Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Homegrown Facts About Idaho

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Easily recognized as potato country, 152-year-old Idaho (pop. 1.6 million) has emerged as one of the country’s most productive agricultural states. But that’s hardly the only reason to take a closer look. Check out 25 facts that prove there’s more to the area than just spuds.


1. It used to be a rectangle. When Idaho was recognized as a territory by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, it included Montana and most of Wyoming, creating a nicely geometric shape. But poor winter traveling conditions made it hard for residents to get around, and the size of the land made it difficult for government authorities to organize. When Wyoming broke off in 1868, the territory was left with its slightly jagged imprint on the map. 

2. Boise was named the capital owing to similar travel difficulties. After lawmakers found that arriving in distant Lewiston was proving stressful, they voted to move the capital to Boise in 1864.

3. Latah County, created in 1888, is the only county in the U.S. ever created by an act of Congress. The move was made to pacify citizens in Northern Idaho who had petitioned to annex themselves to Washington the year before.


4. The state held a contest in 1891 to find an official seal. The winner, Boise City’s Emma Edwards, became the first woman to design an emblem for any state. (She also won $100.) It was later redesigned in 1957 (above) to better reflect their agricultural, mining, and forestry commerce.  

5. The archetype of the pacifistic farmer wasn’t always accurate here: tensions between sheep herders and cattle ranchers over water and land resources for their animals resulted in two sheep farmers being murdered in 1896. Professional enforcer “Diamondfield” Jack Davis was tried and convicted for the killings, but later pardoned when two others confessed.

6. That same year, the Montpelier Bank became infamous for being knocked over by legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy. He stole over $7000, allegedly to pay the lawyer for a friend of his on trial for murder. Authorities searched for Cassidy for over a week, but he had made his escape.

7. The Coeur D’Alene mining controversy remains one of the most notorious chapters in the state’s history. In July 1892, union miners rallied against wage reductions and longer shifts by rioting at the mine, where scab workers had been assembled. After the violence ended in the death of several men, the National Guard was brought in to restore order. 

8. Idaho took a proactive approach to forest fire prevention. By stationing men and women on tree chairs (and later steel towers) 15 feet to 54 feet in the air, workers could spot smoke from an encroaching fire and alert park workers before it could spread. (Fire wasn’t the only hazard: One lookout was struck and killed by lightning while on duty.)

9. It’s the home of the first ski lift. Union Pacific Railroad felt that the slopes of Sun Valley in Idaho would be able to attract skiers for their snow fix. UPR engineer James Curran came up with the chair lift concept in 1936, which he modeled on the banana hooks that would carry fruit on to boats.

10. Walt Disney got married there in 1925. His wife-to-be, Lillian Bounds, was born in Lewiston and had come to California to visit her sister; after getting a job as an inker at Disney Productions, she met Walt and the two grew close. They were wed at a family house in Lewiston; Bounds is credited with naming her husband’s signature mouse “Mickey.”

11. No one has done more for potatoes than J.R. Simplot, who stumbled upon the idea for dehydrating them in 1941 by using a prune drying machine. The Dubuque-born farmer developed flash-frozen and cut potatoes for fries that would become a staple of freezers and fast-service restaurants everywhere. His license plate read “Mr. Spud.”

12. It introduced the world to atomic power. Idaho’s National Reactor Testing Station became the first site of nuclear fission being converted into electricity in 1951. In 1955, the Atomic Energy Commission was able to power the town of Arco for an entire hour with nuclear energy.

Teresa Bear, Flickr // CC BY CC0 1.0

13. It was hiding an extinct species of horse. Rancher Elmer Cook stumbled upon the remains in 1928 and soon the Smithsonian Institution was digging up more than three tons of specimens—including a complete skeleton—of the “Hagerman horse” in 1929.  It’s the earliest known fossil of the horse, though it actually might have more in common with zebras.

14. Evel Knievel met his match there. In 1974, the famed daredevil attempted to “jump” the 1600-foot width of Snake River Canyon in a custom-built “Skycycle.” The contraption sprung its parachute early, leaving Knievel in a heap at the bottom. Daredevils are still plotting ways to cross the Canyon, though no one has been successful yet.

15. Snake River was also a culprit in one of the state’s biggest disasters. The Teton Dam gave way in 1976, submerging thousands of homes and drowning countless cattle. The waters were stopped by the American Falls reservoir.

16. Fate didn’t give them much of a break: four years later, the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in Washington showered northern Idaho with a layer of volcanic ash.


17. Usually, they have their lava under control. The Craters of the Moon is an area near Snake River full of post-volcanic fissures, fields, and tubes. At the heart of the 75-square-mile landmark is the Great Rift, a 52-mile-long crack in the Earth’s crust. It was declared a National Monument by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 and later used by NASA as terrestrial training ground for the Apollo 14 astronauts.

18. All that ash might actually be why Idaho potatoes are world-renowned. According to the Idaho Potato Museum, volcanic debris makes for light, mineral-rich soil that’s ideal for spud production.  

19. Potatoes are really kind of small potatoes when it comes to Idaho’s major export. The arguably bigger contribution is television, which was invented by Philo T. Farnsworth for his Rigby high school chemistry class in 1922. The plan for image-producing electrons Farnsworth came up with would later become the crucial piece in his 1927 television prototype.


20. They can lay claim to one of the world’s greatest athletes. Olympic decathlon gold medalist Dan O’Brien went to the University of Idaho and trained in the state for the 1992 Games, for which he failed to qualify due to failing on the pole vault. He returned in 1996 and conquered the competition.

21. Idaho’s Capitol Building is about as green as it gets: the structure is heated using geothermal water pumped from hot springs more than 3000 feet below the surface. Over 200 homes near Boise are also able to benefit from the system to keep warm, with the water reaching temperatures of 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

22. Author Edgar Rice Burroughs spent a chunk of his pre-Tarzan life toiling in Idaho, working as a cattle ranch hand near Pocatello before opening a stationery store and buying a houseboat. He once ran into fellow Idahoan Ernest Hemingway in Honolulu; despite his wife’s prodding, he was too shy to go say hello.

23. Adam West lives in Ketchum part of the year. If you look up his name in the local phone book, you’re advised to instead search for “Wayne, Bruce.”  

24. They have their own Loch Ness-esque mystery. The Bear Lake Monster at the Utah/Idaho border was first spotted in 1868 and described by witnesses as being reptilian or bear-like (or both) in appearance. One possible explanation: swimming elk.

Richard Elzey, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

25. You can thank Idaho for Furby. The mechanical toy fad was co-invented by Boise resident Caleb Chung in 1997, who later sold it to Tiger Electronics. Chung maintained a presence in his Idaho lab, where he also developed Pleo, a robotic dinosaur pet launched in 2006.  

Mad Magazine
12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledging publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: the envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.  


MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.  


But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.


From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, Mad finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.


Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’ other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by Mad’s New York offices and submitted his work: his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.


Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with Mad almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.  


With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: a 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; Mad parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.


MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, Mad also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.  


In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.


In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

Paramount Pictures
10 Tantalizing Tidbits About Star Trek: The Next Generation
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

by Kirsten Howard

When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in September 1987, no one was quite sure what to expect. After all, this was a new Enterprise with a new crew trying to revitalize a franchise that had only lasted three seasons the last time it was on television. And while the movie series was still bringing in solid box office returns, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy would play no part in this new Trek.

The Next Generation was a gamble for Paramount, and for the first few seasons, it looked like one the studio was going to lose. But once the series got over some initial behind-the-scenes chaos, it blossomed into one of the most popular sci-fi TV shows of all time. Even as bigger and shinier installments in the franchise continue to come out, this is the definitive Star Trek for countless fans. So lean back in your captain's chair and enjoy 10 facts about Star Trek: The Next Generation.


Things were tumultuous at best behind the scenes during the first season of the show, as writers and producers clashed with creator Gene Roddenberry over themes, characters, and ideas on a weekly basis. The in-fighting and drama became such a part of the show's legacy that William Shatner himself chronicled all of it in a 2014 documentary called Chaos on the Bridge (which is currently streaming on Netflix). In it, producers, writers, and actors recounted anecdotes about the difficulties they had dealing with Roddenberry's somewhat overbearing mandates, including his infamous rule that there never be any direct conflict between the Enterprise crew members (unless one was possessed by an alien, of course) and his habit of throwing out scripts at the last minute. This led to 30 writers leaving the show within the first season, according to story editor and program consultant David Gerrold.

As Roddenberry’s health began to deteriorate after the first season, his influence over the writers waned, freeing up ideas that were departures from the creator's original vision. He would pass away in 1991, but his presence would never completely leave the series. For years, a small bust of Roddenberry sat on executive producer Rick Berman's desk with a blindfold wrapped over its eyes. "Whenever they come up with a story I don't think Gene would like," Berman said, "I blindfold him when we discuss the story."


'Star Trek' creator Gene Roddenberry
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

For years, William Shatner had cast the mold by which all future Star Trek captains would be judged. And it was that image of the confident, swashbuckling James T. Kirk that Roddenberry wanted to preserve when bringing a new captain in for The Next Generation. So when Berman wanted to cast Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the issue was clear: he was no Shatner.

Roddenberry was completely unconvinced that Stewart was right for the role, with Berman saying the Trek creator didn’t like the idea of “a bald English guy taking over.” But after countless auditions with other actors, Berman continued to bring Stewart up to Roddenberry, who eventually caved and agreed to bring him in for a final audition under one condition: he wear a wig. So Stewart had a wig Fed-Exed from London and auditioned for Roddenberry and Paramount Television head John Pike one final time. 

That audition was enough to win Roddenberry over, and Stewart was finally brought aboard as Picard with the wig cast aside. Roddenberry would eventually go on to fully embrace Picard’s follicular shortcomings, and according to Stewart, when a reporter at a press conference once asked him why there wouldn’t be a cure for baldness in the 24th century, Roddenberry responded by saying, “No, by the 24th century, no one will care."


Stephen Hawking was visiting the Paramount lot during the video release of the film A Brief History of Time when he requested a tour of the Next Generation set. After making his way onto the iconic Enterprise bridge, he stopped and began typing into his computer. Suddenly, his voice synthesizer spoke: “Would you lift me out of my chair and put me into the captain's seat?"

Hawking asking to be removed from his chair was basically unheard of, so his wishes were granted immediately. Later, with writers having become aware that he was such a huge Trekkie, Hawking himself was written into the sixth season finale episode “Descent – Part I” by Ronald D. Moore, who would later go on to reimagine the Battlestar Galactica universe.


Late actor and comedian Robin Williams was also a huge fan of the show and was desperate to appear in it, so an episode of the fifth season—"A Matter of Time"—was drawn up by Berman to allow Williams to shine at the center of a mystery about Professor Berlinghoff Rasmussen, a time-traveling historian from the future visiting the past to observe the Enterprise crew completing an historic mission.

Unfortunately, when it came time to shoot the episode, Williams found himself unavailable to appear in the episode. So Max Headroom star Matt Frewer was cast as Professor Rasmussen instead.


In the episode “Chain of Command, Part II,” Picard has been captured by Cardassians and is subjected to a variety of torture methods by his interrogators. As a member of the human rights organization Amnesty International, Stewart did not want to shy away from the realities of torture, so he watched tapes sent to him that included statements from people who had been tortured and a long interview with a torturer explaining what it was like to be the one inflicting pain on others. Stewart also insisted on being completely nude during the first torture scene, so as not to betray the experiences of those who had undergone similar horrors.


The transporter effect on the show may look completely computer generated, but in fact it’s all done quite organically. First, a canister is filled with water and glitter and then a light is shone through it. After stirring the liquid briskly, the resulting few seconds of swirling glitter are filmed and then superimposed over footage of the actor standing in the transporter area, with an added “streak down” effect to blur the glitter further.


Android Lieutenant Commander Data had many adventures during the series, on and off the Enterprise, but his evil twin brother, Lore, stands out for many fans as one of the show’s greatest antagonists. Surprisingly, Lore was originally created as a female android character for the show, but the actor who plays Data, Brent Spiner, came up with a different idea: an evil twin nemesis in the shape of a long-lost brother.


When Michael Piller took over as head writer on the show in 1989, an open submission policy was launched where absolutely anyone could submit up to two unsolicited scripts for consideration. Opening up the possibility of writing for TV to people outside of the Writers Guild of America and talent agency pool was unheard of at the time, and over 5000 spec scripts were received a year at one point. "Yesterday’s Enterprise," one of the show’s most popular episodes, was based off a spec script from the open submission policy.


A still from 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'
Paramount Pictures

A decade before The Next Generation debuted, there was a failed attempt at a revival called Star Trek: Phase II. Though a first season was mapped out, it never saw the light of day, and the movie series was produced in its place. However, the scrapped scripts and concepts lived on in various Trek projects over the years. For the second season premiere of The Next Generation, producers reclaimed the script for "The Child" as a way to get a story quickly into production during the 1988 writer's strike. The season four episode "Devil's Due" was also taken from the backlog of Phase II scripts. 

More elements from Phase II would influence Trek for years, such as the pilot being reworked into Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the now-familiar elements of the Japanese-inspired Klingon culture being introduced in the shelved episode “Kitumba.”


In what was either a cost-cutting move or a sly Easter egg (or both), the ceiling of the Enterprise's transporter room in The Next Generation is actually the floor of the transporter room from the original series. That's far from the only recycling that went on between the Trek series. The orbital office complex from Star Trek: The Motion Picture was reused as the Regula I station in The Wrath of Khan, which was then itself reused as a number of different space stations on The Next Generation (plus Deep Space Nine and Voyager).


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