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15 Frightening Facts About Are You Afraid of the Dark?

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Are You Afraid of the Dark? is the reason why '90s kids might look back at their Saturday nights with a little bit of terror. The anthology horror series, which closed up the SNICK block of programming, must have cost millions of children precious hours sleep with the scary tales presented by The Midnight Society under the cover of darkness. Submitted for your approval, here are some facts about the classic Nickelodeon series.

1. NICKELODEON DIDN'T WANT IT FOR OVER A YEAR.

Creators D. J. MacHale and Ned Kandel unsuccessfully pitched the series to Nickelodeon, who told the two that scaring children was a non-starter. One year and network hiring of an executive named Jay Mulvaney later, the two tried and failed again to sell a different show. But Mulvaney, who had read a three-page treatment of Are You Afraid of the Dark? and wondered why the network had passed on it, asked MacHale and Kandel if they were still interested in making their original idea.

2. ITS TITLE WAS INSPIRED BY DR. SEUSS.

The show's original title was Scary Tales, which Nickelodeon didn't like it. “There was a scary story written by Dr. Seuss … called What Was I Scared Of?, and I always loved that story," MacHale told Splitsider. "So, I took that title and thought, ‘Well, I was afraid of clowns and I was afraid of the dark …’ And that’s where the title [of our show] came from: Kind of an answer to that Dr. Seuss title.”

3. THE THEME WAS COMPOSED IN AN AIRPORT.

Jeff Zahn was waiting for his plane to arrive at the airport in Montreal when he just started to sing the theme. "I just thought about the series, about mystery, hauntings, scary, supernatural things, thrillers—and kids—and it came to me," Zahn told Art of the Title. "I didn’t have music paper, so I scribbled out the notes on a napkin. I really liked it and kept singing it. Then when I played it on piano the important countermelody came to me, which I used as an introduction and for linking material. It came together very quickly and easily, unlike a lot of other themes I’ve done."

4. NICKELODEON PUSHED FOR A DIVERSE, "NON-DISNEY" CAST.

Diversity was such a strong mandate at Nickelodeon that the series ended up being nominated for an NAACP award. Nickelodeon also turned away kids if they were "too Disney," which MacHale described as "apple pie, freckles, cute, over-the-top acting."

5. MACHALE GOT THE CHICKEN POX FROM AUDITIONING KIDS.

MacHale traveled to Vancouver, Toronto, New York, and Montreal to fill out the show's cast. After a trek to Vancouver, he came down with the chicken pox. He was quarantined in Montreal for 10 days.

6. RYAN GOSLING TURNED DOWN JOINING THE MIDNIGHT SOCIETY.

MacHale wanted to hire Ryan Gosling, but he chose to join the now legendary The All-New Mickey Mouse Club cast, alongside Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Keri Russell instead. Gosling did, however, guest star in the episode "The Tale of Station 109.1." Plenty of other future stars appeared on the series, too.

7. NONE OF THE CHARACTERS EVER ACTUALLY LIT THE CAMPFIRE.

All of the Society's fires were already lit when the audience joined the action because Nickelodeon didn't want to educate the kids watching at home on how to strike matches. In the one episode where a character was allowed to light a lantern, the actress, Mia Kirshner, didn't know how to do it.

8. THEY SHOT AN ENTIRE SEASON'S WORTH OF MIDNIGHT SOCIETY SCENES TWO TO THREE WEEKS AT A TIME.

Ross Hull (Gary) recalled that 13 episodes were shot over a "two to three" week span. Elisha Cuthbert, who was a part of the second group of Society kids, had a similar experience. "It was interesting for me and everyone in the Midnight Society because we would shoot all of our scenes back to back in two weeks, and then we wouldn’t do it again until the following year," she said.

9. NICKELODEON WANTED THE STORIES TO BE BASED ON CLASSIC HORROR TALES.

The network's logic was that if parents ever complained about the show's darker themed content, the network could just say it was based on classic literature. According to MacHale, a lot of the stories had literary antecedents. (But there were never any complaints.)

10. SOMETIMES THE LOCATIONS WOULD INSPIRE THE STORY.

"There was an episode we did called ‘The Tale of the Hatchet,’ which was about a private boarding school that turns out [laughs] it’s run by lizard people," MacHale said. "In the basement of the school there were these giant tanks with floating eggs, where the lizard people were nurturing all these little monsters. That came from the fact that this location scout took me to this water purification plant from the ‘30s where all these tanks were, and I thought, ‘Ooh, I can build a story around this.’"

11. THE MIDNIGHT DUST WAS NON-DAIRY CREAMER.

The "midnight dust" that Society members tossed on the campfire while introducing their stories was a non-dairy creamer (and it reportedly burned). Daniel DeSanto (Tucker) did not know the secret until he joined the cast. "I came on third season and I was so excited for the magic dust used in the fire. But it’s just a bag of CoffeeMate and glitter. The fire was a pyrotechnic trick."

12. THERE WAS A CHANGE WITH GARY AFTER THE FIRST SEASON.

Ross Hull had to take the lenses out of his glasses because it was catching the reflection of the studio lights.

13. THEY SHOT IN REAL CEMETERIES, BUT WITH FAKE NAMES.

There are laws against showing real names on tombstones, so foam ones with phony names were used when necessary.

This fact did not ease editor Paul Doyle's paranoia. "I remember working very late one night, bleary-eyed, cutting a scene from a graveyard," Doyle said. "The camera creeps among the tombstones with a rolling fog and comes to rest on a tombstone reading, 'Here Lies Blind Paul.' I burst out laughing and the assistant editor came running in to see what was the matter. To this day D.J. [MacHale] denies that he was commenting on my editing."

14. MOSQUITOES WERE A SERIOUS PROBLEM.

A Montreal arboretum allowed the show to film the "deep, dark woods" scenes on their premises, but they did not permit the use of any mosquito-killing insecticides. This resulted in the crew having to actually wear beekeeper outfits and gloves. Several takes through the years were dumped because a mosquito would bother an actor.

15. 'THE TALE OF THE NIGHT SHIFT' WAS MEANT TO BE THE SERIES FINALE.

It was the only episode of the series where the Society fire was not put out in the end. The hospital room door in the final shot had the number 65 on it because it was the 65th episode. "In that same shot, if you listen closely, you can hear the Dark theme coming from the hospital room," MacHale said. But after an almost three-year drought with no new episodes, another two 13-episode seasons were shot.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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