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Getty

The Origins of 25 Fall Traditions

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Getty

If your fall bucket list includes carving jack-o’-lanterns, sipping apple cider, and toasting s’mores over a bonfire, you’re in good company. But when you stop to think about it, many of our autumnal traditions—like scooping out pumpkin guts, asking strangers for sugar, and wandering aimlessly through cornfields—are pretty bizarre. Here are the reasons behind some of our favorite fall pastimes.

1. OKTOBERFEST

This suds-filled celebration, which starts the third weekend of September and ends the first Sunday in October, was created to commemorate the wedding of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. Citizens celebrated again the following year, and the year after that, and the year after that. The party grew as the years passed—and by 1896, the beer stands had given way to beer tents.

2. CORN MAZES

Wandering through a confusing crop configuration is a relatively recent tradition. The first corn maze was created in 1993 at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania. Its creator, Don Frantz, has also been responsible for producing Super Bowl halftime shows and Broadway musicals like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.

3. ELECTION DAY

When Americans first started voting, they had a 34-day period in which to get it done—but when Congress eventually designated a specific Election Day in 1845, they did so with farmers in mind. Many people had to travel up to a day to reach their voting locations, so Congress had to keep a two-day window open. Weekends were out because of church, and Wednesdays were no good because many farmers went to market that day. Tuesday basically won by default. We also have farmers to thank for the month in which we vote—November was post-harvest, but pre-snow.

4. HOMECOMING

Several colleges claim to have held the first homecoming, but whether it was the University of Missouri, Baylor, or the University of Illinois, the tradition dates from the early 1900s and was invented to encourage alumni to come back to visit (presumably infusing the community with cash from their newfound paychecks).

5. TRICK-OR-TREATING

Going door-to-door for food on specific holidays dates at least back to the Middle Ages. It became popular in the United States in the 1920s and ‘30s, but had to be put on hold during WWII due to the sugar rations. When the war was over, the practice returned with a vengeance. UNICEF latched on to the tradition in 1950, and “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” has since raised more than $175 million.

6. BEGGAR'S NIGHT

Believing that holding activities on Halloween night increases the chance of vandalism and mischief, some communities choose to hold their annual trick-or-treat night on nearby dates in October instead. One of the first cities to adapt "Beggar’s Night" was Des Moines, Iowa, which switched to an alternative date after a rash of petty crime in 1938.

7. APPLE BOBBING

Trying to grab a Red Delicious with your teeth wasn’t always an autumn tradition. It was once a British courting ritual, where each apple was assigned the name of an eligible bachelor, and each woman would try to grab the apple representing the man she was interested in. (Cringe.) Getting it on the first try meant a "happily ever after" ending. Snagging the apple on the the second attempt meant the couple would get together, but their love wouldn’t last. And three tries was a no-go. Though the game waned in popularity during the 1800s, a version of it was revived at the end of the century by Americans remembering their cultural roots.

8. PUMPKIN SPICE

As you might have suspected, Starbucks gets the credit for making people lose their minds over the blend of common household spices—after all, “pumpkin spice” is really just a combination of spices found in autumn fare like pumpkin pie and apple cider. Mixing flavors such as cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and mace is certainly nothing new. But in 2003, the Seattle-based coffee company did a heck of a job marketing their new Pumpkin Spice Latte, and ever since then, consumers have clamored to buy anything with the magic label.

9. THE WORLD SERIES

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1901 and 1902, baseball's American League and National League were bitter rivals, stealing each other’s players and even taking the beef to the off-season. Things had mostly settled down by 1903, and to bury the hatchet, the leagues decided to face off in a friendly competition. The Boston Americans beat the Pittsburg (that’s not a typo—there was no "h" at the time) Pirates, but by 1904, the rivalry had reared its ugly head again. John McGraw, the manager of the New York Giants, the National League champs, refused to let his team play against the American League Boston Americans, and the 1904 World Series was canceled.

10. HAUNTED HOUSES

The idea of an attraction designed specifically to creep people out has been around since 19th-century London, when Madame Tussaud exhibited eerily accurate wax replicas of famous French people getting their heads lopped off by the guillotine. But walkthroughs of macabre mansions filled with all manner of spooks and scares was first popularized in 1969: "A lot of the professional haunters will point to one thing, and that's Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. It's the start of the haunted attraction industry," says Lisa Morton, the author of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. Within a few years, copies had popped up all over the country.

11. MOVEMBER

As many great ideas do, Movember started in a pub. In 1999, a group of guys in Adelaide, South Australia, came up with the idea to raise money and awareness for charities by growing their moustaches out for a month. The idea quickly caught on, and by 2003, other organizations had adopted the practice. Since then, the Movember Foundation has raised more than $710 million for men’s health causes such as testicular cancer, prostate cancer, mental health, and suicide prevention.

12. BLACK FRIDAY

If getting up in the middle of the night to fight crowds and snag deals on electronics and cookware is your idea of a good time, thank the good people of Philadelphia. Philly police used the term "Black Friday" to refer to the day after Thanksgiving, when the city would be awash with rowdy fans attending the Army-Navy football game. Local retailers took advantage of the crowds by having sales and calling the day "Big Friday," but the police term for it stuck. By the 1980s, the discounts and super sales started creeping across the nation.

13. S’MORES

We can’t point to a single inventor of the s’more, but the concept of melting the gooey concoctions over a campfire dates to at least 1927, when a recipe for "Some mores" was published in a handbook called Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. The delicious combination of chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker was nothing new—the Mallomar was invented in 1913—but there’s something to be said for the smokiness and warmth that come from the fire.

14. CANDY CORN

Love it or hate it, candy corn is here to stay. Invented in the 1880s by George Renninger, a candymaker at the Wunderle Candy Company, the tricolor treat was originally called "Chicken Feed" when the Goelitz Candy Company brought it to the masses by the end of that century.

15. GUY FAWKES NIGHT

After Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot to blow up British Parliament was foiled in 1605, the government declared November 5 a day to celebrate. Even now, more than 400 years later, November 5 is earmarked for fireworks and large bonfires where effigies of Fawkes are burned.

16. BONFIRES

Building giant fires for fun instead of necessity started as a Fourth of July tradition, when towns in New England used to compete to see who could build the tallest pile of flaming debris. Fall bonfires were also a custom, in part because many of the colonists weren't that far removed from participation in Guy Fawkes Night. George Washington hated the tradition due to its anti-Catholic sentiment—another byproduct of the association with Guy Fawkes—calling it a "ridiculous and childish custom" in 1775.

17. TAILGATING

There are a few different theories as to where and when people first gathered to break bread before watching the pigskin get tossed around. The first is that it happened at the very first college football game in 1869, when Princeton played Rutgers. People sat at the "tail end" of their horses to eat and drink. We can also fast-forward to 1904, when people started traveling to games by train. Hungry after a long journey by rail, famished fans brought pre-game snacks to enjoy before kickoff.

Finally, there’s the Green Bay Packers theory, which jibes most with how we tailgate today: Starting in 1919, fans backed their trucks up right to the edge of the field to serve as makeshift bleachers—and, of course, they noshed as they watched.

18. NANOWRIMO

Every November, thousands of writers vow to spend the month hunkering down and finally finishing that novel that’s been bouncing around in their brains. The phenomenon, known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is the brainchild of Chris Baty. In 1999, Baty and 21 of his friends vowed to get 50,000 words down on paper during the month of November. Only six of them succeeded. But word spread, and the next year, 140 people participated. The third year, they surpassed 1000 writers. Last year, 431,626 people completed the challenge.

19. CARVING JACK-O’-LANTERNS

Why do we carve pumpkins? The short answer: Because it’s better than carving turnips.

The long answer: As far back as the 1500s, Irish people told a story about Stingy Jack, a blacksmith who made a deal with the Devil to never claim his soul—but when he died, God wouldn’t let him into Heaven, either. So Jack was doomed to walk the Earth for all eternity, with only a burning coal to light his way—which he carried in a turnip he had carved out. He roams the world to this day as "Jack of the Lantern," or "Jack-O’-Lantern." Irish immigrants eventually brought the tale to the U.S., as well as the related tradition of turnip-carving. Since pumpkins were plentiful in the U.S. and allowed more room for candles, they quickly became the veggie of choice.

20. DETROIT LIONS AND DALLAS COWBOYS FOOTBALL ON THANKSGIVING

The Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game since 1934, when the team moved to Detroit from Portsmouth, Ohio. To get the city excited about the franchise—the second in Detroit—the owner came up with the idea of having a game on Thanksgiving. Because he was well connected, the owner managed to convince NBC to broadcast the game on 94 stations across the U.S. It worked: The Lions filled the stadium to capacity and had to turn fans away at the gate.

When the Dallas Cowboys picked up on the marketing scheme in 1966, fans broke the attendance record. Both teams have upheld the Turkey Day tradition nearly every year since.

21. TURKEY PARDON

Speaking of Turkey Day, the President of the United States has the distinct honor of issuing pardons to a pair of birds every year. The tradition may date back to Abraham Lincoln, who is said to have pardoned a turkey named Jack that his son had befriended. But no real documentation for the turkey pardon exists until John F. Kennedy, who let a turkey given to him by the National Turkey Federation roam free.

22. BUY-NOTHING DAY

If Black Friday isn’t your thing, you can take the opposite tack and participate in Buy Nothing Day, where consumers are challenged to—you guessed it—buy nothing for 24 hours. Founded by artist Ted Dave, the first BND took place in Canada in 1992. In 1997, it was changed to directly counteract the ever-growing madness of Black Friday in the U.S.

23. MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE

Actually, when the spectacle debuted in 1924, it was the Macy’s Christmas Parade, and was mainly meant to create publicity for the expansion of Macy’s flagship Manhattan store, which would now cover an entire city block and became the self-proclaimed "World’s Largest Store." The parade was such a hit that they decided to make it an annual event, switching to a Thanksgiving Day celebration in 1927.

24. NEW FALL TV

Autumn’s arrival also means the end of summer reruns. That’s because New York-based radio productions used to shut down for the summer so industry folks could escape to the Catskills or Cape Cod for refuge from the summer heat wave. When many radio stars made the switch to TV, the tradition continued. It works out for the best—most people tend to watch less TV in the summer anyway.

25. PUNKIN CHUNKIN

Sick of all things pumpkin? Chuck them! The World Championship Punkin Chunkin Contest in Bridgeville, Delaware, claims it’s the oldest and largest event of its kind, with the first one taking place in 1986. It's said that Delawarean Bill Thompson invented the strange sport, which started out as a small group and grew when a local radio station became interested in the squashed squash. Today, more than 50,000 spectators show up to watch contestants pitch pumpkins using trebuchets, catapults, centrifugal machines, and other contraptions.

All images courtesy of Getty unless otherwise noted.

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Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
15 Riveting Facts About Alan Turing
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

More than six decades after his death, Alan Turing’s life remains a point of fascination—even for people who have no interest in his groundbreaking work in computer science. He has been the subject of a play and an opera, and referenced in multiple novels and numerous musical albums. The Benedict Cumberbatch film about his life, The Imitation Game, received eight Oscar nominations. But just who was he in real life? Here are 15 facts you should know about Alan Turing, who was born on this day in 1912.

1. HE’S THE FATHER OF MODERN COMPUTER SCIENCE.

Turing essentially pioneered the idea of computer memory. In 1936, Turing published a seminal paper called “On Computable Numbers” [PDF], which The Washington Post has called “the founding document of the computer age.” In the philosophical article, he hypothesized that one day, we could build machines that could compute any problem that a human could, using 0s and 1s. Turing proposed single-task machines called Turing machines that would be capable of solving just one type of math problem, but a “universal computer” would be able to tackle any kind of problem thrown at it by storing instructional code in the computer’s memory. Turing’s ideas about memory storage and using a single machine to carry out all tasks laid the foundation for what would become the digital computer.

In 1945, while working for the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, he came up with the Automatic Computing Machine, the first digital computer with stored programs. Previous computers didn’t have electric memory storage, and had to be manually rewired to switch between different programs.

2. HE PLAYED A HUGE ROLE IN WINNING WORLD WAR II.

Turing began working at Bletchley Park, Britain’s secret headquarters for its codebreakers during World War II, in 1939. By one estimate, his work there may have cut the war short by up to two years. He’s credited with saving millions of lives.

Turing immediately got to work designing a codebreaking machine called the Bombe (an update of a previous Polish machine) with the help of his colleague Gordon Welchman. The Bombe shortened the steps required in decoding, and 200 of them were built for British use over the course of the war. They allowed codebreakers to decipher up to 4000 messages a day.

His greatest achievement was cracking the Enigma, a mechanical device used by the German army to encode secure messages. It proved nearly impossible to decrypt without the correct cipher, which the German forces changed every day. Turing worked to decipher German naval communications at a point when German U-boats were sinking ships carrying vital supplies across the Atlantic between Allied nations. In 1941, Turing and his team managed to decode the German Enigma messages, helping to steer Allied ships away from the German submarine attacks. In 1942, he traveled to the U.S. to help the Americans with their own codebreaking work.

3. HE BROKE THE RULES TO WRITE TO CHURCHILL.

Early on, Bletchley Park’s operations were hampered by a lack of resources, but pleas for better staffing were ignored by government officials. So, Alan Turing and several other codebreakers at Bletchley Park went over their heads to write directly to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. One of the codebreakers from Bletchley Park delivered the letter by hand in October 1941.

“Our reason for writing to you direct is that for months we have done everything that we possibly can through the normal channels, and that we despair of any early improvement without your intervention,” they wrote to Churchill [PDF]. “No doubt in the long run these particular requirements will be met, but meanwhile still more precious months will have been wasted, and as our needs are continually expanding we see little hope of ever being adequately staffed.”

In response, Churchill immediately fired off a missive to his chief of staff: “Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this had been done.”

4. HE HAD SOME ODD HABITS.

Like many geniuses, Turing was not without his eccentricities. He wore a gas mask while riding his bike to combat his allergies. Instead of fixing his bike’s faulty chain, he learned exactly when to dismount to secure it in place before it slipped off. He was known around Bletchley Park for chaining his tea mug to a radiator to prevent it from being taken by other staffers.

5. HE RODE HIS BIKE 60 MILES TO GET TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.

Though he was considered an average student, Turing was dedicated enough to his schooling that when a general strike prevented him from taking the train to his first day at his new elite boarding school, the 14-year-old rode his bike the 62 miles instead.

6. HE TRIED OUT FOR THE OLYMPICS.

Turing started running as a schoolboy and continued throughout his life, regularly running the 31 miles between Cambridge and Ely while he was a fellow at King’s College. During World War II, he occasionally ran the 40 miles between London and Bletchley Park for meetings.

He almost became an Olympic athlete, too. He came in fifth place at a qualifying marathon for the 1948 Olympics with a 2-hour, 46-minute finish (11 minutes slower than the 1948 Olympic marathon winner). However, a leg injury held back his athletic ambitions that year.

Afterward, he continued running for the Walton Athletic Club, though, and served as its vice president. ”I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard,” he once told the club’s secretary. “It's the only way I can get some release."

7. HE WAS PROSECUTED FOR BEING GAY.

In 1952, Turing was arrested after reporting a burglary in his home. In the course of the investigation, the police discovered Turing’s relationship with another man, Arnold Murray. Homosexual relationships were illegal in the UK at the time, and he was charged with “gross indecency.” He pled guilty on the advice of his lawyer, and opted to undergo chemical castration instead of serving time in jail.

8. THE GOVERNMENT ONLY RECENTLY APOLOGIZED FOR HIS CONVICTION …

In 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a public apology to Turing on behalf of the British government. “Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly,” Brown said. "This recognition of Alan's status as one of Britain's most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue." Acknowledging Britain’s debt to Turing for his vital contributions to the war effort, he announced, “on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better."

His conviction was not actually pardoned, though, until 2013, when he received a rare royal pardon from the Queen of England.

9. … AND NAMED A LAW AFTER HIM.

Turing was only one of the many men who suffered after being prosecuted for their homosexuality under 19th-century British indecency laws. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK in 1967, but the previous convictions were never overturned. Turing’s Law, which went into effect in 2017, posthumously pardoned men who had been convicted for having consensual gay sex before the repeal. According to one of the activists who campaigned for the mass pardons, around 15,000 of the 65,000 gay men convicted under the outdated law are still alive.

10. HE POISONED HIMSELF … MAYBE.

There is still a bit of mystery surrounding Turing’s death at the age of 41. Turing died of cyanide poisoning, in what is widely believed to have been a suicide. Turing’s life had been turned upside down by his arrest. He lost his job and his security clearance. By order of the court, he had to take hormones intended to “cure” his homosexuality, which caused him to grow breasts and made him impotent. But not everyone is convinced that he died by suicide.

In 2012, Jack Copeland, a Turing scholar, argued that the evidence used to declare Turing’s death a suicide in 1954 would not be sufficient to close the case today. The half-eaten apple by his bedside, thought to be the source of his poisoning, was never tested for cyanide. There was still a to-do list on his desk, and his friends told the coroner at the time that he had seemed in good spirits. Turing’s mother, in fact, maintained that he probably accidentally poisoned himself while experimenting with the chemical in his home laboratory. (He was known to taste chemicals while identifying them, and could be careless with safety precautions.)

That line of inquiry is far more tame than some others, including one author’s theory that he was murdered by the FBI to cover up information that would have been damaging to the U.S.

11. HIS FULL GENIUS WASN’T KNOWN IN HIS LIFETIME.

Alan Turing was a well-respected mathematician in his time, but his contemporaries didn’t know the full extent of his contributions to the world. Turing’s work breaking the Enigma machine remained classified long after his death, meaning that his contributions to the war effort and to mathematics were only partially known to the public during his lifetime. It wasn’t until the 1970s that his instrumental role in the Allies' World War II victory became public with the declassification of the Enigma story. The actual techniques Turing used to decrypt the messages weren’t declassified until 2013, when two of his papers from Bletchley Park were released to the British National Archives.

12. THE TURING TEST IS STILL USED TO MEASURE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE …

Can a machine fool a human into thinking they are chatting with another person? That’s the crux of the Turing test, an idea developed by Turing in 1950 regarding how to measure artificial intelligence. Turing argued in his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” [PDF] that the idea of machines “thinking” is not a useful way to evaluate artificial intelligence. Instead, Turing suggests “the imitation game,” a way to assess how successfully a machine can imitate human behavior. The best measure of artificial intelligence, then, is whether or not a computer can convince a person that it is human.

13. … BUT SOME CONSIDER IT TO BE AN OUTDATED IDEA.

As technology has progressed, some feel the Turing test is no longer a useful way to measure artificial intelligence. It’s cool to think about computers being able to talk just like a person, but new technology is opening up avenues for computers to express intelligence in other, more useful ways. A robot’s intelligence isn’t necessarily defined by whether it can fake being human—self-driving cars or programs that can mimic sounds based on images might not pass the Turing test, but they certainly have intelligence.

14. HE CREATED THE FIRST COMPUTER CHESS PROGRAM.

Inspired by the chess champions he worked with at Bletchley Park, Alan Turing created an algorithm for an early version of computer chess—although at that time, there was no computer to try it out on. Created with paper and pencil, the Turochamp program was designed to think two moves ahead, picking out the best moves possible. In 2012, Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov played against Turing’s algorithm, beating it in 16 moves. “I would compare it to an early caryou might laugh at them but it is still an incredible achievement," Kasparov said in a statement after the match-up.

15. THERE IS ALAN TURING MONOPOLY.

In 2012, Monopoly came out with an Alan Turing edition to celebrate the centennial of his birth. Turing had enjoyed playing Monopoly during his life, and the Turing-themed Monopoly edition was designed based on a hand-drawn board created in 1950 by his friend William Newman. Instead of hotels and houses, it featured huts and blocks inspired by Bletchley Park, and included never-before-published photos of Turing. (It’s hard to find, but there are still a few copies of the game on Amazon.)

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