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25 Things Turning 25 in 2017

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If you were born in 1992, you're in good company! Here's our annual list celebrating 25 things (people, companies, movies, books, etc.) turning 25 this year.


On February 14, Wayne's World graduated from Saturday Night Live sketch to feature film. No way?! Way!! Featuring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey and directed by Penelope Spheeris, it was a landmark comedy that both reflected and affected '90s pop culture. It single-handedly revived Queen's song "Bohemian Rhapsody," introduced the world to the intellectualism of Alice Cooper, and convinced teens that public-access TV was worthwhile after all. As a pair of wise men once said: "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!"


On December 3, 1992, 22-year-old engineer Neil Papworth sent the first text message over a cellular network. He used a computer connected to the Vodafone GSM network to send the message to Vodafone director Richard Jarvis's Orbitel 901 mobile phone (which was gigantic, but technically "mobile" by 1992 standards). The message read: "Merry Christmas." Why the early Christmas greeting? Jarvis was at a Christmas party at the time.


To the immense frustration of adults and delight of toddlers, the purple dinosaur Barney appeared on PBS on April 6. Barney & Friends was initially envisioned four years earlier as a direct-to-video series called Barney & The Backyard Gang created by Sheryl Leach, a Dallas elementary school teacher who wanted to create toddler-appropriate programming for her kids. (She noted that most programming for kids assumed too long an attention span, which led to the simplistic bits featured on Barney.)

If you missed this moment in television history, let's catch you up. Barney is a giant purple Tyrannosaurus rex made of cloth, who likes to sing and dance. He is utterly non-threatening, essentially a scaled-up version of a plush dinosaur toy. When a People Magazine article called the lyrics to Barney's songs "stupid," an era of Barney-bashing began. Toddlers didn't care one bit, and clamored for Barney merchandise, as an actor in a six-foot tall Barney costume embarked on a mall tour in December.


On August 11, the Mall of America—the largest mall in the United States—opened in Bloomington, Minnesota. This was just one of many projects enacted by Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich, who created a World Trade Center in St. Paul, received a visit from Mikhail Gorbachev, and brought the Super Bowl to the Twin Cities in 1992.

The Mall of America was indeed the largest in the U.S., covering approximately 2.7 million square feet, though it was actually smaller than the Edmonton Mall in Canada. U.S. visitors didn't mind, as Minnesota's Mall contained, as the Los Angeles Times reported:

... the nation's largest indoor amusement park, the world's largest parking ramp, the world's largest indoor planting of live shrubs, the world's largest indoor miniature golf course, and arguably the world's largest concentration of Tivoli lights.

Asked about the Mall, humorist Garrison Keillor joked:

"Minnesota is where the shopping mall was invented, so it's natural that the biggest one should be there ... but some people disappear in them and never come out, thousands in Minnesota alone, and the Mall of America is going to triple the toll.

... Fifteen thousand shoppers will vanish in the next year, never to bring their purchases home, and the terrible tragedy is that they will not be particularly missed. Their families will simply order duplicate credit cards and go on without them."

The Mall eventually included 400 stores, 14 movie theaters, seven restaurants, five nightclubs, and 31,000 live trees and shrubs.


On October 1, the first 24-hour channel devoted to cartoons debuted, courtesy of the Turner Broadcasting System. The channel was based in part on TBS's purchase of Hanna-Barbera and its back catalog, which contained roughly 1500 hours of animated content spread across 350 TV series and movies.

Jeffry Scott of the Cox News Service reported:

In a private ceremony Thursday, [Ted] Turner himself will launch the channel with a push of an Acme dynamite plunger on the front lawn of Turner Broadcasting System Inc.’s facility on Techwood Drive [in Atlanta].

The plunger will spark a fuse, which will explode a barrel of colored chicken feathers and confetti. Then, on a huge TV screen will pop the picture: a cartoon character named Droopy Dog introducing the world to Turner’s new "cartoon universe."


On May 5, the landmark game Wolfenstein 3D brought stunning first-person shooter graphics to DOS PCs. Developed by id Software, the game had a WWII theme, and you played as Allied spy B.J. Blazkowicz on a series of anti-Nazi missions. It was violent, it was technologically advanced, and it was a massive hit.

Considered the "grandfather of 3D shooters," Wolfenstein 3D was followed up quickly by Doom, which led to an explosion of first-person shooter games. Wolfenstein 3D was also hugely influential in proving the viability of shareware publishing, as the best-selling shareware of 1992.

You can play Wolfenstein 3D online for free using most modern desktop browsers.


From July 25 to August 9, the 1992 Summer Olympic Games were held in Barcelona. They're best known—to American audiences, anyway—for the performance of the U.S. men's basketball team, which was the first to include current NBA players. We called it the "Dream Team."

The Dream Team featured an all-star lineup of 11 NBA players: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin. There was also a twelfth member, college player Christian Laettner (who would go on to the NBA). Their goal was to bring home a Gold Medal, and they crushed it.

They won all eight of their Barcelona games, with an average lead of 44 points. Interestingly, although the Dream Team did a great job, the 1956 U.S. team exceeded their performance, with an average of +56 points per game. Still, the Dream Team is often considered the best team ever assembled in any sport.


Dr. Dre released his first solo album on December 15. It was a masterpiece of hip-hop production, and it was Dre's first appearance outside of N.W.A. The Chronic included tons of appearances by Snoop Dogg, kickstarting his career.

1992 was a huge year for ex-N.W.A. members releasing solo albums. In that same year, Ice Cube released The Predator, Eazy-E released 5150: Home 4 tha Sick, and MC Ren released Kizz My Black Azz. (D.O.C. was also involved with The Chronic.)


The USDA released its first Food Guide Pyramid in 1992. This guide was just the latest in a long series of food guidance offered by the USDA [PDF], but it was the first to take a pyramid shape. (The USDA based its design initially on Sweden's food pyramid, though the contents differed.)

Based on a broad platform of "Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta," the guide's visual design was informed by consumer research [PDF], which compared (among other things) a "bowl" shape divided into segments versus the pyramid design. The research read, in part:

... the differences between the pyramid and the bowl in communicating the proportionality and moderation concepts were large and highly significant (p<.001). Higher scores for the pyramid were consistent across all the subpopulations examined, including those for whom concern was greatest—children and individuals on food assistance programs.

In 2005, the USDA switched to what it called "MyPyramid," and in 2011 ditched the whole pyramid thing in favor of "MyPlate." The Food Pyramid's guidance remains controversial.


On April 12, Euro Disney opened in Paris. French citizens weren't too enthused, seeing it as an invasion of American commercialism. (Disney CEO Michael Eisner was hit with eggs and presented with "Mickey, Go Home!" protest signs when he appeared at the Paris stock exchange.) Americans weren't particularly keen either, already having world-class Disney parks at home. Visitors couldn't even drink wine in the park when it first opened. French commentators called it a "cultural Chernobyl."

The park was eventually renamed Disneyland Paris, and became the most-visited tourist attraction in Europe. In 2015 it attracted more visitors than the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower combined. Unfortunately, this visitor traffic has not led to profit, and the park has faced financial troubles over the decades.


Super Mario Kart started the Mario Kart racing game franchise on August 27, when it debuted in Japan. (It was released on September 1 in the U.S.) It boasted a multiplayer split-screen mode as well as excellent graphics (at least for a Super Nintendo game). Super Mario Kart went on to sell more than eight million cartridges and spawned many sequels.


IBM debuted its first ThinkPad laptop on October 5, 1992. Its name was inspired by an old line of IBM paper notepads that bore the slogan "Think." Although IBM introduced three sleek black ThinkPad models, the ThinkPad 700c was the star. It featured a 10.4-inch color screen, integrated TrackPoint pointing device (that little red nubbin in the middle of the keyboard), and a beefy 486 CPU. It was truly a powerful computer for its era, and at just 7.6 pounds, it was considered very portable. Of course, its $4350 price tag was a problem, but there were cheaper options (with monochrome displays) in the lineup.

Today the ThinkPad is manufactured by Lenovo, but its design and build quality are still reminiscent of that original 700C—minus most of the weight.


In 1982, researchers began working on a computer file format that would store photographic data. The goal was to compress images so that photographs would be small, making them easy to download over low-bandwidth connections, and easy to store on small storage devices. The Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) formed in 1986 to develop the compression standard.

On September 18, the first JPEG standard was published, and the rest is computer history. The JPEG's ability to handle photographs (and other kinds of detailed imagery) while tossing out extraneous data makes it similar to the MP3 format for sound. Throughout the 1990s, JPEG joined file formats like GIF as the basis for web pages, and you're still looking at JPEGs on this website today!


In 1992, the first prescription nicotine patch reached the market—four years later, it became available over-the-counter. The patch was developed by Dr. Murray E. Jarvik, a UCLA pharmacologist (and nonsmoker) who figured that delivering nicotine to smokers via a skin patch could curb their cravings, helping them to quit smoking.

Jarvik had a long history working with nicotine; in the 1960s he taught monkeys to smoke cigarettes and established that nicotine was the addictive ingredient. That discovery led to nicotine gum and eventually the transdermal patch.


Starting on April 13, pre-addressed ballots appeared at post offices around the U.S. They allowed the public to vote on two proposed designs for a stamp bearing the image of Elvis Presley. The key question: Should we show young Elvis or old Elvis? (Ahem, "mature" Elvis, with sequined white jumpsuit.) People Magazine ran a full-page ad asking the public to "Decide which Elvis is King." The vote ended on April 24, so there was a frenzy to acquire these ballots and make votes in the minimal time they were available.

The vote was a matter of public debate, with designs created by artists Mark Stutzman and John Berkey. (These were the finalists after eight artists submitted 60 sketches to the U.S. Postal Service.) More than 1.2 million ballots were cast, with roughly 75 percent of them selecting Stutzman's "young Elvis" painting.

The Elvis stamp itself was released on January 8, 1993—on what would have been Elvis's 58th birthday.


The Muppet Christmas Carol sleighed into theaters on December 11, 1992. An adaptation of Charles Dickens's classic, the film starred Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, along with the classic Muppet characters. (Kermit played Bob Cratchit and Gonzo played Charles Dickens himself, as the narrator.) It was the first Muppet movie made without Jim Henson.

The film was directed by Brian Henson, Jim's son. Jim had died on May 16, 1990, so Kermit was played by Steve Whitmire. Longtime Muppet puppeteer Richard Hunt died on January 7, 1992 before production began, and his characters (including Statler, Beaker, and Janice) were handled by other performers. The film was dedicated to the memory of the two men.


Freddie Mercury died on November 24, 1991, aged 45. He was the first rock star to die from AIDS complications, and the remaining members of the band Queen organized a concert to promote AIDS awareness.

The tribute concert was held at London's Wembley Stadium on April 20, 1992. It featured a star-studded lineup including David Bowie, George Michael, Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Elton John, Metallica, Annie Lennox, Guns N' Roses, Seal, and U2. It was broadcast live to an international TV audience.

If you haven't seen the concert, head over to YouTube. It's fantastic. (The entire three-hour concert is also available for rent on various online services.)


"November Rain" is one of Guns N' Roses's longest songs, clocking in just shy of nine minutes. A lot of that is extended guitar solos and orchestral segments. To go with the song, the band put together an epic music video which, somehow, has more than 700 million views on YouTube.

Directed by Andy Morahan (who also directed such masterpieces as George Michael's "Faith"), the video featured model Stephanie Seymour—then Axl Rose's girlfriend—as his wife. The video cost more than $1.5 million to make (at the time, the highest-budget music video ever). A big chunk of that budget was devoted to building a chapel in the desert so Slash could wail in front of it while a helicopter zoomed by.

The video is famously complex, so much so that in 2014 Slash admitted that he had "no idea" what it meant. He commented, in part, "I knew there was a wedding in there somewhere and I was not into the concept of the wedding."


On November 25, The Bodyguard—starring Kevin Costner as the titular bodyguard and Whitney Houston as the pop star he's protecting—graced theaters. It was Houston's first film role, and it was a massive box office hit.

But more important than the movie was its soundtrack: Houston's iconic cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" was the standout hit, and the soundtrack was a blockbuster, currently ranked the 16th bestselling record of all time, and it is the number one bestselling soundtrack.

At one point in 1993, the soundtrack held five simultaneous number one positions on the Billboard charts. Now that's a hit record.


On May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson finished his run as host of The Tonight Show on NBC. On May 25, Jay Leno became the new host, and Billy Crystal was his first guest. Branford Marsalis led The Tonight Show band, and Ed Hall was the new announcer. After Billy Crystal on that first episode, the guests were performer Shanice Wilson and Robert Krulwich (later co-host of Radiolab).

Leno was the fourth host of the show. Steve Allen was first, followed by Jack Paar, then Johnny Carson's incredible three-decade run. Leno hosted from 1992-2014 (with a brief interruption where Conan O'Brien had the gig from 2009-2010). After Leno's retirement in 2014, Jimmy Fallon took the hosting job and remains there today.


In a surprising turn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens costars John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were both born in 1992. The Force is strong with this year. Here's a rundown of some famous birth dates:

Taylor Lautner - February 11

John Boyega - March 17

Daisy Ridley - April 10

Kate Upton - June 10

Selena Gomez - July 22

Demi Lovato - August 20

Nick Jonas - September 16

Miley Cyrus - November 23


In 1992, lawyers Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck founded The Innocence Project. The organization's mission is to exonerate wrongfully convicted (innocent) people and reform the criminal justice system that convicted them in the first place. One of their key tools is DNA analysis, which sometimes was not available at the time of conviction.

To date, The Innocence Project has been involved with hundreds of exonerations, including cases in which they have helped find the actual perpetrator.


1992 was an incredible year for alternative and hip-hop bands. Here's a partial list of bands formed that year:

Blink-182 (initially as "Blink")

Built to Spill


Collective Soul

Digable Planets


Tha Dogg Pound

Hanson (initially as "The Hanson Brothers")

Harvey Danger


Less Than Jake

Nada Surf

Porno for Pyros

Seven Mary Three


Soul Coughing

Sunny Day Real Estate


Wu-Tang Clan


In 1992, brothers Dane and Travis Boersma opened the first Dutch Bros. Coffee location in Grants Pass, Oregon. The brothers were of Dutch descent, hence the company's name. They were former dairy farmers, trying their hand at a new business. They proceeded immediately on their mission of "Roastin' and Rockin'," then proceeded to spread across the country to more than 260 locations that continue "spreading the Dutch Luv" [sic].


On February 1, U.S. President George H.W. Bush met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin at Camp David. The two issued a join declaration formally ending the Cold War, and declaring a new era of "friendship and partnership" between the two nations.

At the announcement, Yeltsin said, in part:

"Today one might say that there has been written and drawn a new line, and crossed out all of the things that have been associated with the Cold War.

From now on we do not consider ourselves to be potential enemies, as it had been previously in our military doctrine. This is the historic value of this meeting. And another very important factor in our relationship, right away today, it's already been pointed out that in the future there'll be full frankness, full openness, full honesty in our relationship."

The Joint Declaration promised all sorts of great stuff, including reducing strategic arsenals, promoting free trade, and promoting "respect for human rights." You can read the whole declaration for a taste of what the future looked like in 1992.

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AFP/Getty Images
5 Surprising Facts About the Battle of Dunkirk
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AFP/Getty Images

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dunkirk, the world’s attention is once again focused on the historic events recounted in the film, when a makeshift fleet of British fishing boats, pleasure yachts, and cargo ships helped save 185,000 British soldiers and 130,000 French soldiers from death or capture by German invaders during the Fall of France in May and June 1940. Here are five surprising facts about those heroic days.


By Weper Hermann, 13 German Mobile Assault Unit - Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The main reason France collapsed so quickly in 1940 was the element of surprise enjoyed by its German attackers, thanks to General Erich von Manstein, who proposed an invasion route that was widely believed to be impossible. In Manstein’s plan, the main German column of tanks and motorized infantry would force their way through the forests of Ardennes in southeast Belgium and Luxembourg—a thick, hilly woodland which was supposed to be difficult terrain for tanks, requiring at least five days to cross, according to conventional wisdom based on the experience of the First World War. The French and British assumed that little had changed since the previous conflict, but thanks to field studies and updated maps, Manstein and his colleague General Heinz Guderian realized that a new network of narrow, paved roads would allow just enough room for tanks and trucks to squeeze through. As a result the Germans passed through Ardennes into northern France in just two-and-a-half days, threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, with only one escape route: the sea.


Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The German invasion of France began on May 10, 1940, the same day Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. By May 14, when he paid his first official visit to Britain’s ally, Holland had capitulated and Paris was preparing for evacuation. But an even worse surprise was in store. In one of the most famous passages of military history, Churchill recounted the moment he learned that the French didn’t have any troops in reserve:

"I then asked ‘Where is the strategic reserve?’ and, breaking into French … ‘Ou est la mass de manoeuvre?’ General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, replied. ‘Aucune.’ [There is none] … I was dumbfounded. What were we to think of the Great French Army and its highest chief? It had never occurred to me than any commanders … would have left themselves unprovided with a mass of manoeuvre … This was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.”


On May 24, 1940, the Allied troops on the French and Belgian coast had been totally surrounded by powerful German tank columns, rendering them essentially defenseless against the impending German onslaught. And then came a brief reprieve, as the attackers suddenly stopped for 48 hours, allowing the British to dig in and create a defensive perimeter, setting the stage for the evacuation.

For reasons that still aren’t clear, Hitler—over the protests of his own generals and to the bafflement of historians—had ordered Guderian to halt for two days to rest and resupply. It’s true the German troops were worn out after two weeks of fighting, and Hitler may have worried about a repeat of 1914, when exhausted German troops were forced to withdraw at the Marne. He may also have been swayed by Hermann Göring, chief of the German Luftwaffe, who boasted that air power alone could destroy the helpless Allied forces at Dunkirk. Less likely is the speculation that Hitler purposefully “let the Allies go” to appear magnanimous or merciful as a prelude to peace negotiations (which was not really in keeping with his character). In the end we will probably never know why Hitler choked.


Among many examples of Germany’s evil genius for psychological warfare, one of the most famous was the decision to equip its Ju 87 dive bombers with air-powered sirens that emitted a shrieking, unearthly wail as the plane went into attack. The siren, known as the “Jericho Trumpet,” was intended to spread terror among enemy troops and civilians on the ground—and it worked. To this day the Jericho Trumpet is one of the most recognizable, and terrifying, sounds of war. It was certainly one of the lasting impressions of the Dunkirk evacuation for ordinary troops caught beneath the German bombs. Lieutenant Elliman, a British gunner who was waiting to be evacuated on Malo-les-Bains beach, later recalled the Stukas “diving, zooming, screeching, and wheeling over our heads like a flock of huge infernal seagulls.”


By Saidman (Mr), War Office official photographer — Photograph H 1636 from the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although Churchill and other Brits were quick to criticize the failure of France’s generals during the Fall of France, many ordinary French soldiers and officers fought bravely and honorably—and one hopeless “last stand” in particular probably helped enable the successful evacuation of Dunkirk.

As British and French troops withdrew to Dunkirk, 40 miles to the southeast French troops in two corps of the French First Army staged a ferocious defense against seven German divisions from May 28 to May 31, 1940, refusing to surrender and mounting several attempts to break out despite being heavily outnumbered (110,000 to 40,000). The valiant French effort, led by General Jean-Baptiste Molinié, helped tie up three German tank divisions under Erwin Rommel, enabling the British Expeditionary Force and the remaining troops of the French First Army to retreat and dig in at Dunkirk, ultimately saving another 100,000 Allied troops.

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Lucy Quintanilla/Mental Floss
The Funniest Town Name in All 50 States
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Lucy Quintanilla/Mental Floss

You can send your Christmas wish list to Santa Claus, Indiana, or get a refill in Hot Coffee, Mississippi. Whether honoring its founders, a local landmark, or its reputation for rowdy bar-brawling, the funniest town names in all 50 states show a sense of humor and personality.


Screamer, an unincorporated community in southeastern Alabama, has a noisy history. According to a local historian, the name may have two origins. In one version of the story, it comes from the fact that 19th century Native Americans used to loudly heckle white train travelers as they passed by what was then a reservation. The "screaming" could have also referred to the din made by local bears, panthers, and wildcats.


unalaska, alaska
Weston Renoud, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Don’t let the name fool you; Unalaska is as Alaskan as it comes. With a little more than 4500 residents, Unalaska is the largest city in the Aleutian Islands. Originally, Unangan residents named it Agunalaksh, a word that means "near the peninsula." As Russian fur traders arrived, the spelling morphed into Ounalashka, which eventually became Unalaska.


Why call a town "Why?" This teeny-tiny community near the U.S.-Mexico border is named after the Y-shaped intersection of two nearby highways. But because of an Arizona law requiring place names have at least three letters, "Y" became the much more existential "Why."


This town of 1800 people in southern Arkansas, at one point one of the nation’s biggest oil producers, was settled by French trappers in the early 19th century. The name Smackover may have come from the French name for the local creek, Chemin Couvert, which means "covered way"—and "sumac couvert" means a covering of sumac trees, a local plant. Alternate theories trace the name back to the legend of oil streaming "smack over the derrick" or a settler jumping "smack over the creek," according to the state’s website.


rough n ready california
Isaac Crumm, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The early residents of Rough and Ready, California, were prepared to get down and dirty for their independence. Named after a mining company with the same moniker, the town—with a current population of about 1581—was the first to secede from the Union and become its own “republic” in 1850 as a protest against mining taxes, prohibition mandates, and laws that weren’t enforced. Though their rebellion was laughably short-lived (the town rejoined the United States three months later), its residents still pay homage to Rough and Ready’s spirited past with a celebration on the last Saturday in June.


What started out as a temporary solution has become a point of pride for locals (currently fewer than 200 in number) in No Name, Colorado. According to reports, a government official first marked a newly constructed exit off I-70 with a sign reading “No Name” as a placeholder. By the time officials got around officially labeling it, “No Name” had the support of the community and it stuck. Visitors can find the spot near the No Name tunnels, No Name Creek, and the No Name hiking trail.


Hazardville, Connecticut, began as a 19th-century industrial village that made gunpowder. Thankfully, that’s not how it got its moniker: The town was named after Colonel Augustus George Hazard, who purchased and expanded the company in 1837.


It’s rumored that Corner Ketch—an unincorporated community in New Castle County, Delaware—got its name from a rough-and-tumble local bar, whose patrons were so quarrelsome that townspeople would warn strangers, "They'll ketch ye at the corner."


Two Egg, Florida, got its name during the Great Depression. According to local lore, two young boys were so strapped for cash that they paid a local shopkeeper for sugar by giving them two eggs. These make-do business transactions occurred so regularly that patrons began referring to the establishment as a “two egg store.” Eventually, the name caught on with traveling salesmen, who spread it to other towns.


Founded in the 1880s, the tiny town of Climax, Georgia, got its name from its location: It sits at the highest point on the railroad between Savannah and the Chattahoochee River.


A cozy little burg near Hilo, Volcano is adjacent to several volcano hot spots. (Sorry.) You can walk the dormant Kilauea Iki Trail, the site of a 1959 eruption, and then stop by the Lava Rock Café for a coffee before heading to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.


Near Culdesac, Idaho, sits the multiple-house assembly of Slickpoo, a slice of real estate that may barely qualify as a town but was once a bustling village. Originally the site of a Catholic mission, it was said to have been gifted to the missionaries by landowner Josiah Slickpoo.


No, it’s not named after the cold-cut concoction. Originally called Almon after land developer Almon Cage when it was founded in 1855, Sandwich got its name when a train stop liaison named it after his hometown of Sandwich, New Hampshire. It still capitalizes on the connotation, though: the town holds a Sandwich Festival annually.


santa claus indiana
Doug Kerr, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

It feels like Christmas every day in Santa Claus, Indiana. But the origin of the name wasn’t quite so festive. As the story goes, the town was first named Santa Fe. In 1896, when the town wanted to secure a post office, postal officials told it to pick another name since Santa Fe was already taken. Someone thought Santa Claus was an acceptable alternative, and the post office agreed. To their dismay, children began mailing letters to Santa Claus, Indiana, with regularity.


A former coal mining town in the southeast of the state, What Cheer was christened Petersburg by Peter Britton, who settled here in the 1850s. But enterprising shop owner Joseph Andrews, who created the town post office, suggested calling it What Cheer, possibly after an old English greeting. Britton protested, but the name stuck. Today What Cheer has about 600 residents—down from a peak of 5000—and hosts a seasonal flea market and musical events at its opera house.


The wags in Gas know what you're thinking. "You just passed Gas." "Gas Kan." "Get Gas!" The jokes write themselves. Gas got its name when, no surprise, natural gas was discovered in the area in 1898. Farmer E.K. Taylor promptly sold 60 acres of his land to industrial interests and subdivided the rest into lots, laying the groundwork for Gas (a.k.a. Gas City). Today it's home to around 600 people.


bugtussle kentucky
Brian Stansberry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

The name of this tiny hamlet on the Kentucky-Tennessee border is an homage to, you guessed it, the local bug population. The town’s oldest residents say that when workers helped out during the harvest, they would sleep in barns—on hay that was infested with doodlebugs. Legend has it that the workers stayed so long that the bugs grew big enough to “tussle” for the prime napping spots.


The Lake Superior Piling Company established a settlement of model farms here in the 1920s, bringing prosperity to this corner of rural Louisiana. The company’s owners tweaked their corporate slogan, “you need us,” into the town’s new name—and apparently, the feeling was mutual. Residents allegedly founded another model farm community nearby and dubbed it Weneedu.


It’s easy to imagine where this island off the coast of Maine got its unusual name—just squint at it. Located near Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, Burnt Porcupine has nearby sister islands with equally intriguing names: Bald Porcupine, Long Porcupine, and Sheep Porcupine.


The village of Boring could have avoided all of the jokes if they had just stuck with the town’s original name—Fairview. But there are a lot of other Fairviews in the U.S., so when a post office was established in the village in 1880, the postal service requested a rename. Residents voted to honor their first postmaster, David J. Boring—and he surely thought the recognition was anything but.


While we had hoped that Belchertown was named for the aftermath of a particularly tasty meal, the real story is a bit less delicious: It’s named after Jonathan Belcher, a colonial governor of Massachusetts.


Yes, there is a Hell on Earth, and it’s 15 miles northwest of Ann Arbor. There are several stories floating around about how this name came to be, but the one the town itself declares official is this: In the 1830s, the town settler, George Reeves, made a deal with local farmers to trade his homemade whiskey for the grain they grew. When the farmer’s wives knew their husbands were off dealing with Reeves, they were known to remark, “He’s gone to hell again.” The name stuck.


Nimrod Minnesota
Lorie Shaull, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s a pretty exclusive group of Minnesotans who can lay claim to being an official Nimrod: just 69 at last count. Though the town takes up just one square mile of the Gopher State, it’s got one big claim to fame—it’s the hometown of Dick Stigman, a pro baseball player who pitched for the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox in the 1960s. As for the name itself, it’s a Biblical reference. In the book of Genesis, Nimrod is described as “a mighty hunter before the Lord” and is credited with overseeing the construction of the Tower of Babel.


Back in the horse-and-carriage days, the spot where the town of Hot Coffee, Mississippi, now sits marked the midpoint between Natchez, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama—two popular travel destinations. In the late 1800s an inn was erected and, recognizing a good business opportunity when he saw one, a man named L.N. Davis built a store to replenish the supplies of weary travelers and hung a coffee pot outside, which advertised "the best hot coffee around.” His secret? He used spring water to brew New Orleans beans, then sweetened the drink with molasses drippings. Though the store is no longer there, Davis’s java made enough of an impression to become the town’s namesake.


Most legends surrounding the town’s name tend to trace it to a postmaster who was upset with a cheapskate watermelon farmer who sold a promised melon out from under him for an extra 50-cent profit. But these days, the main draw to this tiny town in central Missouri is its bank—customers from all over the country open accounts here just to be able to send checks with the Tightwad logo on them.


While it’s true that you’ll likely spend more time staring at the heavens while in Big Sky Country, the town of Pray, Montana, wasn’t named as a religious suggestion. Founded in 1907, it was named for then-state representative Charles Nelson Pray.


magnet, NE
z2amiller, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

After mapping out a town in northeast Nebraska, settler B.E. Smith was tasked with naming it. He wanted an attractive name for the community that would draw visitors across its borders, so he christened it Magnet in 1893. Today the locale is home to about 75 residents.


About 30 miles south of Elko, Nevada, sits the small town of Jiggs. In 1918, businessman Albert Hankins owned the local hotel, dance hall, and general store—which basically meant he owned the whole town. Looking for a new name for the place, he took a suggestion from his kids. “Jiggs” was the top hat-wearing, Irish-American protagonist of their favorite comic strip Bringing Up Father. Following the name change, the women’s organization in town dubbed itself Maggie’s Club after the character’s wife.


The Fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montague, did more than invent a lunchtime staple. In 1763, he chartered a town between the Lakes Region and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And just like the edible kind of sandwich, the town of Sandwich was named after him. The earl also lent his title to the nearby Sandwich mountain range and Sandwich dome.


loveladies new jersey
Lauren Spinelli

The town of Loveladies, New Jersey, was actually named after a man, not a group of women. Located on Long Beach Island, it got its start as one of the life-saving stations that appeared on the Jersey shore in the 1870s. The station borrowed its name from a nearby island owned by Thomas Lovelady, a local hunter and sportsman. When the community grew into a town it tested out several new titles, including Club House and Long Beach Park. In 1952, the early name of Loveladies became official.


Sandwiched between Zuni and Navajo reservations in western New Mexico, Candy Kitchen Ranch purportedly got its name when a local moonshine distiller needed a front to hide his illicit operations during Prohibition. To secure the sugar necessary to concoct barrels of hooch, the moonshiner established a confectionary that produced pinion nut candy on the side. Candy Kitchen isn’t the only sweet-toothed locale in this neck of rural New Mexico, either: 85 miles down the dusty trail sits a place called Pie Town!


The old town of Neversink is currently sunk under about 175 feet of water. Named for the Neversink River, the longest tributary of the Delaware River, the city of 2000 was one of the unlucky Catskill towns flooded in the 1950s to make room for reservoirs that would provide water to New York City. Luckily, the town relocated in the 1950s shortly after its old Main Street was sunk for good. Not all neighboring locales were so fortunate, though. The flooding forced locals to give a bittersweet goodbye to the now-underwater town of … Bittersweet.


whynot, north carolina

Around 1860, residents living in the fertile heart of central North Carolina had no name for their home. But when the United States Post Office planned to put down roots in the area, the townspeople convened to decide on a name. Debate ensued: Why not name it this? Why not name it that? The discussion dragged on until one frustrated local butted in and said, “Why not name the town Why Not and let’s go home?” Ambivalence won the day.


Cannon Ball, North Dakota gets its name not from a battle, but from geological curiosities called concretions. Millions of years ago, sediment naturally cemented around plants or shells in the Peace Garden State and hardened into rock, forming unusually perfect spheres that—you guessed it—resemble cannonballs. While these round rocks dot the local Cannonball River, you can ogle at more if you drive 170 miles west to the northern stretches of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


Though nobody can quite pinpoint when the town of Knockemstiff acquired its odd name, they can at least agree that it certainly earned it. Most of the stories about the area’s early days, before it got its foreboding name, involve bar brawls, moonshine, and other types of delinquency. The most famous origin tale, though, centers on the advice of a preacher. When approached by a woman asking him how to keep her cheating husband home and faithful, the preacher responded simply: “Knock ‘em stiff.” Take that advice however you want. The town received mainstream attention in 2008 when author Donald Ray Pollock, a native of Knockemstiff, published a book of 18 short stories that shine a gritty light on life in this rough Midwestern community.


The community formerly known as Berwyn, Oklahoma, took on the name of the famous singing cowboy after the man himself came to town and purchased a 1200-square-foot ranch that he would turn into the headquarters of his Flying A Ranch Rodeo. A few years after the purchase, Cecil Crosby, the deputy sheriff of Carter County, where Berwyn was located, suggested the town change its name to honor Autry. The town’s 227 residents all signed a petition in favor of the change, with the post office and railroad agreeing to alter their names soon after. On November 16, 1941, the town of Berwyn officially became Gene Autry, Oklahoma. Though Autry sold the Flying A ranch after World War II, the town that bears his name still recognizes the late cowboy actor with a museum and film festival in his honor.


The unincorporated community of Zigzag, Oregon, is a scenic spot that rests in the middle of Mount Hood National Forest. The community itself is named after the Zigzag River, which drains from the Zigzag Glacier. Though the history of the name is unknown, it might be traced back to Joel Palmer, a pioneer of the Oregon territory, who described the erratic movements needed to descend through a ravine near Mount Hood: “The manner of descending is to turn directly to the right, go zigzag for about one hundred yards, then turn short round, and go zigzag until you come under the place where you started from; then to the right, and so on, until you reach the bottom.” Though it was used to describe one particular ravine, the name stuck, and it eventually morphed into becoming a local community. In addition to a town, river, and glacier, Zigzag also lends its name to a volcanic mountain and canyon.


Ken Lund, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, village of Intercourse knows what you’re thinking. “It’s okay, you can giggle!” the village’s website says. “We’re happy with our name. It’s the perfect conversation starter.” Just how did the town by come its unusual moniker, which it adopted in 1814? There are several possibilities. According to one theory, the name came from the fact that the town—which was originally called Cross Keys after a local tavern when it was founded in 1754—was at the intersection of two major roads. Another theory posits that the name is an evolution from “Entercourse” because, at the time, the town was located next to the entrance of a racetrack. The final theory revolves around the original meaning of the word intercourse: “connection or dealings between persons or groups; exchange especially of thoughts or feelings.” The sexual meaning of the word intercourse didn’t come into popular use until the late 18th century. Intercourse isn’t the only Pennsylvania town name likely to delight 12-year-olds: Less than 20 minutes up the road is the town Blue Ball. It was named after an 1850s inn.


The sixth largest city in Rhode Island was historically known as la ville la plus française aux États-Unis, which translates to “the most French city in America.” Although during the Depression three-quarters of Woonsocket’s residents were of French-Canadian descent, by the 2000 census, that number had dipped to 46.1 percent. “Woonsocket,” though, does not come from French. Historians agree that the town’s whimsical name is a corruption of a word from a Native American language, but they don’t agree on the language, much less the word, from which it derives.


This Horry County town got its name from a country store built by Herbert Small in 1927, but not because of the condiments it sold. Every week, farmers would flock to Small’s store to “catch up” on news and gossip. As a town grew up around the store, the name stuck.


Mud Butte was named for a nearby barren butte – that is, an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top. In 1981, archeologists digging around in Mud Butte unearthed the sixth Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, after a local rancher finally got around to calling a museum about the dinosaur bones he’d seen jutting out of a cliff on his property for years.


There are competing theories on the genesis of Difficult’s name. One holds that when town residents applied for a post office, the U.S. Postal Service responded, “your name is difficult,” referring either to its pronunciation, spelling, or the handwriting on the application. Residents took the letter as an order, and accepted the name Difficult. The other theory goes that the town named itself Difficult out of spite after a postal official suggested its name was too hard to pronounce.


Upon learning that the town of Ding Dong is located in Bell County, Texas, you might reasonably conclude that the two facts are related. But you’d be wrong. The community was named after its founders, the Bell family—but they’re unrelated to Governor Peter Hansborough Bell, in whose honor the county was named.


Visitors to Mexican Hat, Utah, never have to wonder how the community got its name. The answer is as plain as day: a 60-foot-wide, sombrero-shaped rock formation on the northeast side of town.


If New England town names are any indication, Satan’s been awfully busy. The prince of darkness evidently has franchises in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont—the latter of which was purportedly named by a resentful settler who "expected fertile, rolling acres and had received rocks and hills instead."


It’s pronounced “bump-iss,” the locals will tell you—if they tell you anything at all. Many Bumpass residents have developed a no-talking-to-strangers policy. Maybe they're just tired of being the butt of every joke.


humptulips washington

This tiny town, located about 25 miles north of Aberdeen (famous as Kurt Cobain's birthplace), was once a major logging center. Today it's better known for its unusual name, which comes from a local Native American word meaning "hard to pole." The phrase is a reference to the nearby Humptulips River, which Native Americans used to canoe by propelling themselves along with poles. The unusual-sounding term has brought the area a bit of fame: Humptulips is mentioned in the books Another Popular Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins and The Long World by Sir Terry Pratchett.


While the name of this unincorporated community might whet your appetite, it's likely named for a nearby salt lick, which was probably more appealing to horses and wild animals than humans. There's a Lick Fork creek, road, and more nearby, so there's no shortage of photo opportunities.


This Richland County, Wisconsin, community reportedly takes its name from William Henry Dosch. Nickname: Boss. According to The Romance of Wisconsin Place Names, Dosch was sick as a boy, and he got so used to the attention he received while ill that he later became rather bossy with his family. Later, he owned a store on the site of an old saw mill.


It’s Chug-water, not Chug-water. The land that this tiny Wyoming town calls home was once the territory of the Mandan tribe, whose chief was reportedly injured during a buffalo hunt and sent his son to lead the hunting party in his place. According to Chugwater’s website, the son determined that the easiest way to kill the buffalo was to drive them off the local chalk cliffs. “The word ‘chug,’” the town’s website notes, “is said to describe the noise that the buffalo or the falling chalk made when it hit the ground or fell into the water under the bluff, depending on which version of the legend you wish to believe. Indians began to call the area ‘water at the place where the buffalo chug.’” When white settlers came to the area, they used the Native American terminology for the land, dubbing it Chug Springs. A local stream was named Chugwater Creek (after Chug Springs), and that’s where the town gets its name.

By Erika Berlin, Stacy Conradt, April Daley, Michele Debczak, Kirstin Fawcett, Shaunacy Ferro, Kate Horowitz, Kat Long, Bess Lovejoy, Erin McCarthy, Jen Pinkowski, Lucas Reilly, Nico Rivero, Jake Rossen, Jay Serafino, and Jenn Wood.


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