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16 Surprising Facts About Boyz N the Hood

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“One out of every 21 Black American males will be murdered in their lifetime. Most will die at the hands of another Black male.”

That’s the statistic that set the tone for audiences as they entered theaters 25 years ago today to see Boyz N the Hood, a film that took its title and one of its leads (Ice Cube) from the rap group N.W.A.

The film marked the feature directorial debut of John Singleton, who was just 23 years old at the time. With its raw story of life in South Central Los Angeles, the film shook the country and shocked the world with its unrelenting depictions of violence and poverty.

The cast of unknowns went on to become a who’s who of talented actors and actresses, and the film is now considered an undisputed classic that changed how stories were told on film, not just for “Black movies,” but for all of cinema.

1. THE STORY IS LARGELY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

When writing the script, John Singleton (then 21 years old) pulled from his own life growing up in Los Angeles. The main character, Tre (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), is sent to live with his father across town while his mother works and goes to school, which is the situation Singleton found himself in as a child. He has stated in interviews and in DVD commentary that several elements from his real life made it into the script and film, from the blocks where he used to live to the elementary school that he attended and even a few specific events, including the time his father shot at a fleeing burglar. “It was kind of cathartic," Singleton said. "This movie was my way of kind of getting out of the ghetto as a person.”

2. SINGLETON WAS OFFERED $100,000 TO WALK AWAY.

While pitching the script to different companies, Singleton refused to give out copies unless someone was willing to make a deal where he would get to direct the film, even though he had no prior feature film directing experience. Columbia Pictures expressed interest in buying the film, and during a meeting Singleton was offered $100,000 to let a more experienced director take over the project. “I said, ‘Well, we’ll have to end this meeting right now, because I’m doing this movie. This is the movie I was born to make,'" Singleton recalled in the documentary Friendly Fire: Making of an Urban Legend. Columbia’s response was to give Singleton the green light and $6 million to make the movie.

3. IT WAS TECHNICALLY A BIGGER HIT THAN TERMINATOR 2.

In the fight for box office dollars, there was no competition between Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Boyz N the Hood in 1991. The former raked in nearly $205 million domestically, while Singleton’s film only made around $58 million. But numbers can be deceiving: Terminator 2 cost $102 million to make, or just under half of what it pulled in, while Boyz N the Hood only cost $6 million to make. According to EbonyTerminator 2 had a much wider theatrical release, but Boyz N the Hood made more money per screen.

4. THE FILM OWES A LOT TO SPIKE LEE.

Singleton was inspired and motivated by Spike Lee, though not in an entirely positive way. He says that hiring Black people to work in front of and behind the camera was one thing he took from the director, but his motivation to make films like Boyz N the Hood came after Lee—who he looked up to—didn't hire him as a production assistant on Do the Right Thing. “When they didn’t I was like ‘F*ck Spike Lee, I’ma do my own sh*t. I’ma make a West Coast movie,'" Singleton said during a panel discussion at the 2011 LA Film Fest. It was after seeing Lee’s Oscar-nominated film in theaters that Singleton began writing his own script.

5. ICE CUBE AND LAURENCE FISHBURNE WERE SHOO-INS.

Many of the film's lead actors are respected actors today with impressive resumés but, like Singleton, many of them were unknown at the time, which was by design. In Friendly Fire, Singleton said that he told casting director Jaki Brown that he “didn’t want to see anybody that you’ve seen in any other movie before.” Laurence Fishburne had had several small roles in films like The Color Purple and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, but his real break was playing a supporting character for nine episodes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, where a 19-year-old Singleton worked as a security guard. He told Fishburne then that he would someday write a movie and have him in it.

Singleton also knew that he wanted Ice Cube to play the role of Doughboy, but he had to work for two years to convince the rapper to take the job. “I was really engulfed in my music,” Cube said in 2011, “but I had seen Ice-T do New Jack City and Kid ‘n Play do House Party, so I was like, ‘OK, it’s time for us rappers to make movies now’ ... but I hadn't read the script or memorized the lines, so I kept f*cking up. It was just terrible.”

Despite a bad audition, Singleton was in Ice Cube’s corner because he believed in the rapper’s ability (and because it worked with his vision). He told him to go read the script and to come back the next day, but warned him that he had to be good or they would find someone else. Cube realized that the movie was really “about how we grew up,” and was able to successfully tap into the character.

6. STACEY DASH WAS ALMOST TRE’S LOVE INTEREST.


The role of Brandi launched Nia Long’s career as an actress, but she wasn’t the only person to read for the part. Brent Rollins—a college friend of Singleton’s and the designer of the film’s logo—wrote about how he was there when Stacey Dash auditioned. A few years later she became well known as Dionne in the very different LA-centric film, Clueless.

Cuba Gooding Jr. said that there were other familiar faces there at the time of his audition, including Shemar Moore and the Wayans Brothers, but he did not say which roles they were reading for.

7. THE FILM INCLUDES HOMAGES TO STAND BY ME.


In an interview with Jog Road Productions, producer Steve Nicolaides revealed that Singleton wanted him to produce the film because of his previous work on one of Singleton’s favorite films, Rob Reiner's Stand By Me. Reiner picked up on Singleton’s choice to mimic a fade out effect on one of the main characters at the end of the film. “It was an homage,” Nicolaides told Reiner during the making of A Few Good Men. “I mean, the fat kid wears a striped shirt in it, too.”

Another element that the films share is the invitation to “see a dead body.” Singleton says that he hadn’t actually seen a dead body growing up.

8. THERE’S A SLIGHT DISS AIMED AT N.W.A.

By the time he was cast in the film, Ice Cube had already left the rap group N.W.A because of issues with royalties and his interest in pursuing a solo career. There was some bad blood between Cube and his former bandmates, so Singleton decided to throw in an inside joke, which he revealed in the DVD commentary. He had the rapper bring old Eazy-E shirts to the set, and in one scene a crack addict wearing one of the shirts runs by and tries to steal the character Dooky’s gold chain, but he is caught and swiftly punished.

The real Eazy-E would later tell SPIN magazine that Boyz N the Hood reminded him of a “Monday after school special with cussin’,” adding that Ice Cube was only being used to sell the film.

9. SHOOTING ON LOCATION HAD SOME OF THE CREW ON EDGE.

All of Boyz N the Hood was shot in the houses and on the streets of South Central. Even though Singleton and others in the cast and crew called the neighborhood home, filming there was a bit more unpredictable than filming on closed sets. “The set was about 10 blocks from my house,” Nia Long said. “I could have walked, except that probably wouldn’t have been the safest thing to do.” Cuba Gooding Jr. said that there were fistfights and threats everyday, and Singleton said in his commentary that after an altercation, there was a threat of gun violence by local gang members. The film crew requested that a van be parked behind them while filming so that if a drive-by did happen, they would be safe.

Singleton used the dangers of the neighborhood to ramp up tensions. In one scene, the characters are supposed to react to rapid gunfire on a crowded Crenshaw Boulevard, but Singleton did not tell them when it was coming. The only direction he gave was for Ice Cube to drive off in his 1964 Chevy Impala when he heard the shots. In his commentary, the director said that genuine reactions to the noise are what created the perfect chaos on screen, with characters running, ducking, and falling over each other.

10. EVERYONE COULD FEEL THE EMOTION IN THE SCRIPT.

In his commentary, Singleton admitted that he cried while writing Doughboy’s monologue for the end of the film, which includes the iconic line “either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the ‘hood.” Cube has said that the scenes where he is supposed to cry were the hardest for him because he was used to burying his feelings. Gooding was not as composed. He once punched a hole in a wall during an emotional day and the crew had him sign it. In the DVD documentary, Fishburne said that he cried while reading the script, and Long said that after filming the scene where Tre punches at the air in frustration, she left the set to cry outside.

11. THE MOST ICONIC SCENE WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT FOR MORRIS CHESTNUT.

Morris Chestnut said that his first film role is the one that he is recognized most often for, and it’s all thanks to the alley scene. Dropping your milk and scratch-offs and trying to run from a shotgun blast (in slow motion) sounds difficult enough, but Chestnut said in an interview with The Huffington Post that the technical side of the scene required more focus than the acting. “The stunt coordinator was telling me ‘Listen, when you run, make sure you keep your head up.’ Because if you put you head down, those [squibs] could explode in your face ... so I was very nervous.”

12. IT BOOSTED SALES FOR MALT LIQUOR BRANDS.

Hip hop has a long and complicated history with the alcohol and tobacco industries. Showing characters drinking 40-ounce bottles on screen, though a reflection of real life, caused sales to skyrocket. A Los Angeles-based distributor of St. Ides was forced to ration his stock following the film’s release because of increased demand.

Ice Cube was a spokesperson for the malt liquor until the brand came under pressure for controversial ad campaigns in late 1991. According to David J. Leonard in the book Icons of Hip Hop: An Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music, and Culture, Volume 2, Cube had become “increasingly uncomfortable” with promoting the beverage, and having Doughboy pour it out at the end of the film was “not just about the character paying respect to the dead but reflects Cube’s own desire to wash his hands of his relationship with Ides and the advertising industry’s exploitation of hip hop.”

13. BOYZ N THE HOOD TOOK THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL BY STORM.

Those involved in the making of the film knew how special it was, but they were not sure how it would translate culturally (and with subtitles) to the Cannes audience, which was far removed from the streets of South Central Los Angeles. According to Nicolaides, the response was overwhelming. “Lights go down, the movie plays out, the movie’s over, lights go up ... I look up and people are hanging off the balcony trying to get John’s attention to say how great it was. The whole Mount Rushmore of Black artists and filmmakers is on their feet ... Roger Ebert is crying his eyes out. It was one of those.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that the standing ovation lasted for 20 minutes.

14. LIFE IMITATED ART IMITATING LIFE WHEN THE FILM OPENED IN THEATERS.

As was the case with New Jack City four months prior, Boyz N the Hood was met with some backlash after some incidents of violence at theaters were reported as being related to the film. In the DVD documentary, Singleton said that he left one showing just before alleged gang violence erupted (he personally witnessed a potential conflict between Crips and Bloods and tried to have security intervene), but he maintained that neither he nor the film were to blame because it was a reflection of real life.

According to a Newsweek article published that summer, around 21 theaters pulled the film after “opening-night violence left two moviegoers dead and more than 30 injured.” A story in JET magazine cited film critic Roger Ebert as saying that actor Mickey Rourke blamed “malicious directors like Spike Lee and John Singleton” for instigating the Los Angeles riots. “It wasn't the film,” Singleton told Newsweek. “It was the fact that a whole generation [of black men] doesn't respect themselves, which makes it easier for them to shoot each other. This is a generation of kids who don't have father figures. They're looking for their manhood, and they get a gun. The more of those people that get together, the higher the potential for violence.”

The director went on to call the pulling of the film from theaters “artistic racism,” adding that fights happen all the time, but “because my film has a black cast, it gets pulled—just like that.”

15. THE PRESIDENT RESPECTED THE FILM’S REALISM.

In a 1993 interview with Rolling Stone, then-President Bill Clinton was asked about comments that the attorney general had made about violence on television, and whether or not the government was granted the power by the Constitution to restrict what viewers saw. In his response, Clinton referenced Boyz N the Hood and shared his thoughts on the film:

“I do believe that the people who are making the films and the shows are just reflecting what they think the consumers want and what they think is really going on in society. I understand that. But because that is what is in fact going on in society, there's a synergy that is destructive ... There is a synergy, and I don't think we can avoid that fact. The best thing is for us to ask ourselves what can be done to break the link without muzzling the creators. For example, I watched Boyz n the Hood very carefully. While it was very violent, it had no romance about the violence. That is a movie I would've wanted a lot of elementary-age kids in the inner city to see, because there was no romance. It was a mean, ugly, sad, heartbreaking tale of basically good kids who wanted to have a decent life who had it taken away from them.”

16. IT HAS BEEN RECOGNIZED BY THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

In 2002, Boyz N the Hood was entered into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, a program established in 1989 as a way to preserve films deemed important enough to be kept for future generations. Only 25 films are chosen each year. “I was honored ... that means that it’s one of those things that goes far beyond my life,” Singleton told BlackTree TV. Stephanie Allain, who was an executive at Columbia Pictures at the time, added that they had the opportunity to present the film to the Congressional Black Caucus. “That was very special ... to have lawmakers watching the movie, that’s the stuff of dreams. That means you’re doing something really, really well.”

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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17 Things to Know About René Descartes
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iStock

The French polymath René Descartes (1596-1650) lived after the Renaissance, but he personified that age's interest in mathematics, philosophy, art, and the nature of humanity. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people continue to grapple with. (His dualist distinction between mind and the brain, for example, continues to be debated by psychologists.) Get to know him better!

1. NOBODY CALLED HIM RENÉ.

Descartes went by a nickname and often introduced himself as “Poitevin” and signed letters as “du Perron.” Sometimes, he went so far to call himself the “Lord of Perron.” That’s because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.

2. SCHOOL MADE HIM FEEL DUMBER.

From the age of 11 to 18, Descartes attended one of the best schools in Europe, the Jesuit College of Henry IV in La Flèche, France. In his later work Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote that, upon leaving school, “I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance."

3. HIS DAD WANTED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

Descartes’s family was chock-full of lawyers, and the budding intellectual was expected to join them. He studied law at the University of Poitiers and even came home with a law degree in 1616. But he never entered the practice. In 1618, a 22-year-old Descartes enlisted as a mercenary in the Dutch States Army instead. There, he would study military engineering and become fascinated with math and physics.

4. HE CHANGED CAREER PATHS THANKS TO A SERIES OF DREAMS.

In 1618, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Catholicism on anybody living within his domain. The result of this policy would be the Thirty Years' War. It would also prompt Descartes, a Catholic, to switch allegiances to a Bavarian army fighting for the Catholic side. But on his travels, he stopped in the town of Ulm. There, on the night of November 10, he had three dreams that convinced him to change his life’s path. “Descartes took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge,” philosopher Gary Hatfield writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

5. HE COULD BE EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT AND SHINY OBJECTS.

In 1628, Descartes moved to the Netherlands and spent nine months doggedly working on a theory of metaphysics. Then he got distracted. In 1629, a number of false suns—called parhelia, or “sun dogs”—were seen near Rome. Descartes put his beloved metaphysics treatise on the back burner and devoted his time to explaining the phenomenon. It was a lucky distraction: It led to his work The World, or Treatise on Light.

6. HE LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR ANALYTIC GEOMETRY ...

In 1637, Descartes published his groundbreaking Discourse on the Method, where he took the revolutionary step of describing lines through mathematical equations. According to Hatfield, “[Descartes] considered his algebraic techniques to provide a powerful alternative to actual compass-and-ruler constructions when the latter became too intricate.” You might have encountered his system in high school algebra: They’re called Cartesian coordinates.

7. ... AND THE REST OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

Everybody knows Descartes for his phrase Cogito, ergo sum (which originally appeared in French as "Je pense, donc je suis"), or "I think, therefore I am." The concept appeared in many of his texts. To understand what it means, some context is helpful: At the time, many philosophers claimed that truth was acquired through sense impressions. Descartes disagreed. He argued that our senses are unreliable. An ill person can hallucinate. An amputee can feel phantom limb pain. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for "radical doubt": That is, what was stopping people from doubting the existence of, well, everything? The cogito argument is his remedy: Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

8. HE'S THE REASON YOUR MATH TEACHER MAKES YOU CHECK YOUR WORK.

Descartes was obsessed with certainty. In his book Rules for the Direction of the Mind, “he sought to generalize the methods of mathematics so as to provide a route to clear knowledge of everything that human beings can know,” Hatfield writes. His advice included this classic chestnut: To solve a big problem, break it up into small, easy-to-understand parts—and check each step often.

9. HE LIKED TO HIDE.

Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it's because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: "Descartes was a spy."

10. HE WASN'T AFRAID OF CRITICS. IN FACT, HE RE-PUBLISHED THEM.

When Descartes was revising his Meditations on First Philosophy [PDF], he planned to send the manuscript to “the 20 or 30 most learned theologians” for criticism—a sort of proto-peer review. He collected seven objections and published them in the work. (Descartes, of course, had the last word: He responded to each criticism.)

11. HE COULD THROW SHADE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.

In the 1640s, Descartes’s pupil and friend Henricus Regius published a broadsheet that distorted Descartes’s theory of the mind. (Which, put briefly, posits that the material body and immaterial mind are separate and distinct.) The two men had a falling out, and Descartes wrote a rebuttal with a barbed title that refused to even acknowledge Regius’s manifesto by name: It was simply called “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.”

12. HE NEVER BELIEVED MONKEYS COULD TALK.

There’s a “fun fact” parading around that suggests Descartes believed monkeys and apes could talk. He believed no such thing. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Descartes denied that animals were even conscious, let alone capable of speech. The factoid comes from a misreading of a letter Descartes had written in 1646, in which he attributed the belief to “savages.”

13. HE TOTALLY HAD THE HOTS FOR CROSS-EYED WOMEN.

In a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, Descartes explained that he had a cross-eyed playmate as a child. “I loved a girl of my own age ... who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others.”

14. WHEN HE MET BLAISE PASCAL, THEY GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT ... ABOUT VACUUMS.

In 1647, a 51-year-old Descartes visited the 24-year-old prodigy and physicist Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum—that is, the idea that air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. (Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed.) Later, Descartes wrote a letter that, depending on your translation, said that Pascal had “too much vacuum in his head.”

15. HIS WORK WAS BANNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Back in the late 1630s, the theologian Gisbert Voetius had convinced the academic senate of the University of Utrecht to condemn the philosopher’s work. (Descartes was Catholic, but his suggestion that the universe began as a “chaotic soup of particles in motion,” in Hatfield's words, was contrary to orthodox theology.) In the 1660s, his works were placed on the church’s Index of Prohibited Books.

16. HE REGULARLY SLEPT UNTIL NOON (AND TRYING TO BREAK THE HABIT MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM).

Descartes was not a morning person. He often snoozed 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain.”) But according to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring Queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

17. HIS SKELETON HAS TRAVELED FAR AND WIDE.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell the polymath’s noggin [PDF]. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

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