The Short, Tragic Life of the Eight-Ball Jacket

Amazon
Amazon

After opening North Beach Leather in San Francisco in the late 1960s, designer Michael Hoban earned the business of Jimi Hendrix, Cher, and Mick Jagger; a late-stage, corpulent Elvis Presley asked for customized 40-inch-waist jumpsuits; Jackie Onassis placed orders. So did Eddie Murphy. Through word-of-mouth, North Beach became a beacon for leather lovers, who bought everything from sweaters to skirts.

Despite his star clientele, Hoban’s lasting contribution to fashion is a result of visiting a bowling alley—and being part of the wardrobe on Seinfeld.

The designer was at the lanes in 1986 when inspiration struck: Noticing the distinctive shoe sizes affixed to the back sides of bowling shoes, Hoban returned to work and designed a premium leather jacket that used the numerical stamp as a focal point for the shoulders and sleeves. Playing with the amusement motif, he also created sister designs featuring playing cards and dice.

The coats sold well, but Hoban didn’t achieve pop culture immortality until 1990, when he used the eight-ball—the final ball pocketed in a game of pool—to perfect the design. Almost immediately, ambitious young adults gravitated toward the subtext (they were winners), and the $775 jackets became a fixture in music videos and on television. Hoban was doing such brisk business that he saw no reason to give any away, with one exception: Arsenio Hall, who appeared on a hit television show that was construed as free advertising.

The jackets proved so popular that several murders and assaults were blamed on them in major metropolitan areas; New York City Mayor David Dinkins used some of the robberies as ammunition for his argument that crime was on the rise, petitioning for $1.8 billion to fund 9000 additional police officers. Some stores even refused to stock them, fearful it would make them a target for robberies.

Hoban was under siege in a different way: The success of the eight-ball jacket led to an endless parade of copycat manufacturers who could sell the design for less than $300 thanks to cheaper materials and overseas labor. He was aggressive in contesting the infringement, settling out of court with eight defendants and partnering with others for “approved” knock-offs.

Because of their popularity in retail and on MTV, It wasn’t long before the market was diluted and the coats lost their cache. By 1998, the jacket had atrophied to become a punchline on Seinfeld, where Elaine’s boyfriend, David Puddy, wore one. Like "The Puffy Shirt," it was clothing meant to shame everyone in its proximity.

North Beach closed its doors in 2002. Manufacturers like Stüssy still roll out the eight-ball design, sometimes affixing it to sneakers or T-shirts and knowing full well it’s being enjoyed ironically. Patrick Warburton, the actor who portrayed Puddy, lamented to the New York Post in 2010 that he failed to purchase his character's jacket when he had the chance.

“The wardrobe people said they’d sell it to me for $100,” he recalled. “I said, ‘You can keep it.’”

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Teddy Roosevelt-Inspired Roller Coaster That Killed 7 People at Coney Island

Brooklyn Museum, Wikimedia Commons
Brooklyn Museum, Wikimedia Commons

The rides at Coney Island aren't the tallest or fastest in the world, but they have a way of reminding riders of their mortality. The Cyclone shows its age as it vibrates over its wooden track, the Wonder Wheel creaks loud enough to be heard from the line below, and regulations throughout the park seem looser than they do in Disneyland. But none of the rides at Coney Island today are as perilous as Rough Riders, the Spanish-American War-themed roller coaster that killed seven people in the early 1900s.

At the turn of the 19th century, Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the United States. Tourists flocked to the Brooklyn shore to travel along the boardwalk, see the sideshows, and experience the groundbreaking thrill rides. Coney Island was home to several roller coasters at this time, many of which offered more thrills than riders could handle. The Flip Flap Railway, the world’s first looping coaster, was infamous for knocking people out, and many paid to be spectators instead of riders. Other early Coney Island coasters featured cars shaped like horses that guests had to straddle and cars that cleared (or didn’t clear) gaps in the track.

Coney Island debuted its Rough Riders coaster in 1907. Less than a decade earlier, Theodore Roosevelt had resigned from his post as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and led the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry—nicknamed the Rough Riders—into the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt was president in 1907, and the Rough Riders still loomed large enough in American culture to get their own roller coaster. The ride’s operators dressed in military uniforms, and cars passed by scenes depicting the war before ascending the hill. Beyond the creative theme, the ride also offered guests an exciting format. Unlike most other Coney Island coasters, which were propelled by gravity, this one ran on an electric third rail—much like a subway car. “Conductors” were assigned to each train, and they had control over how fast the cars moved over inclines and around curves.

As it turned out, technology invented to safely transport the public wasn’t the best fit for an amusement park. Because the cars had to be operated manually by park employees, there was no way to regulate how fast they went. Many operators pushed the ride vehicles to their limits; instead of slowing down on drops and sharp turns, they often went ahead at full speed.

In 1910, Rough Riders’s lack of safeguards proved disastrous. During one ride, the coaster turned too quickly, and 16 riders were flung from their seats. Four of them perished in the accident. Surprisingly, this tragedy wasn’t enough to get the attraction shut down, and on July 27, 1915, history repeated itself. That day, six passengers boarded the ride, and when the driver sped down an incline and into a curve, the car tipped onto its side. The operator and four riders flew out of the vehicle, crashing into the cheap iron railing enclosing the track. The fence broke and three of the victims fell 30 feet to their deaths onto the concrete below. The conductor’s body hit an onlooker on the way down and sent her to the hospital.

Two of the riders that were tossed from the coaster survived: Clara Moles and her 4-year-old son Edward. When the car flipped, Clara gripped the handrail with one hand and used her other arm to hold her son. She stayed dangling above the pavement until two detectives who had witnessed the event climbed up the coaster’s framework and pulled the pair onto the track.

Thomas Ward, the ride’s manager, was arrested following the incident and charged with homicide. A jury ultimately exonerated him after deciding that the accident was “unavoidable,” but the roller coaster itself didn’t get off as easy. It ceased operations for good in 1916, apparently proving too dangerous even for Coney Island’s risk-seekers.