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In Basketball, Why Does the Home Team (Usually) Wear White?

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Uniform colors have a utilitarian purpose—namely, to help us distinguish between rival clubs on game day. After all, life would get confusing fast if spectators couldn’t tell which squad was which.

At home, most North American football and hockey teams wear vibrant, multi-colored jerseys. And unless special permission to do otherwise is granted, visiting players are—again, for the most part—stuck wearing white.

Basketball reverses the trend. In both collegiate and professional contests, it’s the home team that normally dons white while their on-court guests show up in something more eye-catching. The NCAA, NBA [PDF], and WNBA [PDF] all enforce this general guideline. “Opposing team uniforms shall be of contrasting colors,” reads the official NCAA men’s basketball rule book. “The home team shall wear light game jerseys and game shorts and the away team shall wear dark game jerseys and game shorts. This rule may be altered by mutual consent of the competing institutions.”

How did this tradition start? America’s pastime probably had something to do with it.

Towards the turn of the 20th century, Major League Baseball clubs began touting dark blue, black, or (usually) gray jerseys on the road, and white ones at home. Back in those days, teams sometimes had difficulty finding laundry services outside of their own cities. So, for days on end, visiting players were often left with no choice but to wear the same, unwashed jerseys over and over. Darker outfits, therefore, helped mask the inevitable dirt and grass stains.

In its formative years, the younger sport of basketball likely stole and tweaked that custom. At every level from grade school to the pros, clubs usually honor the white-at-home, colors-on-the-road standard. Still, exceptions are out there.

Take the Los Angeles Lakers. 1967 saw the storied team adopt a radically new look. Previously, their colors were as follows: navy blue, royal blue, and white. But in that pivotal year, the club introduced its famous purple and gold chromatic scheme. Notably, the Lakers also emerged as the first NBA franchise to make non-white jerseys their standard home attire. Local fans grew accustomed to watching Jerry West and company take care of business in those now-iconic yellow unis.

Also, fans get to see a whole slew of different jersey colors and designs when a visiting team comes to town. Given how experimental the NBA can get with uniforms (sleeves?!?), a little consistency in your own back yard is much appreciated.

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Big Questions
Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?
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Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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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What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
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For carbohydrate consumers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say “stuffing,” though. They say “dressing.” In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. “Dressing” seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while “stuffing” is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it "filling," which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If “stuffing” stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word “stuffing” impolite, so never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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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