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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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25 Things You Should Know About Tucson
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The west is still wild in Tucson. Surrounded by breathtaking mountains, Arizona’s second-largest city attracts artists, astronomers, outdoorsy types and at least one rare cat. Read on for more Tucson trivia.

1) Some of the earliest evidence of corn cultivation in North America comes from Pima County, Arizona, where Tucson is located. Archaeologists have recovered kernels estimated to be 4000 years old within 60 miles of the city.

2) Towering above the downtown area is an iconic mountain called Sentinel Peak. Look at it from a distance and you may notice that the base is darker than the summit. The native Tohono O’odham people called this landmark Ts-iuk-shan—which is a corruption of their word for “black base.” Spaniards later turned Ts-iuk-shan into Tucson.

3) On March 20, 1880, a passenger train rolled into Tucson for the first time. Mayor R.N. Leatherwood sent out telegrams to dignitaries to publicize the occasion, writing to Pope Leo XIII that the railroad now linked "this ancient and honorable pueblo" with the rest of the Christian world. Newspapers began calling Tucson “the A. and H. Pueblo,” which gradually shrunk to its current nickname, “the Old Pueblo.”

4) If you’re a stargazer, Tucson is one of the best spots in the U.S. for astronomy. In 1972, Pima County enacted a “dark sky” code to regulate the brightness and number of outdoor bulbs in an effort to help local observatories like one at Kitt Peak. Now Tucson suffers from far less light pollution than most cities do, allowing stars and planets to shine through the darkness.

5) Above Broadway Boulevard, you can walk through the belly of a giant metal snake. A covered bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, this serpentine structure is designed to look like a diamondback rattlesnake, whose gaping jaw and fangs form the entrance.

6) By day, it looks like a big plastic doughnut. But after sundown, the solar-powered Desert O sculpture lights up in an array of vibrant colors. The ring, owned by the city of Tucson, is 6 feet in diameter and uses LED lights to create a brilliant display with a different color combo for every night of the week.

7) In 1970, then-mayor Jim Corbett called Tucson's East Speedway Boulevard the "ugliest street in America." At the time, it was enveloped by garish billboards that obscured the city's beautiful vistas. Then Life magazine ran a two-page photo of the forest of road signs and advertisements. The embarrassing spotlight led to Tucson's sign code, passed in the 1980s, which gradually limited billboards and tacky signage.

8) According to Guinness World Records, Davis-Monthan Airforce Base in Tucson has the largest aircraft repair shop and storage facility on Earth. Covering 2600 acres, it could house 4200 aircraft and 40 aerospace vehicles at one time, while still leaving room for 350,000 production tools.

9) In 2013, a new species of scorpion was discovered in the Santa Catalina Mountains, which are visible from downtown Tucson. Biologist Rob Bryson Jr. discovered the species in the Santa Catalinas' "sky islands"—isolated mountaintop habitats known for their biodiversity.

10) Cyclists should consider dropping by on the last Saturday before Thanksgiving for El Tour de Tucson, Arizona's largest and longest-running cycling event. The series of races attracts more than 9000 bike enthusiasts per year and usually raises about $2 million for local charities.

11) Hugo O’Conor, an Irish colonel in the Spanish army, is regarded by some as the founder of Tucson. Although a Spanish mission had been operating in present-day Tucson since 1692, and Native American communities before that, O’Conor arranged to have a military base for Spain's army set up on the site in 1775, resulting in a population boom for the city. O'Conor's red hair and courage in battle gave him the nickname “The Red Captain.”

12) The United States Handball Association Hall of Fame is located on North Tucson Boulevard.

13) Five years after peace was declared in the Mexican-American War, the U.S. bought the lower third of Arizona, which included Tucson, from Mexico. The $10 million transaction, known as the Gadsden Purchase, was finalized in 1854 and added a 30,000-square-mile territory to the United States. The expansion allowed Gadsden, a railroad promoter, to build a transcontinental railroad through the new territory.

14) One of the largest rock shows in the country, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show attracts around 50,000 people annually. In addition to hosting gemstone scholars and dealers, the annual convention has exhibited the most dazzling rocks in existence—like the Hope diamond, lunar rocks collected by NASA astronauts, and the eye-popping Logan sapphire.

15) The Arizona State University Sun Devils and the University of Arizona Wildcats have a longstanding rivalry that dates back to their first meeting in 1889. Each year, the teams compete for the Territorial Cup, the oldest rivalry trophy in college football. The Wildcats play regular home games in their 56,000-seat stadium in midtown Tucson.

16) Speaking of the University of Arizona, it was founded in 1891—21 years before Arizona achieved statehood.

17) Tucson's world-class culinary scene was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2015 as a “Capital of Gastronomy.” Only 18 cities around the world have been given this title, and no other American city has cracked the list yet. Jonathan Mabry, a historic preservation officer in Tucson, filed the application for the city. “There are more heritage foods grown within 100 miles of Tucson than any other city in North America,” he told Smithsonian.com.

18) The Fourth Avenue Underpass doubles as a one-of-a-kind photo gallery. Roughly 7000 tiles bearing black and white portraits of 21st-century Tucsonans line the walls.

19) Four national flags have flown over the Old Pueblo. Spain ruled Tucson and the rest of Mexico until 1821. Then Mexico itself took over, but sold Tucson and much more territory to the United States in 1854 (see #13). When the Civil War broke out, the city joined the Confederacy and flew the Confederate flag from February to June 1862. Then Union forces, bearing the American flag, took the city back

20) Tucson is the oldest incorporated city in Arizona (and has been since incorporating in 1877).

21) For a few weeks in 1933, radio listeners in Tucson could enjoy a local show hosted by a very young Ray Bradbury. At age 12, he landed a gig at KGAR reciting comic strips on the air every Saturday night. “My pay was free tickets to see King Kong, Murders in the Wax Museum, and The Mummy,” he later reminisced. “You can’t do any better than that.”

22) El Charro Café is the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. continuously operated by the same family. It may also be the birthplace of the chimichanga. As the legend goes, they were invented by Monica Flin, who established El Charro in 1922. She once flipped a burrito right into the fryer, splattering oil everywhere. Since kids were within earshot, she resisted the urge to curse and yelled “chimichanga,” a slang word that means thingamajig, instead.

23) The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is truly larger than life. A gallery of scale models, it boasts more than 300 tiny room boxes and houses. Some examples predate the Revolutionary War.

24) Downtown, a street known as Calle Carlos Arruza honors one of the greatest bullfighters in history, Mexican-born Carlos Arruza, whose nickname was El Ciclon (The Cyclone). According to historian David Leighton, Calle Carlos Arruza is one of the very few streets—possibly the only street—in the U.S. named after a bullfighter.

25) Only two non-captive jaguars, the largest cats in the New World, are known to reside within the U.S. One of them, nicknamed El Jefe, is a Tucson celebrity. Discovered in 2011, he can be found stalking the Santa Rita Mountains 25 miles south of the city. Jaguars are a near-threatened species: biologists estimate that about 15,000 are left in the wild.

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How Louisville Used GPS to Improve Residents' Asthma
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Louisville, Kentucky has some of the worst air pollution in the U.S., which is particularly bad news for the 85,000 people in surrounding Jefferson County (about 11 percent of the population [PDF]) who have been diagnosed with asthma.

The air quality situation in Louisville won’t be changing anytime soon, but a new study with sensor-equipped inhalers shows that technology can help people with asthma cope, as CityLab reports. The two-year AIR Louisville project involved the Louisville government, the Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil, and a respiratory health startup called Propeller, which makes sensors for inhalers that can track location and measure air pollutants, humidity levels, and temperature.

Propeller's inhaler-mounted sensors allowed the researchers to monitor the relationship between asthma attacks and environmental factors and provided new insight on how air quality can change from neighborhood to neighborhood. The sensors—which are already used by doctors, but have never been deployed citywide before—can measure levels of nitrogen oxide, sulfur, ozone, particulate matter, and pollen in the air, plus track location, temperature, and humidity, all of which can impact the risk of asthma attacks. The sensors send Propeller data on when, where, and how many "puffs" patients take to track how often people are resorting to emergency medication.

Propeller sent out app notifications to warn the Louisville program participants of greater risk of an asthma attack on bad air quality days, and showed them where and when the most asthma attacks happened around the city.

An inhaler with a sensor on top of it lies next to a smartphone open to the Propeller app.
Propeller

The Propeller program illuminated just how much more asthma-triggering pollution the city’s west side (predominantly home to poor, African-American residents) faces compared to other neighborhoods. The data also showed that ozone provoked an uptick in asthma attacks throughout the city, namely along highways. The study may end up influencing air quality regulations, since the researchers found that air pollutants became problematic for asthma sufferers even under the legal levels.

The program had huge short-term benefits, too, beyond collecting research for city policies. By the time it ended in late June, the study clearly had a significant impact on the nearly 1200 people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who took part. The asthma group showed a decline in average inhaler use after a year. There was an 82 percent decline in people's weekly average uses of rescue inhalers at the 12-month follow-up, and the participants had twice the number of symptom-free days. The majority of participants said they understand their asthma "very well" or "well," can better control it, and feel confident about avoiding a bad asthma attack.

Now that the program is over, the institutions involved are still working to launch new policies based on the results, like creating citywide asthma alerts and planting more trees.

[h/t CityLab]

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