15 Amazing Facts About Thunder ... Thunder ... ThunderCats!

Warner Bros. Entertainment
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Thirty years ago, millions of children (and more than a few adults) became obsessed with ThunderCats, that quintessential ‘80s cartoon about a race of sword-wielding cat people who arrive on Third Earth to protect its inhabitants from the evil Mumm-Ra. Created by Tobin Wolf—a World War II veteran who also invented the first portable record player for teens—and produced by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer masterminds Rankin/Bass, the series ran for 130 episodes, long enough for its theme song to take up permanent residence in brains across the globe.

Want to know how a staff psychologist, Lionel Trains, Gumby, and Superman factor in to the show’s history, all while being spared any mention of terminally cute sidekick Snarf? Read on!

1. Producers targeted their advertising to parents.

Skittish over criticism that cartoons of the era were violent and existed solely to sell toys, Telepictures (which owned Rankin/Bass) took out print ads in advance of the show’s 1985 debut that extolled the virtuous nature of the series. “ThunderCats has all the action and adventure your children love,” the copy read. “But it also has something else … lessons about respect, friendship, truth, honesty, and justice.” Another ad acknowledged that, while parents try to raise their kids correctly, “sometimes you need help.” From a cartoon, apparently.

2. A staff psychologist reviewed every script.

To make good on their promise to adults, ThunderCats producers employed a psychologist, Robert Kuisis, Ph.D., who evaluated every script to make sure a strong moral lesson was being imparted in each episode. Kuisis even wrote brief reports on the first 65 installments for station affiliates to read.

3. Lion-O was originally Lion-L.

Head writer Leonard Starr, who was brought in to flesh out Wolf’s concept, remembered that the flame-haired leader of the group was dubbed Lion-L in an early outline for the show—until some forward-thinking producers pointed out they could have a head-on collision with Lionel Trains in both toy aisles and a courtroom.

4. There was a live arena show co-starring Gumby.

With ThunderCats quickly rising to the top of the syndicated ratings, Telepictures decided to mount a traveling stage production top-lined by Lion-O and company that blended several Rankin/Bass properties in one show.

Since they had possession of Gumby, that meant the green glob and Pokey were on hand to act as the audience’s hosts, moving from one “world” to the next. On roller skates.

5. The show became actual homework.

In an effort to drum up positive publicity for its debut, Telepictures produced 40,000 study guides for grade-schoolers that effectively assigned ThunderCats as homework. “For three days during the ThunderCats debut next month,” the information sheet read, “teachers will ask their students to watch ThunderCats when they get home and be ready to discuss the lessons learned in the program the following day.” Participating students received a certificate; parents were likely dragged into the toy store.

6. Jules Bass didn’t mince words.

Bass, one-half of the Rankin/Bass animated think-tank, was the boss in the ThunderCats production offices in New York City. According to Peter Lawrence, showrunner for the series, Bass’s management style was about as gentle as a scouring pad. “He really pushed us,” Lawrence tells mental_floss. “Someone was behind on approving storyboards. Jules walked in, looked at them, and threw them in the trash. ‘Done. Next.’” Bass also wrote several episodes under his pseudonym, Julian P. Gardner.

7. It was surprisingly hard to find writers to work on the show.

Not too many animated series were based on the East Coast in the mid ’80s, leaving Lawrence hard up for script writers. “It was quite amazing,” he says. “We had a ton of work and no agencies were responding.” Once the show debuted, things changed. Until then, Lawrence recalls dragging in audio engineers and other peripheral staff to try their hand at writing.

8. The Japanese animators said “yes,” but usually meant “no.”

Lawrence recalls Pacific Animation, the umbrella label given to the Japanese studios that drew the series, had a cultural aversion to saying no. “We’d ask if something was possible and they’d say yes,” Lawrence says. “Then we’d get it back and it would be completely different.” They also disliked when writers would indicate a “horde” appear in a script, dreading having to animate a crowd of people.

9. Writers sometimes had to write toys into scripts.

During its pre-production phase, a licensing company, Leisure Concepts, sat in on development meetings to assess the marketing potential of the show’s characters. Once the show went into production, Lawrence remembers getting a visit from someone who dropped a moat monster on his desk with a request to write it in. He tossed it in the trash.

Later, the show would utilize characters requested by toymaker LJN, but writers were generally excited by the new faces. “Some show elements were, I think, driven by the desire to extend the merchandise line,” says Kimberly Morris, who wrote several episodes. “But for me, things like that represented more of a creative opportunity than a problem. Being asked to introduce a new character is a fantastic story opportunity. It’s not like anybody was asking me to write about ThunderSmokes cigarettes. Or,ThunderBeans! Great for sticking in your nose!’”

10. Those toys can sometimes sell for $25,000.

The holy grail of ThunderCats plastic history is the Mad Bubbler, a putrid little creature that burped bubbles and never made it past the prototype stage. Toy dealer (and star of the Travel Channel’s Toy Hunter) Jordan Hembrough tells mental_floss that a painted version he obtained from a toy designer was later sold to a collector for $25,000.

11. Parents began naming their daughters Cheetara.

You might call it correlation without causation, but we’d beg to differ: According to the Social Security Administration, no babies were named Cheetara in 1984. In 1985, the year the ThunderCats female lead debuted, seven girls had it on their birth certificate. By 1987, 29 kids were named after her. A total of 81 offspring in the ‘80s had very some very easily-influenced parents.

12. Lobbyists tried to force them off the air.

Despite their best efforts to convince viewers otherwise, 1980s television animation was often characterized as being a half-hour toy commercial. An advocacy group, Action for Children’s Television, lobbied to ban shows like ThunderCats and He-Man from the airwaves entirely. In 1990, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that the shows were okay—provided they didn’t advertise their own toy lines during commercial breaks.  

13. The ThunderCats met Superman.

Comic book companies with multiple licenses often enjoy mashing up properties. In 2004, DC/Wildstorm produced a one-off special where the team is transported to Metropolis. Lion-O tests his Sword of Omens against Superman before the heroes team up to stop Mumm-Ra. (Judd Winick, a cast member on the 1994 season of MTV's Real World and later a well-regarded comics writer, had scripting duties.)

14. The 2011 reboot lasted only one season.

With nostalgia a powerful economic motivator, Warner Bros. and the Cartoon Network decided to reboot ThunderCats for a contemporary audience. Despite a marketing push and strong ratings, the series only lasted a season—because it didn’t move toys. Creator Shannon Eric Denton told MTV in 2013 that a primetime Friday time slot didn’t help matters. It was a personal disappointment to Denton, who had worked on the updated version for over a decade.

15. James McAvoy would really, really like to see a live-action movie.

Warner Bros. has toyed with a ThunderCats feature for years, having first announced an all-CGI film back in 2007. While nothing has materialized, actor James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class) has made his interest known. “I would love to see a ThunderCats movie, but it’s never gonna happen,” he enthusiastically told Total Film in 2013. “But not Snarf. He was just this really annoying thing we need to get rid of.”

Images courtesy ThunderCatsFans.org. ThunderCats are trademark and copyright Warner Bros Entertainment, Inc.

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

Protective Masks with Patterns.
Triple7Deals

This four-pack of washable cotton face masks comes in tie-dye, kids patterns, and even a series of mustache patterns, so you can do your part to mask germs without also covering your personality.

Buy it: $20 for four (50 percent off)

2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

A woman putting on a protective mask.
BetaFresh

You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

Buy it: $50 for 10 (50 percent off)

3. Three-Ply Masks; $13 for 10

Woman wearing a three-ply protective mask.
XtremeTime

These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

Buy it: $13 for 10 (50 percent off)

4. Disposable masks; $44 for 50

A batch of disposable masks.
Odash, Inc.

If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

Buy it: $44 for 50 (41 percent off)

5. Polyester Masks; $22 for 5

Polyester protective masks.
Triple7Deals

These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

Buy it: $22 for five (56 percent off)

6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

Protective mask case.
Triple7Deals

You're going to need to have a stash of masks on hand for the foreseeable future, so it's a good idea to protect the ones you’ve got. This face mask protector case is waterproof and dust-proof to preserve your mask as long as possible.

Buy it: $15 for three (50 percent off)

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17 Odd Things We've Sent to Space for Some Reason

There's a Starman waiting in the sky.
There's a Starman waiting in the sky.

Artifacts, personal and pop cultural totems, and even the dead have made the journey from our planet to the outer reaches of the heavens. We've covered some odd items that have gone to space before; here are 16 more unusual things that took a trip to the cosmos.

1. Human remains

Thanks to Celestis, a company that specializes in booking “memorial spaceflights,” and an agreement with private rocket company SpaceX, the remains of several people who have died have been launched into the great beyond (for a couple of hours, at least). Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's remains were on the inaugural Celestis flight in 1997; his remains took flight again in 2012 with the remains of actor James Doohan, who played Scotty. Astronaut Gordon Cooper’s ashes were also on that flight.

2. A toy dinosaur

In 2020, astronauts aboard SpaceX’s first crewed missions packed an unusual travel companion: a plush dinosaur. During the historic flight, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were accompanied by “Tremor,” a sparkly Apatosaurus. The crews’ sons chose the toy, which acted as a zero-g indicator.

3. Actual dinosaurs

In 1985, astronaut Loren Acton brought small bits of bone and eggshell from the duck-billed dinosaur Maiasaura peeblesorum along on a mission on SpaceLab 2. Thirteen years later, the skull of a meat-eating Coelophysis from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was a passenger on a trip to the Mir space station.

4. A car

Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster, with Earth in background
Nothing clears the head like a long drive through the stars.

In 2018, Elon Musk took off roading to a whole new level. SpaceX launched a red Tesla Roadster into space as part of the Falcon Heavy rocket’s test flight. “Starman,” a mannequin clad in a spacesuit, sits in the car’s driver’s seat. You can track Starman’s cosmic journey here.

5. Salmonella

Lots of strange things have been brought to space in the name of science—including salmonella. Two shuttle flights to the International Space Station (ISS) contained samples of salmonella to determine how the bacteria would react to low gravity, and the findings were kind of scary. When the salmonella returned to Earth after being in orbit for 12 days on the space shuttle Atlantis, the bacteria became even more virulent. In the first study to examine the effect of space flight on the virulence of a pathogen, the bacteria that had taken a space trip was three times as likely to kill the lab mice as the salmonella that was kept on Earth in as close to similar conditions as possible.

6. Tardigrades

Tardigrades, a.k.a. water bears, became the first animals to survive exposure in outer space. The eight-legged creatures typically spend their days on a moist piece of moss or enjoy feasting on bacteria or plant life at the bottom of a lake, but they survived being frozen at -328°F or heated to more than 300 degrees on their trip to space. The water bears, which typically don’t grow more than 1 millimeter in length, were dehydrated and exposed in space for 10 days by a group of European researchers. Back on Earth and rehydrated, 68 percent of the tardigrades that were shielded from the radiation survived. A handful with no radiation protection not only came back to life, but later produced viable offspring. Excitedly, an “amateur tardigrade enthusiast” theorized the water bears must be extraterrestrial in origin if they can handle such conditions, but that claim has boringly been denied by the Swedish and German scientists, who made up for it by naming their experiment "Tardigrades in space," or TARDIS.

7. Sperm

Without gravity, samples of animal sperm don’t work the way they should. Putting bull sperm in orbit made the tiny cells move faster than usual. Meanwhile, in sea urchin sperm that flew on NASA missions, the process of phosphorylation screeched to a halt when the enzyme known as protein phosphatase didn’t do its job. In 1979, two female rats that went to space became pregnant but didn't carry the fetuses to term, and the males’ testes shrank along with their sperm count. Fortunately (or unfortunately), one creature has been able to reproduce far from our planet: the cockroach.

8. See-through fish (medaka)

Since the medaka’s organs are clearly visible because of its transparent skin, this species of fish was the obvious choice for scientists to test the effects of microgravity on marine life—and to help determine why astronauts suffer from a decrease in bone density while in orbit. Bones naturally break down and rebuild, and osteoclasts help break down bones while they're under construction, as it were. In space, the process gets wonky, which is why astronauts endure two-hour high-intensity exercise routines and take vitamin D supplements. With the medaka’s help, scientists discovered the time-consuming space exercise could be avoided, and by finding the mechanism in bone metabolism, it may lead to the development of an osteoporosis treatment.

9. Soft drinks

Special designed fizzy drinks cans taken aboard Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985
Even astronauts quenched their thirsts with a fizzy treat.
shankar s., Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 1984, Coca Cola decided it wanted to put the first carbonated beverage on a space shuttle. The company spent $250,000 developing a can that would work without gravity, keep the drink fizzy, and not spill all over the place—even changing some of their formula in the process. After NASA agreed, Pepsi responded by saying it felt left out. NASA then announced that any soft drink manufacturer could participate if they created a viable container. In 1985, four cans of Pepsi and four cans of Coke were on board the Challenger; the day shifters drank Coke, and the night owls consumed the Pepsi. Neither of the sodas were to their liking.

10. Pizza

Pizza Hut wasn’t satisfied with simply being the first company to advertise on a rocket in the year 2000, so one year later it paid the Russian space agency about $1 million to become the first company to deliver a pizza to someone in space. The pizza delivered to cosmonaut Yuri Usachov included a crispy crust, pizza sauce, cheese, and salami (because pepperoni grows moldy over a certain period of time). Extra salt and spices were also added to compensate for the deadening of taste buds from space travel, and it was delivered in a vacuum seal. Usachov gave the pizza a thumbs up.

11. A cheese wheel

A canister containing space cheese
Some truly out-of-this-world cheese.
Chris Thompson/SpaceX, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 2010, SpaceX placed a wheel of Le Brouere cheese on an uncrewed spaceship to honor the classic Monty Python’s Flying Circus cheese shop sketch. To add to the pop culture celebration, SpaceX sealed the cheese wheel in a metal cylinder bearing the image of the film poster from the 1984 Val Kilmer movie Top Secret!. It was claimed to the first cheese to travel to orbit on a commercial spacecraft.

12. A corned beef sandwich

Astronaut John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich on board the Gemini 3 in 1965. The following exchange was recorded:

Gus Grissom: What is it?
Young: Corn beef sandwich
Grissom: Where did that come from?
Young: I brought it with me. Let’s see how it tastes. Smells, doesn’t it?

The entire incident lasted 30 seconds, with the sandwich only being consumed for 10 of those seconds, before being put back away inside Young’s flight suit.

While legend has it that Yuri Gagarin was accompanied by a homemade salami sandwich in 1961, the Russians had a specialized vacuum kit so they could clean up after eating to prevent any clogging of shuttle equipment. The Americans were just supposed to consume food from tubes, so Young was putting himself somewhat at risk for the five-hour mission. The astronaut got a stern talking to; he later landed on the Moon during the Apollo 16 mission.

13. Guns

Unlike astronauts, Soviet cosmonauts went into space locked and loaded, carrying a triple barrel TP-82 capable of 40 gauge shotgun rounds. The heavy duty weapon was deemed necessary after 1965, when cosmonauts landed on Earth and became stranded in the Ural Mountains. The isolated cosmonauts feared the local wolves and bears would attack them. In 2006, the TP-82s were replaced with a standard semi-automatic.

14. Buzz Lightyear

A Buzz Lightyear toy spent 467 days in space, orbiting the Earth on the ISS before having a ticker-tape parade in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom thrown in his honor. The toy’s namesake, Buzz Aldrin, was a special guest.

15. Amelia Earhart’s watch

Amelia Earhart was the first president of an international organization of licensed women pilots called The Ninety-Nines. One member of that group is astronaut Shannon Walker, who in October 2009 was presented with a watch, owned by current group director Joan Kerwin, that Earhart wore during her two trans-Atlantic flights to bring onboard the ISS. Earhart, of course, was the first female trans-Atlantic passenger in 1928, and flew from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland solo on May 20, 1932. She gave her watch to H. Gordon Selfridge Jr., who passed it along to Ninety-Nines charter member Fay Gillis Wells. Kerwin acquired the watch at an auction.

16. A treadmill named after Stephen Colbert

An astronaut using the COLBERT treadmill
European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers using the COLBERT.

Stephen Colbert, as he is wont to do, managed to crash an online contest. He garnered enough write-in votes and technically won the right to name a room at the space station after himself. Though NASA reserved their right to ignore write-in votes, the agency compromised by naming their second-ever model of treadmills after him, dubbing it the Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT. The treadmill’s manufacturer nickel-plated the parts, and unlike a standard treadmill, there are elastic straps that fit around a runner’s shoulders and waist to keep them from careening across the space station. The announcement was made by astronaut Sunita Williams on an episode of The Colbert Report; Williams ran a marathon on the previous treadmill while living at the space station in 2007, jogging in place with the concurrent Boston Marathon.

17. An issue of Playboy Magazine

Some members of the backup crew of Apollo 12 included some Playboy spreads on the crew’s checklists, which were attached to Pete Conrad and Alan L. Bean’s wrists as they explored the lunar landscape. Astronaut Richard Gordon, who stayed in orbit around the Moon during the mission, also found a topless DeDe Lind calendar hidden in a locker, which was labeled “Map of a Heavenly Body.”