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Why Are There Gideon Bibles in Hotel Rooms?

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© William Whitehurst/Corbis

Because the Gideons put them there! The Gideon Bible is not some special version or translation of the Bible that hotels really like (the books are usually plain old King James Versions); they're named for the group that distributes them.

Gideons International got its start in 1898, when two traveling businessmen, John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill, arrived at the crowded Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin, for the night.

The two had never met, but there was only one double room left, so they decided to share it. The men got to talking and found they shared a common faith and had both toyed with the idea of creating an evangelical association for Christian businessmen.

They decided to give it a shot together. They called a meeting the following year for men who were interested in joining together for “mutual recognition, personal evangelism, and united service for the Lord.” Only one other person showed up to that meeting—William J. Knights, who suggested they name their organization after Gideon, an Old Testament judge who led a small band of men to defeat a much larger army.

As the group expanded in its first few years, most of the new members were men who frequently traveled for work and spent many of their nights in hotel rooms. They wondered how they might be more effective witnesses for Christ on the road, and hit upon the idea of providing Bibles to hotels. They could be used not only by the Gideons’ members as they traveled around the country, but also borrowed by other guests in need of them. They started with the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana, then set out to put a Bible in every hotel room in America. Since 1908, they’ve distributed more than 1.7 billion Bibles, expanding beyond the U.S. to more than 190 other countries.

Passing Them Out

The Gideons don’t go room to room themselves, slipping the books in nightstands like Bible elves. When a hotel opens, local Gideons members will present a Bible to the hotel's general manager in a small ceremony and then give enough books for each room and some extras to the housekeeping staff for distribution. In addition to hotel rooms, the Gideons also give Bibles to military bases, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and to students on college campuses.

Each Bible handed out is free of charge, and the project is funded entirely by donations to the group. The Gideons will also replace any books that go missing or get worn out, and the group says that the books have a six-year life expectancy, on average. They don’t get bent out of shape when people ignore the “thou shalt not steal” rule when it comes to the Bibles, either. They’d rather you just take the book if you need it that badly.

Based on the success of the Gideons’ Bible project -- the group’s own statistics claim 25% of the people who check into a hotel room will read the Bible placed there -- other religious groups have begun distributing their own free literature to hotels. The Marriott hotel chain, founded by a Mormon, places the The Book of Mormon in many of its rooms, and many hotels also offer Buddhist, Hindu, Christian Scientist or Scientologist books along with the standard Gideon Bible.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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iStock

While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Many Rings Does Saturn Have?
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NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Of all the planets surrounded by rings, Saturn is the most famous. These planetary rings are massive enough that Galileo was able to see them using a simple telescope way back in 1610, though it wasn't until half a century later that another scientist was able to figure out what the "arms" Galileo saw actually were. NASA has since called them "the most recognized characteristic of any world in our solar system."

So how many rings does Saturn have, anyway? If you can see them from your backyard, there must be a lot, right?

Scientists don't know for sure exactly how many rings Saturn has. There are eight main, named ring groups that stretch across 175,000 miles, but there are far more than eight rings. These systems are named with letters of the alphabet, in order of their discovery. (Astronomers have known about ring groups A, B, and C since the 17th century, while others are newer discoveries. (The most recent was just discovered in 2009.)

The rings we can see in images of the planet—even high-resolution images—aren't single rings, per se, but are in fact comprised of thousands of smaller ringlets and can differ a lot in appearance, showing irregular ripples, kinks, and spokes. The chunky particles of ice that make up Saturn's rings vary in size from as small as a speck of dust to as large as a mountain.

While the gaps between Saturn's rings are small, the 26-mile-wide Keeler Gap is large enough to contain multiple moons, albeit very small ones. The largest ring system—the one discovered in 2009—starts 3.7 million miles away from Saturn itself and its material extends another 7.4 million miles out, though it's nearly invisible without the help of an infrared camera.

Researchers are still discovering new rings as well as new insights into the features of Saturn's already-known ring systems. In the early 1980s, NASA's Voyager missions took the first high-resolution images of Saturn and its rings, revealing previously unknown kinks in one of the narrower rings, known as the F ring. In 1997, NASA sent the Cassini orbiter to continue the space agency's study of the ringed planet, leading to the discovery of new rings, so faint that they remained unknown until Cassini's arrival in 2006. Before Cassini is sent to burn up in Saturn's atmosphere in September 2017, it's taking 22 dives through the space between the planet and its rings, bringing back new, up-close revelations about the ring system before the spacecraft dives to its death.

Though it's certainly possible to see Saturn's rings without any fancy equipment, using a low-end telescope at your house, that doesn't mean you always can. It depends on the way the planet is tilted; if you're looking at the rings edge-on, they may look like a flat line or, depending on the magnification, you might not be able to see them at all. However, 2017 happens to be a good year to see the sixth planet, so you're in luck.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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