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Serena via Flicker // CC BY 2.0
Serena via Flicker // CC BY 2.0

13 Freaky Facts About Disney's Tower of Terror Ride

Serena via Flicker // CC BY 2.0
Serena via Flicker // CC BY 2.0

On October 31, 1939, five people met their fates when lightning struck the elevator shaft of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

At least, that's what Disney would have you believe. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a drop ride at four Disney theme parks, takes guests on a terrifying trip through time to discover what happened to those unsuspecting passengers in 1939. It has since become a cult hit, even making famous guests like Mariah Carey scream for more. Here are 13 facts about Disney's Tower of Terror. 

1. IT COULD HAVE BEEN BASED ON THE WORKS OF STEPHEN KING.

After Disney’s movie-themed MGM Studios opened in 1989, Imagineers made plans to add an attraction that would appeal to fans of horror movies. They kicked around a variety of ideas, including a ride based around Stephen King’s many terrifying tales. Also considered was a faux ghost tour featuring Vincent Price, an amusingly horrifying ride hosted by Mel Brooks, or an actual hotel inside of the park that would have had a haunted theme.

2. CREATING THE RIDE INVOLVED A LOT OF TWILIGHT ZONE RESEARCH.

Known for their immersive research, Disney Imagineers watched 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone in order to perfect the ride's aesthetic and tone. Fans of the Rod Serling classic have picked up on the many references to classic episodes, including an appearance from the infamous Talky Tina doll.

3. THERE ARE ALSO SUBTLE DISNEY REFERENCES.

In addition to the many nods to The Twilight Zone, there are plenty of sly references to Disney as well. For starters, there’s sheet music in the library titled “What! No Mickey Mouse?” and a Photoplay magazine featuring a four-page spread of Walt Disney-designed caricatures in the lobby.

4. THERE WAS ONCE A SECRET MESSAGE IN ONE OF THE NOTICE BOARDS.

Michael Gray via Flicker // CC BY 2.0

The spirits at the Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror sometimes try to help guests avoid their fates. Inquisitive guests who peer inside an old notice board in the lobby may find that the fallen letters accumulated at the bottom spell out a warning: “EVIL TOWER UR DOOMED.” The warning has come and gone over the years.

5. GREMLINS DIRECTOR JOE DANTE DIRECTED THE PRE-RIDE VIDEO.

Before guests board the ride, they’re taken into a dusty old library, where Rod Serling tells the tale of the tragedy that changed the hotel on October 31, 1939. That’s really Rod Serling, by the way; Imagineers were able to take clips from The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” that matched up with the story they wanted to tell. That pre-ride video was directed by Joe Dante, who also directed Gremlins.

6. ROD SERLING'S WIFE CHOSE THE VOICEOVER ARTIST.

Though it’s Rod Serling’s image in the video, it’s not all his voice. Voice impersonator Mark Silverman’s ability to match Serling’s famous cadence was so impressive that he was chosen for the job by Rod’s widow, Carol Serling.

7. GUESTS DON’T ACTUALLY DROP.

Tower of Terror guests may feel like they're free-falling, but they're not—they’re being pulled. Ride technology pulls the elevator car down faster than gravity, which is what results in that amazing butts-off-the-seat levitation effect. (Don’t forego the seat belts on this one, kids.)

8. THE DROPS ARE RANDOMIZED.

Guests can't prepare themselves for the exact level of terror they'll experience on the ride. In 2002, Disney upgraded the Tower of Terror with computer-randomized drop sequences for each individual experience, so riders don't know how many times they'll drop or from what heights. 

9. THE EXTERIOR WAS DESIGNED TO BLEND IN WITH MOROCCO.

The Florida ride is the second-tallest attraction at the resort, second only to the Expedition Everest roller coaster and the Animal Kingdom. In fact, it's so tall that the upper half of it is visible from Epcot—it can be seen just behind the Morocco pavilion. Because Disney is so invested in making guest experiences completely immersive, they designed the exterior of the fake hotel to blend right into the Morocco skyline. Check it out:

10. OTIS ELEVATORS WAS INVOLVED IN THE RIDE'S CREATION.

Disney called in the elevator experts to help create the attraction. Otis Elevators has been outfitting buildings across the world since 1853—and with a price tag of $8 million, the Tower of Terror is the company's most expensive sale ever.

11. PART OF THE RIDE IS A SELF-DRIVING CAR.

If you’ve been on the Florida version of the ride, you probably recall a moment where the elevator car seems to leave the shaft to take you through a very Twilight Zone-esque "Fifth Dimension." That’s because it does! The car is actually an AGV, or an autonomous-guided vehicle, that moves without tracks or rails.

If you don’t mind ruining some of the mystery, you can see exactly how it works on this clip from Modern Marvels:

12. THE VERSION AT DISNEY’S CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE IS GETTING RE-THEMED.

Getty

The California Adventure version of the Tower of Terror opened on May 5, 2004, 10 years after the Orlando version made its debut. Unless fan petitions manage to get through to the powers that be, the elevator doors at the California Adventure Tower of Terror will close for the last time on January 2, 2017, to make way for a Guardians of the Galaxy makeover.

13. THERE MAY BE A MOVIE ON THE WAY.

The Tower of Terror first received a movie treatment in 1997, with a made-for-TV film starring Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst.

But there may be a big-budget revamp in the works as well. Big Fish screenwriter John August turned in a treatment in 2015. Stay tuned!

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10 Biting Facts About Snapping Turtles
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Here in the Americas, lake monster legends are a dime a dozen. More than a few of them were probably inspired by these ancient-looking creatures. In honor of World Turtle Day, here are 10 things you might not have known about snapping turtles.

1. THE COMMON SNAPPING TURTLE IS NEW YORK'S OFFICIAL STATE REPTILE.

Elementary school students voted to appoint Chelydra serpentina in a 2006 statewide election. Weighing as much as 75 pounds in the wild (and 86 in captivity), this hefty omnivore’s natural range stretches from Saskatchewan to Florida.

2. ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES CAN BE LARGE. (VERY LARGE.)

An alligator snapping turtle
NorbertNagel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Utterly dwarfing their more abundant cousin, alligator snappers (genus: Macrochelys) are the western hemisphere’s biggest freshwater turtles. The largest one on record, a longtime occupant of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, weighed 249 pounds.  

A monstrous 403-pounder was reported in Kansas during the Great Depression, though this claim was never confirmed.  

3. COMMON SNAPPERS HAVE LONGER NECKS AND SPIKIER TAILS.

Alligator snappers also display proportionately bigger heads and noses plus a trio of tall ridges atop their shells. Geographically, alligator snapping turtles are somewhat restricted compared to their common relatives, and are limited mainly to the southeast and Great Plains.

4. BOTH VARIETIES AVOID CONTACT WITH PEOPLE.

If given the choice between fight and flight, snapping turtles almost always distance themselves from humans. The animals spend the bulk of their lives underwater, steering clear of nearby Homo sapiens. However, problems can arise on dry land, where the reptiles are especially vulnerable. Females haul themselves ashore during nesting season (late spring to early summer). In these delicate months, people tend to prod and handle them, making bites inevitable.

5. YOU REALLY DON'T WANT TO GET BITTEN BY ONE. 

Snapping turtle jaw strength—while nothing to sneeze at—is somewhat overrated. Common snapping turtles can clamp down with up to 656.81 newtons (N) of force, though typical bites register an average of 209 N. Their alligator-like cousins usually exert 158 N. You, on the other hand, can apply 1300 N between your second molars.

Still, power isn’t everything, and neither type of snapper could latch onto something with the crushing force of a crocodile’s mighty jaws. Yet their sharp beaks are well-designed for major-league shearing. An alligator snapping turtle’s beak is capable of slicing fingers clean off and (as the above video proves) obliterating pineapples.

Not impressed yet? Consider the following. It’s often said that an adult Macrochelys can bite a wooden broom handle in half. Intrigued by this claim, biologist Peter Pritchard decided to play MythBuster. In 1989, he prodded a 165-pound individual with a brand new broomstick. Chomp number one went deep, but didn’t quite break through the wood. The second bite, though, finished the job.

6. SCIENTISTS RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT THERE ARE THREE SPECIES OF ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES.

A 2014 study trisected the Macrochelys genus. For over a century, naturalists thought that there was just a single species, Macrochelys temminckii. Closer analysis proved otherwise, as strong physical and genetic differences exist between various populations. The newly-christened M. suwanniensis and M. apalachicolae are named after their respective homes—namely, the Suwannee and Apalachicola rivers. Further west, good old M. temminckii swims through the Mobile and the Mississippi.

7. THANKS TO A 19TH CENTURY POLITICAL CARTOON, COMMON SNAPPING TURTLES ARE ALSO KNOWN AS "OGRABMES." 

Snapping turtle cartoon
Urban~commonswiki via Wiki Commons // CC BY PD-US

Drawn by Alexander Anderson, this piece skewers Thomas Jefferson’s signing of the unpopular Embargo Act. At the president’s command, we see a snapping turtle bite some poor merchant’s hind end. Agitated, the victim calls his attacker “ograbme”—“embargo” spelled backwards.

8. ALLIGATOR SNAPPERS ATTRACT FISH WITH AN ORAL LURE …

You can’t beat live bait. Anchored to the Macrochelys tongue is a pinkish, worm-like appendage that fish find irresistible. Preferring to let food come to them, alligator snappers open their mouths and lie in wait at the bottoms of rivers and lakes. Cue the lure. When this protrusion wriggles, hungry fish swim right into the gaping maw and themselves become meals.

9.  … AND THEY FREQUENTLY EAT OTHER TURTLES. 


Complex01, WikimediaCommons

Alligator snappers are anything but picky. Between fishy meals, aquatic plants also factor into their diet, as do frogs, snakes, snails, crayfish, and even relatively large mammals like raccoons and armadillos. Other shelled reptiles are fair game, too: In one Louisiana study, 79.82% of surveyed alligator snappers had turtle remains in their stomachs.

10. YOU SHOULD NEVER PICK A SNAPPER UP BY THE TAIL.

Ideally, you should leave the handling of these guys to trained professionals. But what if you see a big one crossing a busy road and feel like helping it out? Before doing anything else, take a few moments to identify the turtle. If it’s an alligator snapper, you’ll want to grasp the lip of the upper shell (or “carapace”) in two places: right behind the head and right above the tail.

Common snappers demand a bit more finesse (we wouldn’t want one to reach back and nip you with that long, serpentine neck). Slide both hands under the hind end of the shell, letting your turtle’s tail dangle between them. Afterwards, clamp down on the carapace with both thumbs.

Please note that lifting any turtle by the tail can permanently dislocate its vertebrae. Additionally, remember to move the reptile in the same direction that it’s already facing. Otherwise, your rescue will probably turn right back around and try to cross the road again later. 

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Tina Fey
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Tina Fey has transformed modern comedy more than just about anyone else. From the main stage of Second City to the writer’s room of SNL to extremely fetch comedy blockbusters, Elizabeth Stamatina Fey has built a national stage with a dry, eye-popping sarcasm and political satire where no one is safe. She has a slew of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, PGA, and WGA awards to prove it—plus a recent Tony nomination (her first). But, more importantly, she’s the closest thing we have to a national comic laureate.

Here are 10 facts about a fantastically blorft American icon.

1. SHE DID A BOOK REPORT ON COMEDY WHEN SHE WAS 11.

Fey got a very early start in comedy, watching a lot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, and Norman Lear shows as a kid. Her father and mother sneaked her in to see Young Frankenstein and would let her stay up late to watch The Honeymooners. So it’s no surprise that she chose comedy as the subject of a middle school project. The only book she could get her hands on was Joe Franklin’s Encyclopedia of Comedians, but at least she made a friend. "I remember me and one other girl in my 8th grade class got to do an independent study because we finished the regular material early, and she chose to do hers on communism, and I chose to do mine on comedy," Fey told The A.V. Club. "We kept bumping into each other at the card catalog."

2. THE SCAR ON HER FACE CAME FROM A BIZARRE ATTACK THAT OCCURRED WHEN SHE WAS A CHILD.

Fey’s facial scar had been recognizable but unexplained for years until a profile in Vanity Fair revealed that the mark on her left cheek came from being slashed by a strange man when she was five years old. “She just thought somebody marked her with a pen,” her husband Jeff Richmond said. Fey wrote in Bossypants that it happened in an alleyway behind her Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, home when she was in kindergarten.

3. HER FIRST TV APPEARANCE WAS IN A BANK COMMERCIAL.

Saturday Night Live hired Fey as a writer in 1997. In 1995 she had the slightly more glamorous job of pitching Mutual Savings Bank with a radical floral applique vest and a handful of puns on the word “Hi.” In a bit of life imitating art, just as Liz Lemon’s 1-900-OKFACE commercial was unearthed and mocked on 30 Rock, the internet discovered Fey’s stint awkwardly cheering on high interest rates a few years ago and had a lot to say about her '90s hair.

4. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO BE NAMED HEAD WRITER OF SNL.

Four years after that commercial and two after she joined Saturday Night Live’s writing staff, Fey earned a promotion to head writer. Up until that point, the head writers were named Michael, Herb, Bob, Jim, Steve. You get the picture. She acted as head writer for six seasons until moving on to write and executive produce 30 Rock. Since her departure, two more women (Paula Pell and Sara Schneider) have been head writers for the iconic show.

5. SHE’S THE YOUNGEST MARK TWAIN PRIZE WINNER.

Established in 1998, the Kennedy Center’s hilarious honor has mostly been awarded to funny people in the twilight of their careers. Richard Pryor was the first recipient, and comedians who made their marks decades prior like Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, and George Carlin followed. Fey earned the award in 2010 when she was 40 years old, and the age of her successors (Carol Burnett, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, David Letterman ...) signals that she may hold the title of youngest recipient for some time.

6. SHE WROTE SATIRE FOR HER HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER.

Fey was an outstanding student who was involved in choir, drama, and tennis, and co-edited the school’s newspaper, The Acorn. She also wrote a satirical column addressing “school policy and teachers” under the pun-tastic pseudonym “The Colonel.” Fey also recalled getting in trouble because she tried to make a pun on the phrase “annals of history.” Cheeky.

7. SHE MADE HER RAP DEBUT WITH CHILDISH GAMBINO ON "REAL ESTATE."

Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) first gained notice as a member of Derrick Comedy in college, and Fey hired him at the age of 23 to write for 30 Rock. Before jumping from that show to Community, Glover put out his first mixtape under his stage name. After releasing his debut album, Camp, in 2011, Gambino dropped a sixth mixtape called Royalty that featured Fey rapping on a song called “Real Estate.” “My president is black, and my Prius is blue!"

8. SHE VOICED PRINCESSES IN A BELOVED PINBALL GAME.

Between the bank commercial and Saturday Night Live, Fey has an intriguing credit on her resume: the arcade pinball machine “Medieval Madness.” Most of the game’s Arthurian dialogue was written by Second City members Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger on 30 Rock) and Kevin Dorff, who pulled in fellow Second City castmate Fey to voice for an “Opera Singer” princess, Cockney-speaking princesses, and a character with a southern drawl. (You can hear some of the outtakes here.)

9. SHE USED MEAN GIRLS TO PUSH BACK AGAINST STEREOTYPES OF WOMEN IN MATH.

Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan in 'Mean Girls' (2004)
Paramount Home Entertainment

There’s a ton of interesting trivia about Mean Girls, Fey’s first foray into feature film screenwriting. She bid on the rights to Rosalind Wiseman’s book that inspired the movie without realizing it didn’t have a plot. She initially wrote a large part for herself but kept whittling it down to focus on the teenagers, and her first draft was “for sure R-rated.” Fey also chose to play a math teacher to fight prejudice. “It was an attempt on my part to counteract the stereotype that girls can’t do math. Even though I did not understand a word I was saying.” Fey used a friend’s calculus teacher boyfriend’s lesson plans in the script.

10. SHE SET UP A SCHOLARSHIP IN HER FATHER’S NAME TO HELP VETERANS.

Fey’s father Donald was a Korean War veteran who also studied journalism at Temple University. When he died in 2015, Fey and her brother Peter founded a memorial scholarship in his name that seeks to aid veterans who want to study journalism at Temple.

"He was really inspiring," Fey said. "A lot of kids grow up with dreams of doing those things and their parents are fearful and want them to get a law degree and have things to fall back on, but he and our mom always encouraged us to pursue whatever truly interested us." Fey also supports Autism Speaks, Mercy Corps, Love Our Children USA, and other charities.

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