store where Lupe Velez “bought the toilet she drowned in."

Velez was a Mexican actress who killed herself in 1944 by swallowing 75 sleeping pills. An urban legend propagated by a 1959 book about Hollywood states Velez’s initial suicide attempt failed when she became sick, so she stumbled to the bathroom to vomit and, as the rumor goes, plunged her head into the toilet and drowned. While proven categorically untrue, the story is still often retold as if it were fact.

6. Gerald Ford’s Clumsiness.

In “Two Bad Neighbors,” Homer and Bart clash with their straight-laced new neighbor, George H.W. Bush. After Bush moves out, Gerald Ford replaces him, and he and Homer get along swimmingly, their bond highlighted when they trip in unison while walking to get nachos.

Even though he was an accomplished athlete at the University of Michigan, Gerald Ford’s presidential term was full of highly publicized examples of physical ineptitude. He fell on a ski slope, hit his head on a train’s door frame after a speech, and, most famously, slipped down the slick stairs of Air Force One in Austria.

7. “It's you! You're him! You're Tony Randall!”

In season ten’s “Maximum Homerdrive,” the family dines at a steakhouse that features a promotion where you can eat for free if you finish “Sir Loin-a-Lot,” a 16-pound steak “the size of a boogie board." On the restaurant’s wall of fame, only two men are listed as having successfully taken down Sir Loin-a-Lot: Tony Randall and trucker Red Barclay, who Homer challenges to an eating contest (after mistaking him for the tuxedo-wearing Randall).

Tony Randall was a stage and screen actor, most famous for his role as the persnickety Felix Unger in The Odd Couple. The svelte Randall is an unlikely Sir Loin-a-Lot conqueror, but you can’t argue with the wall of fame.

8. "I Ordered a Zima, Not Emphysema."

Actor Troy McClure and Marge’s sister Selma become an unlikely couple in season seven’s “A Fish Called Selma.” When the two have dinner at a swanky restaurant, Selma smokes a cigarette, which causes a commotion and prompts a yuppie diner at the next table to say, “Excuse me, I ordered a Zima, not emphysema.”

In 1993, Coors introduced Zima, a “clearmalt” beverage meant to compete with wine coolers in the non-beer market. Zima didn't catch on, as it was perceived to be a gimmicky, effeminate drink—one that would frequently be ordered in establishments that “don’t serve contemporary California cuisine in your lungs.”

9. The Twirl King Yo-Yo Champions.

At the start of season three’s “Bart the Lover,” the Twirl King Yo-Yo Champions perform during a Springfield Elementary assembly and spark a yo-yo craze at the school.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s (primarily), yo-yo companies like Duncan would send one or more skilled “yo-yo professionals” on school tours to perform for students and drum up excitement for their product. If any questions about the academic value of these performances arose, they could always say “check out this centripetal force” while performing an around the world.

10. Laramie Slims.

In “Homer’s Phobia,” Homer tries to “cure” Bart of his supposed homosexuality by making him stare at a billboard for Laramie Slims that features two women smoking and having a pillow fight. When Homer returns, Bart asks him for a cigarette. Excited that his plan may be working, Homer asks Bart what kind of cigarette he wants, to which he replies, “anything slim,” thoroughly disappointing his father.

Laramie was an actual American cigarette company that went out of business in the 1950s, and the brand serves as The Simpsons' catchall device to lampoon the tobacco industry. Their Menthol Moose is a parody of Joe Camel, and Laramie Slims are a takeoff of Virginia Slims, a type of cigarette that was marketed to lure female smokers.

11. Red Tick Beer.

When Homer wants to depart from his usual Duff in season eight’s “The Springfield Files,” he orders a Red Tick Beer (slogan: “Suck One Dry”) at Moe’s Tavern. After Homer wonders what tastes different about it, there is a cutscene to the Red Tick brewery where dogs swim around in the beer.

Red Tick is an overt parody of Red Dog, a beer made by Miller that featured an English bulldog on its label. Red Dog was introduced in the mid-nineties and faded into obscurity before the decade was over.

12. "Don't Look at Me, I'm on Sugar Busters."

When Homer produces a tobacco/tomato hybrid—“tomacco”—in season 11’s “E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt),” executives of the aforementioned Laramie Cigarette Company steal his secret formula. As they helicopter away from Homer’s farm, a sheep mutated by the plutonium Homer used to make the tomacco sneaks onboard. When the pilot says, “We seem to be carrying a little extra weight,” one of the executives responds, “Don’t look at me, I’m on Sugar Busters.”

Sugar Busters was a self-published diet book from the mid-nineties that was re-released by a larger publishing house and skyrocketed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list in 2001. The weight-loss plan in Sugar Busters! Cut Sugar to Trim Fat is pretty self-explanatory.

13. Hooray for Everything.

In season two’s “Bart vs. Thanksgiving,” Homer listens to a football game on the radio, and a cheery group of youngsters called Hooray for Everything perform a “salute to the greatest hemisphere on earth…the western hemisphere!” during halftime. In “Selma’s Choice” from the following season, Hooray for Everything is seen at Duff Gardens performing a kids’ version of “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” with the lyrics, “And all the races sing, doo bee doo, shoo bee doo bee doo!”

Hooray for Everything makes fun of Up With People, a traveling singing group that rose to fame in the 1970s. The troupe sprouted from the Moral Re-Armament movement, and its members sang cheesy songs about love and happiness with smiles plastered on their faces. Amazingly, Up With People performed at four separate Super Bowl halftime shows. (Their "Salute to the Big Band Era" from Super Bowl XIV is above.)

14. I & S Productions Logo

In season four’s “The Front,” Lisa and Bart submit an Itchy & Scratchy script using Grampa Simpson’s name. At the end of an Itchy & Scratchy episode, there’s an involved sequence where Scratchy pulls a sheet of paper from a typewriter and throws it in the air, forming an “I & S Productions” logo.

That sequence is a faithful recreation of the Stephen J. Cannell Productions logo bumper that came at the end of television shows like The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Hardcastle and McCormick, and many others.

15. Dolph’s Apple Newton

At a school assembly during season six’s “Lisa on Ice,” Kearney tells fellow bully Dolph to take a memo to beat up Martin on his Apple Newton. When Dolph writes “Beat up Martin” with the device’s stylus, it changes to “Eat up Martha,” so Kearney just hurls the Newton at Martin’s head.

Apple released the Newton in 1993 during a period of time when Steve Jobs was not with the company. The overpriced handheld computer proved to be a massive flop, and its lousy handwriting recognition software was just one of the reasons for its failure.

Years later, Apple's iPhone development team used the Simpsons reference as a mantra to get their keyboard perfect. "In the hallways and while we were talking about the keyboard, you would always hear the words 'Eat Up Martha,'" Apple engineer Nitin Ganatra told FastCo. "If you heard people talking and they used the words 'Eat Up Martha,' it was basically a reference to the fact that we needed to nail the keyboard. We needed to make sure the text input works on this thing, otherwise, 'Here comes the Eat Up Marthas.'"

16. "Remember ALF? He’s back...in POG form!”

Comic Book Guy is shown as a buyer and seller of Pogs in at least two episodes. When Bart wins $500 after suing Krusty the Clown in season six’s “‘Round Springfield,” Bart thinks about buying the “Steve Allen Ultimate Pog” from Android’s Dungeon. Also, when Bart sells his soul in season seven, he writes “Bart Simpson’s Soul” on a piece of paper and trades it to Milhouse for $5. When Bart seeks to get this back from his best friend, Milhouse tells him he traded it to Comic Book Guy for some ALF Pogs.

Pogs were part of a popular game in the 1990s. In it, players would stack cardboard discs (“Pogs”) and then hit with a heavier disc (a “slammer”), which would cause the Pogs to scatter. POG is a fruit drink that's popular in Hawaii, and it’s name is an acronym meaning passionfruit, orange, and guava. The original Pogs were caps from actual POG bottles.

And, while we’re at it, ALF was a popular TV show about an alien who lives with a suburban family (ALF means “Alien Life Form”), and Steve Allen was Steve Allen, former host of The Tonight Show, The Steve Allen Show, I’ve Got a Secret, What's My Line, and more.

17. Ravi Shankar

In season six's "Bart of Darkness," Bart breaks his leg and has to spend summer inside. The Krusty the Clown Show episode he watches is a re-run from the 1970s, and the special guest is Ravi Shankar, who plays "what you've been waiting for, another long raga."

Shankar was an Indian sitar player who famously inspired George Harrison's love of the instrument and taught him how to play it in 1966. The Krusty appearance is most likely inspired by the above clip from a 1971 episode of The Dick Cavett Show.

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8 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 3
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[Warning: There are lots of Stranger Things season two spoilers ahead.]

Stranger Things season two is in the books, and like we all hoped, it turned out to be a worthy follow-up to an addictive debut season. Now, though, we’re left with plenty of questions, mysteries, and theories to chew on as the wait for a third season begins. But for everything we don’t know about what the next year of Stranger Things will bring us (such as an actual release date), there are more than enough things we do know to keep those fan theories coming well into 2018. While the show hasn't been officially greenlit for a third season by Netflix yet, new details have already begun to trickle out. Here’s everything we know about Stranger Things season three so far.

1. THERE WILL BE ANOTHER TIME JUMP.

The third season of Stranger Things won’t pick up right where the second one left off. Like the show experienced between the first two seasons, there will be a time jump between seasons two and three as well. The reason is simple: the child actors are all growing up, and instead of having the kids look noticeably older without explanation for year three, the Duffer Brothers told The Hollywood Reporter:

“Our kids are aging. We can only write and produce the show so fast. They're going to be almost a year older by the time we start shooting season three. It provides certain challenges. You can't start right after season two ended. It forces you to do a time jump. But what I like is that it makes you evolve the show. It forces the show to evolve and change, because the kids are changing.”

2. THE IDEA IS TO BE SMALLER IN SCALE.

If the series’s second season was about expanding the Stranger Things mythology, the third season won't go bigger just for the sake of it, with the brothers even going so far as to say that it will be a more intimate story.

“It’s not necessarily going to be bigger in scale,” Matt Duffer said in an interview with IndieWire. “What I am really excited about is giving these characters an interesting journey to go on.”

Ross Duffer did stress, though, that as of early November, season three is basically “… Matt and me working with some writers and figuring out where it’s going to go.”

3. THE MIND FLAYER WILL BE BACK.

The second season ended on a bit of a foreboding note when it was revealed that the Mind Flayer was still in the Upside Down and was seen looming over the Hawkins school as the winter dance was going on. Though we know there will be a time jump at the start of next season, it’s clear that the monster will still have a big presence on the show.

Executive producer Dan Cohen told TV Guide: "There were other ways we could have ended beyond that, but I think that was a very strong, lyrical ending, and it really lets us decide to focus where we ultimately are going to want to go as we dive into Season 3."

What does the Mind Flayer’s presence mean for the new crop of episodes? Well, there will be plenty of fan theories to ponder between now and the season three premiere (whenever that may be).

4. PLENTY OF LEFTOVER SEASON TWO STORYLINES WILL BE IN SEASON THREE.

The Duffer Brothers had a lot of material for the latest season of the show—probably a bit too much. Talking to Vulture, Matt Duffer detailed a few details and plot points that had to be pushed to season three:

"Billy was supposed to have a bigger role. We ended up having so many characters it ended up, in a way, more teed up for season three than anything. There was a whole teen supernatural story line that just got booted because it was just too cluttered, you know? A lot of that’s just getting kicked into season three."

The good news is that he also told the site that this wealth of cut material could make the writing process for the third season much quicker.

5. THERE WILL BE MORE ERICA.

Stranger Things already had a roster of fan-favorite characters heading into season two, but newcomer Erica, Lucas’s little sister, may have overshadowed them all. Played by 11-year-old Priah Ferguson, Erica is equal parts expressive, snarky, and charismatic. And the Duffer Brothers couldn’t agree more, saying that there will be much more Erica next season.

“There will definitely be more Erica in Season 3,” Ross Duffer told Yahoo!. “That is the fun thing about the show—you discover stuff as you’re filming. We were able to integrate more of her in, but not as much you want because the story [was] already going. ‘We got to use more Erica’—that was one of the first things we said in the writers’ room.”

“I thought she’s very GIF-able, if that’s a word,” Matt Duffer added. “She was great.”

6. EXPECT KALI TO RETURN.

The season two episode “The Lost Sister” was a bit of an outlier for the series. It’s a standalone episode that focuses solely on the character Eleven, leaving the central plot and main cast of Hawkins behind. As well-received as Stranger Things season two was, this episode was a near-unanimous miss among fans and critics.

The episode did, however, introduce us to the character of Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), who has the ability to manipulate people’s minds with illusions she creates. Despite the reaction, the Duffers felt the episode was vital to Eleven’s development, and that Kali won’t be forgotten moving forward.

“It feels weird to me that we wouldn’t solve [Kali’s] storyline. I would say chances are very high she comes back,” Matt Duffer said at the Vulture Festival.

7. OTHER "NUMBERS" MIGHT SHOW UP.

We're already well acquainted with Eleven, and season two introduced us to Eight (a.k.a. Kali), and executive producer Shawn Levy heavily hinted to E! that there are probably more Hawkins Laboratory experiments on the horizon.

"I think we've clearly implied there are other numbers, and I can't imagine that the world will only ever know Eleven and Eight," Levy said.

8. THERE MIGHT NOT BE MANY SEASONS LEFT.

Don’t be in too much of a rush to find out everything about the next season of Stranger Things; there might not be many more left. The Duffer Brothers have said in the past that the plan is to do four seasons and end it. However, Levy gave fans a glimmer of hope that things may go on a little while longer—just by a bit, though.

“Hearts were heard breaking in Netflix headquarters when the Brothers made four seasons sound like an official end, and I was suddenly getting phone calls from our actors’ agents,” Levy told Entertainment Weekly. “The truth is we’re definitely going four seasons and there’s very much the possibility of a fifth. Beyond that, it becomes I think very unlikely.”

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A Speedy History of the Hess Truck
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Hess Corporation

Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.

The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.

Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.

The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.

The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.

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