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24 Things You Should Know About Las Vegas (and the Nearby Strip)

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What happens in Vegas … well, you know the rest. But here are 24 facts about Sin City you likely haven’t heard. 

1. Most of Vegas’ iconic hotels aren’t technically located in the city of Las Vegas. A good portion of the Las Vegas Strip —and the famed “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign—are actually located in an unincorporated township called Paradise, Nevada. 

2. One attraction that is within Las Vegas city limits: Vegas Vic, the oversized neon cowboy that presides over downtown’s famed Fremont Street. It’s the largest mechanical neon sign in the world.

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3.
More than 41 million visitors cycle through Sin City each year …

4. … So it's a good thing the town boasts 14 of the world’s 20 biggest hotels.

5. There's so much real estate for tourists to take advantage of, it would take a person 288 years to spend a night in every hotel room in the city.

6. There’s a secret city underneath the city. Miles of tunnels—originally built to protect the desert town from flash floods—house hundreds of homeless residents.

7. The strip’s Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino got its name from founder—and legendary mobster—Bugsy Siegel’s girlfriend. Actress Virginia Hill went by the nickname “The Flamingo” because of her red hair and long, thin legs.

8. In the mid-20th century, Las Vegas possessed its own set of discriminatory Jim Crow laws, which—with the exception of low-wage service jobs—kept African Americans out of the growing city's hotels and casinos. Even legendary performers like Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole were forced to enter and exit the venues in which they were performing through back doors and side entryways. In 1952, acting legend Sammy Davis Jr. took a dip in the whites-only swimming pool at the New Frontier Hotel & Casino. Afterwards, the manager had it drained.

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9.
In May 1955, the Moulin Rouge made history when it became the city's first interracial casino. Legendary boxer Joe Louis, a part owner, declared, “This isn’t the opening of a Las Vegas hotel. It’s history."

10. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Las Vegas was known for putting on a different type of show. At the Nevada Test Site, just 65 miles northwest of the city, the U.S. Department of Energy would test nuclear devices. Las Vegas’ Chamber of Commerce saw a moneymaking opportunity, and decided to distribute calendars advertising detonation times and choice viewing locations.

11. Legendary recluse Howard Hughes checked into the strip’s Desert Inn on Thanksgiving Day 1966, renting the entire top two floors. When he overstayed his 10-day reservation, he was asked to leave. Instead, he started negotiations to buy the 715-room spot. His purchase was complete three months later.

12. FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith saved the delivery company with a trip to Vegas. In 1974—three years after he created the company—the Yale grad took the venture's last $5,000 and turned it into $32,000 with a weekend of blackjack. His, er, gamble gave the company enough money to stay afloat.

13. Do not disturb: Vegas has more unlisted phone numbers than any other city in the United States.

14. Reason to hope? Nevada law states that video slot machines must pay back a minimum of 75 percent of the money deposited on average. (Though it’s worth noting that in New Jersey, home to gambling mecca Atlantic City, it’s 83 percent.)

15. It takes roughly 10 minutes to nab a marriage license at the bureau in downtown Las Vegas, which is open every day from 8 a.m. until midnight. No wonder some 10,000 couples wed in the city each month.

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16.
Let them eat … shrimp cocktails? More than 60,000 pounds of the shellfish are consumed in the city each day. That’s higher than the rest of the country—combined.

17. The half-scale model of the Eiffel Tower, located outside Paris Las Vegas, was originally planned to be full-size, but due to the close proximity of the airport—just three miles—it had to be shrunk down. In contrast, the Luxor Las Vegas’ Sphinx is actually larger than the original Great Sphinx of Giza.

18. At 50 tons, the bronze lion outside the MGM Grand Hotel is believed to be the largest bronze sculpture in the western hemisphere.

19. The distinctive gold color of the windows at the Mirage Hotel comes from actual gold dust.

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20
. There are 3933 guest rooms at Bellagio Las Vegas—more than the number of residents in the city of Bellagio, Italy. 

21. Not into casinos? The city also features a heavy equipment playground where construction enthusiasts can drive around bulldozers for fun.

22. Before his death in 2009, Michael Jackson was looking into doing a Vegas residency. He planned to advertise it with a 50-foot robot-likeness of himself that would roam the Nevada desert.

23. At Vegas diner Heart Attack Grill, waitresses dress in nurses garb and patrons can order an 8000-calorie quadruple bypass burger with a side of flatliner fries. (Fried in pure lard!) Unfortunately, in 2013, one of the spot's regular patrons passed away … from an apparent heart attack.

24. From outer space, the Las Vegas Strip appears as the brightest spot on Earth. Who cares if it’s not actually in Las Vegas?

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Neighborhoods
How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names
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Inhabited by native people for thousands of years and colonized by white settlers in the 1860s, Phoenix has developed a booming economy based around “the Five Cs”: cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper. It's grown from a once-dusty desert town to the state capital, as well as the nation's fifth-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million and counting. Here’s the story of how eight of the city's neighborhoods ended up with their current names.

1. ALHAMBRA

Best known as the founder of Glendale, Arizona, William John Murphy was a pioneer, contractor, and the impresario of the Arizona Improvement Company, created in 1887 to sell land and water rights south of the Arizona Canal. Murphy also greatly contributed to the early development of Scottsdale and Phoenix, and he was responsible for splitting a large chunk of his land along the western border of Phoenix, next to Glendale, into smaller subdivisions [PDF]. He also came up with the subdivision's names; Alhambra stemmed from the 13th-century palace and fortress of the same name in Granada, Spain. Today, the neighborhood is known for large homes and its Murphy Bridle Path, named after its former landowner.

2. AHWATUKEE

The word Ahwatukee—an “urban village” in the East Valley region of Phoenix—has roots in the Crow language, but theories about its translation differ. Before it was a village, the name referred to a single estate built in 1920 that sat at the modern-day streets of Sequoia Trails and Appaloosa Drive. The original builder, William Ames, first named it Casa de Sueños ("house of dreams"), but he died three months after moving in. His widow, Virginia Ames, owned the house until her death in 1932, and it was eventually sold to a rich Midwesterner named Helen Brinton, who had an interest in the Crow tribe. Her attempt to translate “house of dreams” into Crow was Ahwatukee, but the tribe says there’s no such word in their language. The name caught on regardless, being used to refer to the house as well as the area that developed around it.

3. SUNNYSLOPE

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Southwest was a place where sick people would travel from all across the U.S. to recuperate from pulmonary illnesses—especially pulmonary tuberculosis. The hot, arid climate was thought to dry out one's lungs, while the year-round sunshine was believed to have healing properties in general. In the early 20th century, Sunnyslope—and Sunnyslope Mountain, marked by a 150-foot-tall white S near its peak—became known as an area where ill people could get well. California architect William Norton built a subdivision in the area in 1911, and it was his daughter who came up with the name Sunnyslope after admiring the sun glinting off the slope of the mountain.

4. F. Q. STORY HISTORIC DISTRICT

The F.Q. Story district is named after Francis Quarles Story, who purchased the land it’s on back in 1887. Formerly a wool merchant, Story moved to Los Angeles County for health reasons and became a citrus farmer before investing in land in Arizona’s Salt River Valley and promoting agricultural development there. He never lived in Phoenix, but he did have a hand in the development of its major thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, as well as its subsequent streetcar line. The F.Q. Story neighborhood was built as a “streetcar suburb,” with newspaper ads in 1920 calling the grand opening "one of the big real estate events of the season." (Unfortunately, a flood at nearby Cave Creek caused a temporary halt in construction the following year, but the area rebounded after a dam was constructed in 1923.)

5. WILLO

Willo started out as a planned community, an idyllic suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, although today it lies near downtown. A man named J. P. Holcomb acquired the southern part of the neighborhood in 1878 and then the northern part in 1886, using the land mostly for farming for the next 20 years. In the early 1900s, several homes were built on long, narrow lots, and 41 more were added in the '20s, but the area was still isolated from the city and it was difficult to attract buyers. Developers decided it needed a snappy name, and came up with Willonot from the willow tree, but from combining the two nearest voting districts: Wilshire and Los Olivos.

6. LAVEEN

As early as 1884, Mexican and Mormon settlers were living in what’s now called Laveen Village, in the Southwestern part of Phoenix. The school district was called the Harovitz District, but the community itself had no name for more than 30 years, until Roger Laveen was appointed as its first postmaster in 1913 [PDF]. The post office was located in the back of Laveen’s brother's new general store, which became a cornerstone of the town. Roger only worked in the post office for about two years, although both brothers continued living in the area that now bears their name for decades more.

7. MEDLOCK PLACE

Medlock Place was named after prominent residential developer Floyd W. Medlock, who created the community in 1926 with the idea of giving it a rural aesthetic despite being only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The precocious Medlock—he was only in his early 20s—planned palm tree-lined roads in the new community and sold pre-built houses, a ground-breaking move in 1920s Phoenix. (In an ad, Medlock called his community "the Subdivision Extraordinary.") For his subsequent South Medlock Place addition, he began selling vacant lots instead, with buyers permitted to hire their own builders.

8. ARCADIA

Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain and one of the wealthiest areas of Phoenix, Arcadia started out like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods: as citrus orchards. The first grove was planted in 1899, and by 1920, the foothills were covered in citrus trees—thanks in large part to the Arcadia Water Company, which set up a widespread irrigation system starting in 1919. Soon, farmers and developers began investing in the region and building homes. The neighborhood took its name from the water company, which in turn got its name from Greek mythology: Arcadia was where Pan, the goat god, originated—a region supposedly named for its king, Arcas, the hunter. The association with nature is still apt, since fruit trees abound in the neighborhood even today.

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Big Questions
Why is New York City Called The Big Apple?
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New York City has been called many things—“The Great American Melting Pot,” “Gotham,” “The City that Never Sleeps”—but its most famous nickname is “The Big Apple.” So just where did this now-ubiquitous moniker originate?

MAKING A BIG APPLE

Over the years, there have been many theories about how New York City came to be called “The Big Apple.” Some say it comes from the former well-to-do families who sold apples on the city's streets to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Another account posits that the term comes from a famous 19th-century brothel madam named Eve, whose girls were cheekily referred to as her “Big Apples.” But the nickname actually springs from a catchphrase used in the 1920s by The Morning Telegraph sports writer John J. Fitz Gerald in his horse racing column, “Around the Big Apple.” Beginning on February 18, 1924, he began every column with the header, “The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There's only one Big Apple. That's New York.”

At the time, the jockeys and trainers of smaller horses were said to want to make a “Big Apple," which was their term for the big money prizes at larger races in and around New York City.

Fitz Gerald reportedly first heard "The Big Apple" used to describe New York's racetracks by two African American stable hands at the famed New Orleans Fair Grounds, as he explained in his inaugural "Around the Big Apple" column: “Two dusky stable hands were leading a pair of thoroughbreds around the ‘cooling rings’ of adjoining stables at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and engaging in desultory conversation. ‘Where y'all goin' from here?’ queried one. ‘From here we're headin' for The Big Apple,’ proudly replied the other. ‘Well, you'd better fatten up them skinners or all you'll get from the apple will be the core,’ was the quick rejoinder.” Fitz Gerald nabbed the colloquialism for his column, where it quickly took off.

CATCHING ON

Once the term entered the vocabularies of society up north, its popularity slowly spread outside of the horseracing context, and everything from nightclubs in Harlem to hit songs and dances about the city were named after “The Big Apple.” Most notably, New York jazz musicians in the 1930s—who had a habit of using the nickname to reference their hometown in their songs—helped the nickname spread beyond the northeast.

Throughout the mid-20th century, it remained New York City's nickname until it was officially adopted by the city in the 1970s. The New York Convention & Visitors Bureau hoped that using the moniker would brighten the image of an economically downtrodden and crime-ridden city in decline and revive the tourist economy. In 1997, to give Fitz Gerald his (somewhat unjust) due, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed legislation naming the corner where Fitz Gerald and his family lived at West 54th Street and Broadway between 1934 and 1963 “Big Apple Corner.”

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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