The Weird & Scary History of Winter Olympic Mascots

The 1988 Winter Olympic Games' mascots were Hidy and Howdy.
The 1988 Winter Olympic Games' mascots were Hidy and Howdy.
Mike Powell, Getty Images

Some of them are adorable. Some of them are atrocious. All of them are, on some level, creepy. They are the mascots of the Winter Olympic Games, and these are their stories.

1. SCHUSS // GRENOBLE, 1968

It's fitting that the abstract character that represented the birth of the modern Olympic mascot became known as the Skiing Sperm. Schuss, the tri-colored unofficial mascot of the 1968 Winter Games, was depicted on pins and toys, but wasn't personified by a life-size plush character. Schuss's name was derived from an alpine skiing term for a fast and straight downhill run.

2. SCHNEEMANNS // INNSBRUCK, 1976

The 1972 Winter Games didn't have a mascot, so the first official Winter Olympics mascot didn't debut until 1976. In addition to giving Austrian children nightmares, Schneemann, which is either German for "snowman" or "anthropomorphic snowball with a carrot nose," represented the games of simplicity.

3. RONI // LAKE PLACID, 1980

A live raccoon named Rocky was originally chosen as the mascot for the 1980 Winter Games—but he died. So the Lake Placid organizing committee turned to graphic designer Donald Moss. A freelancer whose illustrations had appeared in Sports Illustrated, Moss studied at the Pratt Institute for Design after getting out of the Marines and later claimed to have created ABC's logo. ("I never did get credit for that," he told The New York Times in 1979.) Moss and his son also designed the logo for the U.S. Ski Team and 11 stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. He agreed that a raccoon was a natural choice for a mascot for the Lake Placid Games. "The mask across its eyes makes it very similar to the mask and goggles and caps worn by Olympic skiers," Moss said. "And of course the raccoon looks cuddly, a kind of message you want to impart." Moss's raccoon, Roni, was named after Lake Placid's Adirondack Mountains.

4. VUCKO // SARAJEVO, 1984

Vucko, pronounced vootch-ko, was the wolf cub mascot of the 1984 Winter Games. A group that included Olympic organizing committee members, artists, a poet, and a sociologist narrowed the list of 870 potential mascots for the Sarajevo Games down to six. Vucko received more than 70 percent of the popular vote in the ensuing poll, which was conducted through Yugoslavia's major newspapers. The other finalists were a snowball, a mountain goat, a chipmunk, a lamb, and a porcupine.

According to the Sarajevo Olympic committee's official bulletin, Vucko was a symbol of the triumph of good over evil. "The happy Vucko is the symbol of man's centuries-old efforts to conquer nature, to gain friendship from a beast, to make a wolf become Vucko." Whatever it symbolized, the mascot became ubiquitous. "Grandparents used to tell stories of the wolves in the mountains around Sarajevo to scare children," a city official said. "Now, they fall asleep with Vucko in their arms. There isn't a child without one."

5. HIDY AND HOWDY // CALGARY, 1988

Hidy and Howdy, whose names were chosen from more than 5000 entries in a contest sponsored by the Calgary Zoo, were the first sibling mascots to represent the Winter Games. The brother and sister polar bears sported classic cowboy gear and graced signs and merchandise throughout Calgary in 1988.

A group of 85 high school students made appearances in Hidy and Howdy costumes in the years leading up to the Games, adhering to a set of rules developed by mascot committee chairman Lane Kranenburg. In addition to a rule that is common to most mascots—no verbal communication while in costume—one newspaper report indicated that Hidy and Howdy could not attend events where alcohol was served, stand near food serving areas, or hug anyone in a black suit. Hidy and Howdy, it would seem, had a shedding problem.

6. MAGIQUE // ALBERTVILLE, 1992

The Olympic committee rejected Albertville's initial mascot, a mountain goat named Chamois, opening the door for Magique. Designed by French artist Philippe Mairesse, Magique was a star-shaped imp that signified youth, dreams, and imagination. "There's an old Savoy song, 'Etoile des Neiges' ('Star of the Snows'), and some people think it refers to that," an Olympic hostess told a reporter in 1992. "And the cap is like that of a young chimney sweep."

7. HAAKON AND KRISTIN // LILLEHAMMER, 1994

Haakon and Kristin, a pair of figures from the great age of Norwegian medieval history, were chosen as the mascots for the 1994 Winter Games. Prince Haakon Haakonson was the son of King Sverre Sigurdson, who led the Birkebeiners during the civil war that ravaged Norway in the late 12th century. Princess Kristin was Haakon's paternal aunt. After the civil war and King Sverre's death in 1202, the rival Baglers were determined to kill the infant Prince Haakon. He was carried to safety across the mountains from Lillehammer and raised in nearby Trondheim, ultimately ascending the throne in 1217 and ruling until 1263. Three boys and three girls were chosen from 150 to personify Haakon and Kristin, respectively, for the two years leading up to the Games.

8. THE SNOWLETS // NAGANO, 1998

The original mascot for the Nagano Games was a weasel named Snowple, but he was replaced by four snow owls named Sukki, Nokki, Lekki, and Tsukki. Collectively, they were known as the Snowlets, a combination of the first letter, or letters, in each owl's name. Owls are often associated with Athena in Greek mythology, and the Snowlets symbolized the seasons and the four-year Olympic cycle. "Owls are cherished by people around the world as the embodiment of the wisdom of the world," one Nagano Olympics official said.

9. POWDER, COPPER, AND COAL // SALT LAKE CITY, 2002

The Salt Lake organizing committee chose three animals from Native American folklore to represent the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger) for the 2002 Games. According to legend, the snowshoe hare once cooled the burning earth by running up a mountain and shooting an arrow at the sun, dropping it lower in the sky. When the earth was dark and frozen, the coyote climbed the highest mountain to steal a flame from the fire people. And no matter how hard they tried, hunters could not defeat the mighty bear. The names chosen for the three mascots—Powder, Copper, and Coal—were symbolic of Utah's skiing and mining heritage.

10. NEVE AND GLIZ // TURIN, 2006

Portuguese designer Pedro Albuquerque won an international contest sponsored by the Turin organizing committee and created Neve and Gliz, the snowball and ice cube mascots that represented the 2006 Winter Games. Neve is Italian for snow and Gliz is a shortened version of the Italian word for ice. Introduced 500 days before the Games, the duo was said to represent "the harmony and elegance of the movements made in sport" and, according to Albuquerque, "Olympic values like friendship, fair play and the spirit of competition."

11. SUMI, QUATCHI, AND MIGA // VANCOUVER, 2010

The mascots for the Vancouver Games are mythical characters inspired by the legends of the First Nations peoples of Canada. Sumi, whose name comes from the Salish term for "guardian spirit," has Thunderbird wings, the legs of a black bear, and the hat of the Orca whale. Quatchi is a sasquatch, a popular figure in Pacific Northwest legends. Miga is a sea bear, part killer whale and part Kermode bear, a rare species native to British Columbia.

There is a fourth mascot, but contrary to what a Polish newspaper and a Google image search would lead you to believe, it's not the Internet meme Pedobear. Rather, Mukmuk the marmot is the first Olympic mascot sidekick. He won't appear in Vancouver because marmots hibernate during the winter, but you can read all about him on the official Vancouver Olympic Games website.

The Smithsonian Needs Your Help Transcribing Sally Ride’s Notebooks

Sally Ride in 1984.
Sally Ride in 1984.
Coffeeandcrumbs, NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On June 18, 1983, Sally K. Ride made history when she became the first American woman to travel into space. Now, the Smithsonian Institution is making the history of her incredible decades-long career more accessible to everyone—and they need your help to do it.

The National Air and Space Museum Archives is home to the Sally K. Ride Papers, a collection of 38,640 physical pages (over 23 cubic feet) of material spanning Ride’s professional life as an astronaut, physicist, and educator from the 1970s to 2010s. Those resources have been scanned and used to create an online finding aid—not unlike a table of contents—so researchers can easily navigate through the wealth of information.

To simplify the searching process within that online finding aid, the Smithsonian Institution is asking for volunteers to transcribe documents in the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center, a digital hub launched in 2013, where anybody can sign up to type and review historical sources. Three projects from the Sally K. Ride Papers are currently available to transcribe, which include her notes for shuttle training between 1979 and 1981, notes about the Remote Manipulator System Arm (there's one on the International Space Station today), and notes from NASA commissions on which she served. One, for example, was the Rogers Commission, which investigated the causes of the fatal Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

You can find out more about the documents in the projects here, and if you’re interested in joining the forces of “volunpeers,” as the Smithsonian likes to call its transcribers, you can create a new user account here. (All you’ll need is a username and email address.)

Check out more citizen science projects you can participate in at home here.

12 Things You Might Not Know About Passover

iStock
iStock

For practicing Jews, Passover is a time to remember their deliverance from captivity in ancient Egypt. It's one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar, and in the days before the first night's seder, families make preparations such as cleaning the home of chametz and planning for a week of meaningful dietary restrictions. Here are 12 facts about Passover that you wouldn't have learned from a yearly viewing of The Ten Commandments.

1. Firstborn sons need to fast for Passover.

matzo
iStock

The festival of Passover (or Pesach) commemorates the story of the Jews' escape from Egypt. The passover in question is when the houses of the observant Israelites in captivity were "passed over" as Egypt's first-born children were killed (although confusingly, in the Torah, the date the 14th of Nisan is referred to as Passover while the week-long celebration is the Festival of Matzot. They've since been combined into one celebration called Passover).

In celebration of the firstborns being saved, it is traditional for them to fast on 14 Nisan. If there are no children, the oldest member of the household fasts. If the firstborn is a daughter? That depends on the tradition of the community.

2. Passover lasts either seven or eight days.

reading the Haggadah at Passover
iStock

The Torah says to celebrate Passover for seven days (the time between the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea), but many Jews outside of Israel celebrate for eight. Traditionally each month of the Jewish calendar was determined by an astronomical observation and could be either 29 or 30 days long. After a new month was determined, messengers spread the word. For Jews who lived too far away for messengers to bring timely news of a new month, it was safest to celebrate for an extra day, so no matter how long the previous month was, the holiday was celebrated.

Eventually the calendar was standardized and the eight-day custom was no longer needed. Today, some Jewish denominations outside of Israel (like Reform Judaism) celebrate the mandated seven days, while many others prefer eight days. Inside Israel it's generally seven.

3. Leavened grains are a no-go at Passover.

Person sweeping the floor
iStock

One of the most important parts of Passover preparations is cleaning the house of chametz, or leavened food. Even the tiniest bit has to go. Because the Jews left Egypt in such a hurry, it's said they didn't have time to leaven their bread. To commemorate that, five grains (traditionally wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oats) are banished from the house. Jews can spend weeks ensuring that the house is perfectly clean—and there are even professional chametz cleaning services that say they'll boil toys, break down and reassemble kitchen chairs … and possibly still leave the house dirty. There's a saying in Jewish households: "Dust is not chametz." The goal is to get rid of chametz above all else.

4. Matzo, which is made from wheat, is one of the most important parts of a Passover meal.

baking matzo
iStock

While there are restrictions against leavened products, one of the most important parts of a Passover meal is matzo, which is made from wheat. The difference between matzo and regular bread is that the wheat in matzo cannot come into contact with any water until it's ready to be cooked. And once water and wheat are mixed it has to be baked within 18 minutes (sources differ as to whether the timer stops when it enters or leaves the oven). After 18 minutes, fermentation begins and it is chametz.

But why 18 minutes? Supposedly it's because that's how long it takes to walk between the cities of Migdal Nunaiya and Tiberias in Israel. Over the years, scholars have argued about how long it would actually take to walk between the cities, with some proposing that copying errors reduced the distance from circa 4 miles to 1 and thus reduced the time from 72 minutes to 18. Nowadays, it's felt that even if there was a transcribing error, there's enough tradition to use 18 minutes.

5. Grains get complicated during Passover.

matzo ball soup
iStock

As Jews spread around the world, they often found themselves faced with foods that weren't explicitly mentioned for Passover. Sephardic Jews (generally) feel that only the five expressly mentioned grains are forbidden, while Ashkenazi Jews worry that the dishes made from certain other plants that look similar and are grown in similar conditions as the forbidden grains will risk contamination between the two. So if these ingredients (called kitniyot, or "legumes") were avoided, actual chametz could more easily be avoided (although kitniyot is nowhere near as regulated as chametz).

But recently, some authorities have argued that improved technology and storing methods have rendered the old methods obsolete. It's a current debate in some communities.

6. Some of the best matzo flour is made in Arizona.

field of wheat
iStock

One of the most difficult parts of making matzo is keeping the flour dry before it's ready to be converted into matzo; any water risks converting flour into chametz. So, according to The New York Times, one sect of Hasidic Jews has found the perfect farming conditions to produce their wheat—the arid fields of southwestern Arizona. The group of ultra-Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn, New York, work with a farm in Yuma, Arizona, to ensure that no unwanted moisture affects the crop, and the resulting kosher wheat is shipped back east to make up to 100,000 pounds of matzo.

7. Pets also get special food during Passover.

cute dog with head tilted
iStock

For Passover, houses must be free of chametz and there can be no benefit derived from it. This includes pet food. In keeping with this, there are Passover-friendly pet foods out there, and some Rabbinical authorities propose switching out your pet's diet for a few days—such as giving dogs straight meat or herbivores a variety of approved vegetables. If a pet must have a specific type of food—or you can't get Passover-friendly pet food—some observant Jews follow the rabbinical authorities who give the option to sell the pet to a gentile for a few days and then get it back after Passover has ended.

8. There are six symbolic Passover foods.

seder plate for Passover
iStock

The focal point of the start of Passover is the Seder plate, and on it are six ceremonial items:

Beitzah—A cooked egg, representing sacrifice (it's also been suggested that while most foods soften when you cook them, eggs get harder, representing the resolve of the Jewish people)

Haroset—a sweet mix of fruits, nuts, and honey/wine that symbolizes the mortar used by Jews during their slavery

Karpas—a green vegetable signifying new life

Maror and hazeret—bitter herbs (often horseradish for maror and something like romaine for hazeret) to represent the bitterness of slavery

Zeroa—a shank bone (or a chicken neck) to remember the Paschal sacrifice.

9. Sometimes an orange is added to the Seder plate.

slice of orange
iStock

In the 1980s, Dartmouth professor Susannah Heschel spoke on a panel at Oberlin College. While there, she met some students who told a story of a rabbi who said "There's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate." In response, they started placing a crust on their plates.

Heschel was inspired, but felt that using bread sent the wrong message, writing "it renders everything chametz … [suggesting] that being a lesbian is being transgressive, violating Judaism." So she proposed putting an orange (originally a tangerine) on the Seder plate to symbolize Jewish gays and lesbians. At some point a story emerged that it was actually to symbolize women in general, but Heschel explained: "A woman's words are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is erased. Isn't that precisely what's happened over the centuries to women's ideas?"

Other more modern additions include pine cones (symbolizing mass incarceration), an artichoke (to recognize interfaith families), or tomatoes or Fair Trade chocolate (to remember that there's still slavery around the world).

10. Some major companies produce special kosher-for-Passover food and beverages.

ad for kosher Coca-Cola
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC-BY-2.0

Many companies produce special kosher-for-Passover products, from chocolate syrup to cake mixes. But one of the most important is Coca-Cola. In the early 20th century Rabbi Tobias Geffen was serving as an Orthodox Rabbi in Atlanta. Due to his location (Coca-Cola was invented and is headquartered in Atlanta), he was frequently asked if Coca-Cola was kosher. After analyzing the product, he found two problem ingredients—alcohol and glycerin.

The alcohol was a problem because it was grain-derived and thus unacceptable for Passover, a problem that was solved by switching to fermented molasses. The other problem, however, was glycerin. The glycerin was derived from animals, and there was simply no economic way to ensure the animals were kosher. As Roger Horowitz explains in Kosher USA, there's an exemption in the rules for a tiny amount of an unacceptable ingredient—designed to cover mistakes—and Coca-Cola's glycerin content was dramatically below that level. Rabbi Geffen, however, believed that since the glycerin was deliberately added, it didn't qualify for this rule. Soon though, a new source of glycerin from cottonseed oil emerged, and Coca-Cola was approved for Passover.

When Coca-Cola switched to high fructose corn syrup, however, that created a problem for Ashkenazi Jews. As such, today there's a special yellow-capped Coca-Cola that doesn't use HFCS and is certified kosher.

11. Maxwell House coffee holds a special place at Passover.

Maxwell House Haggadahs
Tom Lappin, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

But the most influential company is likely Maxwell House. In the 1920s they decided to expand their presence to Jewish families—but there was a problem. Colloquially known as coffee "beans," there was a view that they were legumes, and as such forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews. Soon Maxwell House convinced reluctant coffee drinkers that their product was acceptable and in 1932 the company began publishing the Maxwell House Haggadah (the Haggadah is the telling of the Exodus and how to perform a seder meal). In the years since, Maxwell House estimates that it has published 50 million Haggadahs, which were even the preferred text for the Obama White House Seder.

12. The world's largest Seder happens in a surprising location.

Hundreds of worshippers gather in a hall for Passover in Kathmandu in 2014.
Hundreds of worshippers gather in a hall for Passover in Kathmandu in 2014.
PRAKASH MATHEMA, AFP/Getty Images

Going on for almost 30 years and hosting over 1000 people, the Kathmandu Seder was started in 1989 by the Israeli ambassador to Nepal, who quickly realized that the demand was much higher than he was ready for. The ambassador contacted a rabbi friend who dispatched two rabbinical students to aid the preparations. The seder was a massive success—expecting 90 guests and hoping for 150, they ultimately had 500 guests.

Nowadays, preparations for the seder start months in advance, with 1000 bottles of wine and over 1000 pounds of matzo getting shipped in from the United States and Israel.

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