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16 Straightforward Facts About Sideways

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The Alexander Payne-directed Sideways followed two men in their forties taking a week-long trip to Santa Barbara, California. Ostensibly planned as an intimate bachelor party, soon-to-be-married Jack (Thomas Haden Church) and unsatisfied writer Miles (Paul Giamatti) end up getting romantically entangled with two women, which they complicate in both comedic and horrific self-destructive fashions. Here are some facts about the 2004 movie that are best paired with a wine that’s still evolving.

1. ALEXANDER PAYNE READ THE BOOK ON WHICH IT'S BASED ON A FLIGHT BACK FROM A FILM FESTIVAL.

The director was flying back from Edinburgh, where he had been at a film festival promoting Election, when he finally had a chance to read Rex Pickett’s book Sideways. As soon as he landed, Payne ran to a pay phone (this was 1999) to call his agent about purchasing the rights. He later told Pickett he liked his novel because his characters were “so f*cking pathetic.”

2. GEORGE CLOONEY WANTED TO PLAY JACK.

Payne and Clooney met to talk about the part, then Payne lost touch with the actor. Seven years later, Payne cast Clooney in The Descendants.

3. THOMAS HADEN CHURCH STRIPPED DOWN FOR HIS AUDITION.

The Wings star was the only actor to take off all his clothes in the audition. He assumed the other candidates reading the scene where Jack is naked also went full-frontal; he was later shocked to discover that wasn’t the case.

4. PAUL GIAMATTI KNEW NOTHING ABOUT WINE.

The actor admitted to faking every bit of wine knowledge, and not understanding why anybody would care about it. He also claims he was shocked that he was cast in a lead role and initially thought it was a practical joke.

5. THE ACTORS DRANK GRAPE JUICE. AT LEAST SOME OF THEM DID.

Church estimated that grape juice or non-alcoholic wine was what they consumed 95 percent of the time. Conversely, Giamatti claimed the actors drank real wine, and that he was actually very drunk after shooting a dinner scene.

6. MILES’ FAVORITE WINE WAS ORIGINALLY SOMETHING ELSE.

Payne and the producers were denied permission to use Chateau Petrus Pomerol, a rare (and very expensive) Merlot, as Miles’ favorite wine. Chateau Cheval Blanc was Miles' drink of choice instead; ironically, that too is a Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend.

7. MAYA’S WINE SPEECH IS PERSONAL TO PAYNE.

Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor wrote it based off of a passage from Pickett’s book, and based some of it on how the director himself feels about wine. However, he didn’t think the speech deserved as much praise as it received.

8. THE MALE LEADS GOT FOOD POISONING.

Giamatti and Church got sick after eating at Miles' mother’s house; at one point during filming, Church had a temperature of 104 degrees.

9. PAYNE DENIED RIPPING OFF LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.

A reporter asked Payne if Miles running down the grassy hill was purposely evoking the opening credits to Little House on the Prairie. It was actually borrowed, with permission, from the thesis film of one of Payne's former classmates.

10. CHURCH WAS NERVOUS ABOUT SHOOTING A LOVE SCENE WITH THE DIRECTOR’S WIFE.

Sandra Oh (Stephanie) was married to Payne at the time. Initially Church and Oh played the scene as if it was funny, before Payne made the two act more and more passionate with each successive take. Payne and Oh divorced two years later.

11. THE BIG NAKED MAN IS ONLY RECOGNIZED BY OTHER MEN.

M.C. Gainey played the husband of Cammi, a waitress Jack seduces ... but whose husband comes home early and chases a naked Jack out of the house. Later, it's Gainey who is doing the naked chasing. He once said, “Men recognize me from it, but I have yet to have a woman say, 'Weren't you in Sideways?’” Despite the “wonderful” experience, Gainey claimed it would be the final nude scene of his film career.

12. A SCENE WHERE MILES RUNS OVER A DOG WAS CUT.

It got the axe even though Giamatti’s facial expressions in the scene made it supposedly funnier than it sounded. Scenes where an agitated Jack calls his fiancée during his trip were also taken out.

13. PAYNE CHANGED THE ENDING OF THE BOOK BECAUSE IT WAS "TOO HOLLYWOOD."

In the book, Maya showed up at Jack’s wedding to say she sees Miles in a more positive light after reading his manuscript. After another few drafts, the soon-to-be Academy Award-winning script had the film ending with Maya’s message on Miles’ answering machine, then Miles knocking on her door.

14. PINOT NOIR SALES INCREASED AFTER THE MOVIE CAME OUT.

While Merlot sales were on the decline well before Miles professed his hatred of the varietal in the film, Pinot Noir sales increased by 16 percent in grocery stores throughout the United States after Giamatti’s character gave it a ringing endorsement.

15. IT WAS REMADE WITH JAPANESE ACTORS.

Saidoweizu was set in Napa Valley, and made with Payne’s permission but without his involvement. Paul Giamatti rejected an offer to make a cameo.

16. PAYNE ISN’T INTERESTED IN THE BOOK’S SEQUELS.

Miles and Jack traveled to Oregon with Miles’ mother in Rex Pickett’s 2011 sequel, Vertical. Pickett made Sandra Oh’s character into a lap dancer as a “little wave” to Payne, and wrote Stephanie (Terra in the books) out of Vertical entirely so Payne wouldn’t have to work with his ex-wife again. Pickett also wrote an ebook in 2015 titled Sideways 3 Chile, which found Miles traveling to South America.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

Buy on Amazon.

12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

Buy on Amazon.

14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

Buy on Amazon.

15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

Buy on Amazon.

16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

Buy on Amazon.

17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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