15 Things You Might Not Know About Nebraska

istock
istock

1. The Reuben sandwich, which sticks no small sum of corned beef, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and sauerkraut between two slices of rye bread, is most prominently associated with the cuisine of New York City. But Nebraskans insist that the hefty deli item traces its roots to Omaha, where it was created by Lithuanian-born local Reuben Kulakofsky. The neighborhood grocer was a regular at Blackstone Hotel’s weekly poker games in the 1920s and ‘30s, earning enough acclaim for his makeshift sandwich to land it a spot on the establishment’s menu and, in 1956, a place in a national sandwich competition courtesy of Blackstone waitress Fern Snider.

2. Another famous recipe that dates back to 1920s Nebraska: Kool-Aid. Edwin Perkins, son of Hendley, Nebraska’s general store proprietor, is responsible for a few interesting concoctions, including the fruit drink Fruit-Smack and the tobacco addiction remedy Nix-o-Tine. But Perkins’ most successful innovation came to life in his mother’s kitchen in Hastings around 1927—the dry powder drink mix he’d dub Kool-Ade (renamed “Kool-Aid” in 1934).

3. The very first Arbor Day was celebrated on April 10, 1872, in Nebraska, after journalist and environmentalist J. Sterling Morton proposed the holiday, on which observers would plant trees, to the State Board of Agriculture. Other states caught wind of the practice throughout the 1870s; by ’82, Arbor Day had become a nationwide annual tradition.

4. Considering these roots, it is apropos that Nebraska claims a couple of ecological superlatives. Its Nebraska National Forest is the largest hand-planted forest in America, covering 141,159 acres of land. Additionally, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium boasts the largest indoor rainforest in the country; the Lied Jungle, which opened its doors in 1992, covers one and a half acres of land within an eight-story building and features flora and fauna from the rainforests of Africa, Asia, and South America.

5. Another impressive wildlife exhibit makes its home on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. The school’s Elephant Hall, a component of the University of Nebraska State Museum, features the largest mammoth fossil showcased anywhere on the planet. The piece, nicknamed “Archie,” was discovered in Lincoln County in 1922, has been identified as the remains of a Columbian mammoth, and reigns as Nebraska’s official state fossil. Archie is just one element of the world’s largest collection of elephant skeletons on display.

6. Forestry and fossils are not particularly unusual subject matter for the focus of museums, but some of Nebraska’s scholarly institutions are dedicated to more esoteric fields of study. For instance, the Museum of the Fur Trade is an exact recreation of James Bordeaux’s 1840s trading post in Chadron. Another example is Elm Creek’s own Chevyland USA Auto Museum, the only museum in the country devoted to a single line of automobile. But the best of the lot is the National Liars Hall of Fame, located in Dannebrog, which celebrates the art of dishonesty via an extensive library as well as live presentations and exhibits.

7. The University of Nebraska at Lincoln holds one more heavy distinction among its academic brethren: its 30,000-square-foot West Stadium Strength Complex is the largest weight room on any college campus in America. 

8. Nebraska hardly seems like a celebrity hotspot, but the state was actually home to Marlon Brando (widely considered the world’s greatest actor), Johnny Carson (widely considered the world’s greatest talk show host), and Fred Astaire (widely considered the world’s greatest tap dancer).

9. The Leon Myers Stamp Center in Omaha attempts to spread the joy of philately (that is, stamp collecting) to its young visitors. The museum’s main attraction is the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps, a 600-pound heap of adhesive postage. In 1953, the Boys Town Stamp Collecting Club set to work on this masterpiece, wrangling 4,655,000 discontinued stamps in the process.

10. Nebraska made sociopolitical history in 1986 when it became the first state in American history to feature a gubernatorial race that faced two women against one another. On May 13, the Democratic and Republican Primaries chose Lincoln Mayor Helen Boosalis and State Treasurer Kay Orr, respectively, to pursue the governor position. The seat ultimately went to Orr, who served one term. 

11. In 1910, the city of Waterloo passed an ordinance that barbers could not consume onions (at least between the hours of 7 a.m. and noon), a humanitarian effort to spare barbershop patrons the fate of up-close-and-personal onion breath.

12. The city of Arthur prides itself on a unique house of worship. The Pilgrim Holiness Church, built in 1928, is composed almost entirely of hay … though a rather impressive stucco job would have you believe otherwise.

13. With six Academy Award nominations, Alexander Payne’s 2013 film Nebraska ties Mississippi Burning for most Oscar nods for any film named after a state.

14. Nebraska may not be especially notable for its EDM scene, but the world of club music owes the state a debt of gratitude. Fremont-born Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton invented the strobe light in 1931. The MIT professor developed a stroboscope mechanism in the interest of abetting the study and documentation of moving objects (though we’d wager that he’d be perfectly satisfied knowing that his invention’s primary application is making it more fun to dance to Tiesto).

15. The crime rate must have been mighty low in Arthur County in the early 1900s, as there was barely room for a trial in the diminutive courthouse and jail. The entire building measured a meager 26-by-28 feet, thus making for a particularly uncomfortable ordeal if you happened to land in the slammer on a busy night. Today, the building stands as a museum recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. 

7 Top-Rated Portable Air Conditioners You Can Buy Right Now

Black + Decker/Amazon
Black + Decker/Amazon

The warmest months of the year are just around the corner (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), and things are about to get hot. To make indoor life feel a little more bearable, we’ve rounded up a list of some of the top-rated portable air conditioners you can buy online right now.

1. SereneLife 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner; $290

SereneLife air conditioner on Amazon.
SereneLife/Amazon

This device—currently the best-selling portable air conditioner on Amazon—is multifunctional, cooling the air while also working as a dehumidifier. Reviewers on Amazon praised this model for how easy it is to set up, but cautioned that it's not meant for large spaces. According to the manufacturer, it's designed to cool down rooms up to 225 square feet, and the most positive reviews came from people using it in their bedroom.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Black + Decker 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner and Heater; $417

Black + Decker portable air conditioner
Black+Decker/Amazon

Black + Decker estimates that this combination portable air conditioner and heater can accommodate rooms up to 350 square feet, and it even comes with a convenient timer so you never have to worry about forgetting to turn it off before you leave the house. The setup is easy—the attached exhaust hose fits into most standard windows, and everything you need for installation is included. This model sits around four stars on Amazon, and it was also picked by Wirecutter as one of the best values on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Mikikin Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $45

Desk air conditioner on Amazon
Mikikin/Amazon

This miniature portable conditioner, which is Amazon's top-selling new portable air conditioner release, is perfect to put on a desk or end table as you work or watch TV during those sweltering dog days. It's currently at a four-star rating on Amazon, and reviewers recommend filling the water tank with a combination of cool water and ice cubes for the best experience.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Juscool Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $56

Juscool portable air conditioner.
Juscool/Amazon

This tiny air conditioner fan, which touts a 4.6-star rating, is unique because it plugs in with a USB cable, so you can hook it up to a laptop or a wall outlet converter to try out any of its three fan speeds. This won't chill a living room, but it does fit on a nightstand or desk to help cool you down in stuffy rooms or makeshift home offices that weren't designed with summer in mind.

Buy it: Amazon

5. SHINCO 8000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $320

Shinco portable air conditioner
SHINCO/Amazon

This four-star-rated portable air conditioner is meant for rooms of up to 200 square feet, so think of it for a home office or bedroom. It has two fan speeds, and the included air filter can be rinsed out quickly underneath a faucet. There's also a remote control that lets you adjust the temperature from across the room. This is another one where you'll need a window nearby, but the installation kit and instructions are all included so you won't have to sweat too much over setting it up.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Honeywell MN Series Portable Air Conditioner and Dehumidifier; $400

Honeywell air conditioner on Walmart.
Honeywell/Walmart

Like the other units on this list, Honeywell's portable air conditioner also acts as a dehumidifier or a standard fan when you just want some air to circulate. You can cool a 350-square-foot room with this four-star model, and there are four wheels at the bottom that make moving it from place to place even easier. This one is available on Amazon, too, but Walmart has the lowest price right now.

Buy it: Walmart

7. LG 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $699

LG Portable Air Conditioner.
LG/Home Depot

This one won't come cheap, but it packs the acclaim to back it up. It topped Wirecutter's list of best portable air conditioners and currently has a 4.5-star rating on Home Depot's website, with many of the reviews praising how quiet it is while it's running. It's one of the only models you'll find compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, and it can cool rooms up to 500 square feet. There's also the built-in timer, so you can program it to go on and off whenever you want.

Buy it: Home Depot

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12 Facts About Avatar: The Last Airbender

Zach Tyler in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Zach Tyler in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Nickelodeon

One of the best cartoons of all time has come to save the summer of 2020. Avatar: The Last Airbender's arrival on Netflix could not have come at a better time, and a slew of old fans (now in their thirties) and new ones (all other ages) are reveling in the epic journey of Aang (Zach Tyler), Katara (Mae Whitman), Sokka (Jack De Sena), and Toph (Michaela Jill Murphy) to best the Fire Lord.

Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko for Nickelodeon, the animated series—which chronicles the adventures of the reincarnated master with the ability to psychically move air, water, fire, and Earth in order to bring balance to the world—originally ran from 2005 to 2008. Stuffed with a variety of Asian fighting, design, and philosophical influences, the mature-for-kids action show challenged preconceived notions (and fate itself) with intelligence, empathy, and beauty. And its resurgent popularity is proving its young status as a classic.

1. Bending is based on real martial arts styles.

Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, the show's creators, consulted Northern Shaolin master Sifu Kisu to craft distinct styles to correspond to the four main elements that are bent within the series: Tai Chi for water, Hung Gar for Earth, Northern Shaolin for fire, and Bagua for air. The styles are tonal matches for the elements; Tai Chi is smooth and controlled, for example, while Northern Shaolin is aggressive and dynamic.

2. Avatar: The Last Airbender exists because of a documentary about Ernest Shackleton.

Sir Ernest Shackleton was an early 20th century explorer who led many expeditions, the most famous of which was a journey to the South Pole aboard a ship called the Endurance. The trip went dangerously awry, but Shackleton was able to get everyone back alive. DeMartino was watching a documentary about Shackleton around the same time Konietzko had doodled a funny drawing about a bald kid with an arrow on his forehead. Those two elements merged together and became the beginning of Aang's journey.

3. There's a simple reason Avatar: The Last Airbender included heavy themes like genocide and imperialism.

When you think of kids shows, you don't usually think about genocide, which is why most people express astonishment that Avatar: The Last Airbender was able to explore such dark material alongside all the Sokkasm and Appa burping. Konietzko, however, has an easy explanation. "Kids are deeper than a lot of people, and especially corporations, give them credit for," he told The Mary Sue.

4. Bryan Konietzko got beat up a lot for Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The team made reference videos to make the animation rooted in real-world fighting, typically doing about three video sessions per episode. Sifu Kisu usually portrayed one fighter in the scene, and Konietzko (who was also one of Sifu Kisu's students) would portray the other. That meant a lot of time being pulled around by the thumbs or dumped on a practice mat by a world-class master. Great art requires sacrifice.

5. The voice of Azula on Avatar: The Last Airbender got the job because she didn't yell at the audition.

The team was looking for a famous actress to voice the villainous Fire Nation royal, but didn't find the right fit, so Grey Griffin got an opportunity to audition. When she did, she stood out by avoiding yelling lines that clearly beg to be yelled from a character with an explosive temper. "I was very contained and quiet because I felt like Azula was just so powerful she didn't need to yell at anybody," Griffin told Syfy.

6. Avatar: The Last Airbender's Commander Zhao was inspired by the actor who would eventually voice him.

Jason Isaacs in Dig (2015)
Jason Isaacs in Dig.
Virginia Sherwood/USA Network

Zhao is the vicious big bad for season 1—a zealot who is willing to destroy the moon in order to weaken the water tribes. When writing his character, the team drew inspiration from Jason Isaacs's portrayal of Colonel Tavington in The Patriot. DiMartino asked casting director Maryanne Dacey to find someone like Isaacs. "A few days later, she got the real deal," DiMartino said.

7. Avatar: The Last Airbender's Fire Lord Ozai is Luke Skywalker

Mark Hamill is famous both for playing that scruffy nerf-herder who loses his hand in a laser sword fight with his (spoiler alert!) dad, and for crafting an indelible voice acting career marked by disappearing into roles. The ultimate villain of Avatar: The Last Airbender is on that list, which is why you might detect just a hint of The Joker's voice from Batman: The Animated Series when Ozai scolds Zuko. When Hamill originally got the script, he thought the show wouldn't last because it was too intelligent.

8. Avatar: The Last Airbender's scariest bending technique had a silly nickname.

Bloodbending! It's terrible! As a more nefarious version of waterbending, bloodbending has some spooky implications. We get to see just how creepy it gets when Katara accidentally learns it from Hama. It's sometimes called the "Puppetmaster Technique" in the show's universe, but the production team called it the "Stop Hitting Yourself Technique" as a joke.

9. Toph and her parents are the only characters with last names.

Aang, Sokka, Katara, Toph Beifong. The quartet travels the world trying to train the savior of the world in anticipation of a devastating, comet-fueled invasion, but only one of them gets a family name. Even the royal Zuko and the rest of the Fire Lord crew are last-nameless. The creators haven't weighed in on this specifically, but Toph is also introduced in the context of her wealthy family's celebrity within the Earth Kingdom, and she also uses her last name to score instant tickets for the ferry to Ba Sing Se, so the name is vital to the plot.

10. Toph was originally going to be a 16-year-old boy.

Michaela Jill Murphy in Avatar: The Last Airbender
Michaela Jill Murphy as Toph in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Nickelodeon

The team wanted to add a muscular foil to Sokka in the second season, but as they explored the possibility, they found it far better to create a blind 12-year-old girl who absolutely wrecks larger, physically stronger Earthbenders. Her original animation design became the basis for Sud, Avatar Roku's Earth-bending instructor.

11. In the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe, toys are used to identify the Avatar.

At least they are among the air nomads. The method is to show thousands of toys to children, and if they pick only the four Avatar relics to play with, it's highly likely that they've found the reincarnated Avatar (who is picking the toys already familiar to them). The relics are a clay turtle flute, a pull-string propeller, a wooden monkey, and a wooden hand drum, all owned by previous Avatars.

12. Avatar: The Last Airbender was largely inspired by Studio Ghibli films and FLCL.

Crafting Katara's character also created a tragic backstory for the Southern water tribe. When developing Katara (originally named Kya until Nickelodeon's legal department axed it), the show's creators wanted her to have the waterbending power instead of her brother, and they didn't want her to be a master of her element like Aang is with air. Because of that, they decided Katara was still a novice because there were no waterbenders left to learn from—which required inventing a painful past, one of the terrible consequences of the war, and a key motivating factor for both her and Sokka.