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Dan Rice, America’s First Famous Clown

Harvard Theatre Collection via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Lately, if you mention clowns, people think of creepy clown sightings or perhaps various political campaigns. But in the mid-1800s, if you said clown and politics in the same sentence, everyone who heard you would think of Dan Rice.

Rice was arguably the most famous entertainer in America in the latter half of the 19th century. Born in New York in 1823, he became a clown, a comedian, an acrobat, a strongman, an animal trainer, a singer, a dancer, an impresario, a political commentator, and an occasional political candidate during his lifetime. He was so famous that some think his trademark look—goatee, striped pants or formal suit with a top hat—may have been one of the models for Uncle Sam’s image (although some evidence also exists to show that Uncle Sam predates Rice).

In Rice’s day, the American circus was in its infancy. In the early 1800s the circus was frequently an animal show, usually centered on equestrian acts. When Rice started in show business in the 1840s, he presented trained animal acts, including "Sybil, the Learned Pig” (also known as Lord Byron) and later his trained horse Excelsior. At one point, he even presented a trained rhinoceros and an elephant who could walk across a tightrope. But Rice also expanded from the basic animal show to add more acrobats and the clowns that we expect in a circus today, helping to give the circus something of its modern form.

As Rice’s circuses became famous, they toured all over the country, by wagon in the East and by boat in the South. When winter came, he moved his shows into cities and indoors into theaters, sometimes drawing thousands. The circus of the 1800s was not for kids, and Rice’s shows were wild and wooly affairs. Performances featured lots of ladies in tight, skimpy clothes and double entendres (or even all-out dirty jokes) flying around the ring. If a fight didn’t break out during a performance or outside of the tent, it was notable. According to legend, the exclamation “Hey, Rube!”—a cry used for decades by circus roustabouts and carnies to call for help whenever a fight broke out—was based on the time a member of Dan Rice’s troupe was caught in a fight in New Orleans and yelled for help to his friend Reuben.

But it was his clowning and commentary that made Rice most famous; to a modern audience, Rice’s act would resemble a stand-up comedy show. He stood in the center ring—at first with one of his animals and later by himself—and emitted a constant stream of comic patter. (Think Robin Williams at his fastest and Jon Stewart at his most political.) He would comment on anything and everything, and exchanged rapid-fire quips with audience members.

As America’s middle class grew and started looking for respectability, Rice gradually began billing his productions more often as shows instead of circuses (by then, circuses were seen as lowbrow entertainment). He also began to call himself “the Great American Humorist.” One of his signature acts was to perform witty parodies of Shakespeare’s plays.

Rice was involved in politics during most of this life, mostly as a commentator, but also sometimes as a candidate. As the Civil War approached, Rice’s political leanings—and his commentary—moved toward the Democrats and away from abolition and the new Republican Party. This was a position that he continued to hold during the war. He ran for the state senate in Pennsylvania as a Democrat in 1864, but lost the election. In 1868, he made a serious run for president, but withdrew from the campaign when he realized that he was unlikely to win. After the Civil War, there were stories that Rice had gone to the White House during the conflict to tell jokes and cheer up Lincoln—but these are probably tales Rice himself spread around.

Rice’s personal fortunes took a variety of twists and turns. He got rich, then lost his money several times over. Later in life, he became an alcoholic and died broke in 1900 in Long Branch, New Jersey. But his memory lives on: The town of Girard, Pennsylvania, where Rice made his home and winter headquarters for many years, still holds Dan Rice Days every summer to honor his legacy.

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Afternoon Map
Monthly Internet Costs in Every Country

Thanks to the internet, people around the world can conduct global research, trade tips, and find faraway friends without ever leaving their couch. Not everyone pays the same price for these digital privileges, though, according to new data visualizations spotted by Thrillist.

To compare internet user prices in each country, cost information site HowMuch.net created a series of maps. The data comes courtesy of English market research consultancy BDRC and Cable.co.uk, which teamed up to analyze 3351 broadband packages in 196 nations between August 18, 2017 and October 12, 2017.

In the U.S., for example, the average cost for internet service is $66 per month. That’s substantially more than what browsers pay in neighboring Mexico ($27) and Canada ($55). Still, we don’t have it bad compared to either Namibia or Burkina Faso, where users shell out a staggering $464 and $924, respectively, for monthly broadband access. In fact, internet in the U.S. is far cheaper than what residents in 113 countries pay, including those in Saudi Arabia ($84), Indonesia ($72), and Greenland ($84).

On average, internet costs in Asia and Russia tend to be among the lowest, while access is prohibitively expensive in sub-Saharan Africa and in certain parts of Oceania. As for the world’s cheapest internet, you’ll find it in Ukraine and Iran.

Check out the maps below for more broadband insights, or view HowMuch.net’s full findings here.

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

[h/t Thrillist]

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Can You Figure Out Why the Turtles Bulge in This Optical Illusion?
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Ready for a little vision test? Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a Kyoto-based psychologist who studies visual illusions, created this eye-bending image that appears to bulge and bend. In the image, shared on Syfy.com, the horizontal and vertical lines actually run straight across and down, but they look like they ripple, and the shapes (Kitaoka calls them turtles) look like they’re different shades of gray, even though they’re an identical color.

As Phil Plait explains for Syfy, the key is in the corners—the turtle “legs,” if you will. “At each vertex between turtles, they form a rotated square divided into four smaller squares," he writes. "Note how they're offset from one another, giving a twist to the vertices.” If you zoom in closely on the image, the lines begin to straighten out.

The difference in the colors, meanwhile, is a result of the contrast between the black and white pixels outlining the turtles. If the outlines of the turtles were entirely black or entirely white, instead of a combination, the grays would look identical. But the contrast between the two fools your eyes into thinking they're different.

To see more of Kitaoka’s illusion art, you can follow him on Twitter @AkiyoshiKitaoka. Then, go check out these other amazing optical illusions.

[h/t Syfy]

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