Radical Tea Towels Offer a Graphic Crash Course in Progressive American History

Those of us who are deeply disappointed to learn we won’t be seeing Harriet Tubman’s face on a redesigned $20 bill any time soon can dry our eyes on a Tubman tea towel… or could if the revered abolitionist and activist wasn’t one of the family-owned Radical Tea Towel’s hottest selling items.

The popular design, based on one of Charles Ross’ murals in Cambridge, Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Memorial Garden is currently out of stock.

Fortunately, the company has immortalized plenty of other inspirational feminists, activists, civil rights leaders, authors, and thinkers on cotton rectangles, suitable for all your dish drying and gift giving needs.

Or wave them at a demonstration, on the creators’ suggestion.

The need for radical tea towels was hatched as one of the company’s Welsh co-founder’s was searching in vain for a practical birthday present that would reflect her 92-year-old father’s progressive values.

Five years later, bombarded with distressing post-election messages from the States, they decided to expand across the pond, to highlight the achievements of “amazing Americans who've fought the cause of freedom and equality over the years.”

The description of each towel's subject speaks to the passion for history, education  and justice the founders—a mother, father, and adult son—bring to the project. Here, for example, is their write up on Muhammad Ali, above:

He was born Cassius Clay and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, but the name the world knew him by was simply, 'The Greatest.’ Through his remarkable boxing career, Ali is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century and was an inspiring, controversial and polarising figure both inside and outside the ring. 

Ali started boxing as a 12-year-old because he wanted to take revenge on the boy who stole his bike, and at 25, he lost his boxing licence for refusing to fight in Vietnam. (‘Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam when so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?’ He demanded.) It was perhaps the only time he surrendered: millions of dollars, the love of his nation, his career… but it was for what he believed in. And although his views on race were often confused, this was just example of his Civil Rights activism.

Ali became a lightning rod for dissent, setting an example of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination during the Civil Rights Movement. And he took no punch lying down – neither inside the boxing ring nor in the fight for equality: after being refused service in a whites-only restaurant in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, he reportedly threw the Olympic gold medal he had just won in Rome into the Ohio River. So, here’s an empowering gift celebrating the man who never threw in the (tea) towel.

The Radical Tea Towel blog is such stuff as will bring a grateful tear to an AP US History teacher’s eye. The Forebears We Share: Learning from Radical History is a good place to start. Other topics include Abigail Adam’s American Revolution advocacy, the bridge designs of revolutionary philosopher Thomas Paine, and Bruce Springsteen’s love of protest songs.

(The Radical Tea Towel design team has yet to pay tribute to The Boss, but until they do, we can rest easy knowing author John Steinbeck’s towel embodies Springsteen’s sentiment. )

Lest our educational dishcloths lull us into thinking we know more about our country than we actually do, the company’s website has a radical history quiz, modeled on the US history and government naturalization test which would-be Americans must pass with a score of at least 60%. This one is, unsurprisingly, geared toward progressive history. Test your knowledge to earn a tea towel discount code.

Begin your Radical Tea Towel explorations here, and don't neglect to take in all the rad designs celebrating the upcoming centennial of women's suffrage.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Music Is Truly a Universal Language: New Research Shows That Music Worldwide Has Important Commonalities

Photo by Jo Dusepo, via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s description of music as a universal language has become a well-worn cliché, usually uttered in a sentimental and not particularly serious way. Maybe this is why it doesn't inspire a corresponding breadth of appreciation for the music of the world. We are conditioned and acculturated, it can seem, by formative experience to gravitate toward certain kinds of music. We can expand our tastes but that usually requires some careful study and acculturation.

In the sciences, the “universal language” hypothesis in music has been taken far more seriously, and, more recently, so has its critique. “In ethnomusicology,” notes the Universitat Wien’s Medienportal, “universality became something of a dirty word.” The diversity of world music is profound, as Kevin Dickinson writes at Big Think.

Katajjaq, or Inuit throat singing, expresses playfulness in strong, throaty expressions. Japan's nogaku punctuates haunting bamboo flutes with the stiff punctuation of percussion. South of Japan, the Australian Aborigines also used winds and percussions, yet their didgeridoos and clapsticks birthed a distinct sound. And the staid echoes of medieval Gregorian chant could hardly be confused for a rousing track of thrash metal.

The idea that all of these kinds of music and thousands more are all the same in some way strikes many as “groundless or even offensive.” But even hardcore skeptics might be persuaded by papers published just last month in Science.




University of Vienna Cognitive Biologists W. Tecumseh Fitch and Tudor Popescu begin their article “The World in a Song” with a brief sketch of the history of “the empirical quest for musical universals.” The search began in Berlin in 1900, almost as soon as phonographs could be used to record music. The Nazis stamped out this research in Germany in the 1930s, though it flourished in the U.S.—in the work of Alan Lomax, for example. Yet “by the 1970s ethnomusicologists were discouraged from even discussing musical ‘universals.'"

Nonetheless, as a team of researchers led by Harvard’s Samuel Mehr show in their paper “Universality and Diversity in Human Song,” there are indeed universal musical qualities, though they manifest in some specific ways. Using the “tools of computational social science” to analyze a huge archive of audio recordings of world music, the researchers found that “identifiable acoustic features of songs (accent, tempo, pitch range, etc.) predict their primary behavioral context (love, healing, etc.)." Societies around the world use similar musical properties to accompany similar emotional contexts, in other words.

Moreover, the meta-analysis found that “melodic and rhythmic bigrams fall into power-law distributions” and “tonality is widespread, perhaps universal.” Focusing primarily on vocal song, since instrumentation varied too widely, the scientists tested “five sets of hypotheses about universality and variability in musical behavior and musical forms.” All of these analyses make use of ethnographic data. Critics might point out that such data is riddled with bias.

Ethnographers, from the purely academic to popular curators like Lomax, applied their own filters, choosing what to record and what to ignore based on their own assumptions about what matters in music. Nonetheless, Mehr and his co-authors write that they have adjusted for “sampling error and ethnographer bias, problems that have bedeviled prior tests." Their methodology is rigorous, and their conclusions are backed by some dense analytics.

It would indeed seem from their exhaustive research that, in many respects, music is genuinely universal. The findings should not surprise us. Humans, after all, are biologically similar across the globe, with generally the same propensities for language learning and all the other things that humans universally do. Many previous comparative projects in history have used generalizations to create racial hierarchies and attempt to show the superiority of one culture or another. “Universality is a big word,” said Leonard Bernstein, “and a dangerous one”—a word beloved by empires throughout time.

But the data-driven approach used by the most recent studies adheres more closely to the science. Wide variation is a given, and several indicators show great “variability across cultures” when it comes to music, as the introduction to “Universality and Diversity in Human Song” acknowledges. Nonetheless, forms of music appear in every human society, accompanying ceremonies, rituals, and rites. Echoing the conclusions of modern genetics, the authors point out that “there is more variation in musical behavior within societies than between societies.” Read Mehr and his team’s study here.

via Big Think

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling & Humor His New Masterclass

For more than 25 years, the holiday season has brought to the radio not just Christmas carols but a diaristic monologue by a writer with, in every sense, a distinctive voice. When it first aired on Morning Edition, "Santaland Diaries" made David Sedaris' name, not that he holds the piece in esteem as high as some of his fans do. "People will say, 'Oh, I loved that Santaland thing,'" Sedaris said in a recent interview, but "that thing is so clunkily written. I mean, it’s just horribly written, and people can’t even see it." Most are "listening to the story, but they’re not paying attention to how it’s constructed, or they’re not paying attention to the words that you used. They’re not hearing the craft of it." Sedaris fans who do hear the craft of it may well be in the target audience for a new Masterclass taught by the man himself.

Here on Open Culture we've previously featured Masterclasses by writers as intellectually and stylistically various as Joyce Carol Oates, Malcolm Gladwell, Margaret Atwood, and Dan Brown. But we've never conducted investigations into any of their writing processes in the same way we have into Sedaris' writing process, his own view of which constitutes the core of his Masterclass' content. "If you write about people, you have to be interested in people," he says in the trailer above. For him that means asking unexpected questions, like "Do your children shower?" or "Who's the drunkest customer you've had today?" It also means keeping a diary in which to record the answers, and with which, even more importantly, to maintain a daily writing habit.




Even now, with a full schedule of readings to give around the world, Sedaris writes every day without fail. But he also did it for fifteen years before "The Santaland Diaries" brought him the attention that got his first book published. "I meet a lot of young writers and I say, 'Do you write every day?'" he mentions in one lesson. "They say, 'No, but just — you know, I write when it strikes me.' I don't know. I suppose that might work for some people." But it certainly wouldn't work for him, nor would doing fewer than his customary twelve to eighteen rewrites of each piece. In other lessons he covers such aspects of the craft as "observing the world," "connecting with the reader," "ending with weight," and "writing about loved ones."

For that last lesson Sedaris brings in a special guest: his sister Lisa, there to talk about what it feels like to be written about by her famously observant brother. That will come as a special treat for anyone who recognizes her from all her appearances in Sedaris' family stories, but each lesson seems to play to Sedaris' strengths as a writer as well as a performer: he gives readings of diary entries and published pieces, but also gives his students advice on how to handle readings of their own in the future. As with every Masterclass, you can take this one for a one-time fee of $90 USD or with an all-access pass to every course on the site for $180. Sedaris makes no promises that the course will bestow upon all who take it a worldview as distinctive as his, to say nothing of a fan base as lucrative as his, but it will surely make them better at "hearing the craft of it," a skill as worthy of cultivation as it is rare.

Note: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Long Game of Creativity: If You Haven’t Created a Masterpiece at 30, You’re Not a Failure

Orson Welles directed the greatest movie ever made, Citizen Kane, at age 25, with only a limited knowledge of the medium. When Paul McCartney was 25, he, along with his fellow Beatles, released the era-defining album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. By age 29, Pablo Picasso revolutionized modern art by developing cubism.

If hearing such stories sets off an existential panic attack because you squandered your 20s with too much reality TV and graduate school, then take heart -- you’re not necessarily a failure.

As Adam Westbrook points out in his video essay The Long Game, Leonardo da Vinci was a total loser before he painted The Last Supper at age 46. As a youth, Leonardo planned grandiose projects that he wouldn’t be able to finish. This, of course, did little for his reputation and even less for his career as a freelance artist.




But he continued to work, eking out a living by enduring the demands of picky, small-minded clients, and, through this lean period, Leonardo emerged a great artist. Robert Greene, in his book Mastery, calls this period "The Difficult Years." Every successful creative slogs through some form of the Difficult Years, even child prodigies. Mozart just went through his struggles at a time when most children are learning to read.

In other words, “genius” has less to do with innate talent than just doing the work. Of course, that isn’t nearly as good a story as that of the romantic genius. But it is encouraging for those of us who haven’t quite yet won that MacArthur grant.

You can watch Westbrook’s video essay in various parts above.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in April 2015.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

What the Great Pyramid of Giza Would’ve Looked Like When First Built: It Was Gleaming, Reflective White

The Great Pyramid at Giza—the oldest and most intact of the seven ancient wonders of the ancient world—became a potent symbol of the sublime in the 19th century, a symbol of power so absolute as to eclipse human understanding. After Napoleon’s first expedition to Giza, “Egytomania… swept through European culture and influenced the plastic arts, fashion, and design,” writes Miroslav Verner in The Pyramids: The Mystery, Culture, and Science of Egypt’s Great Monuments.

At the end of the century, Herman Melville satirized the trend that would eventually give rise to Ancient Aliens, asking in an 1891 poem, “Your masonry—and is it man’s? More like some Cosmic artisan’s.” Egyptomaniacs saw otherworldly magic in the pyramid. For Melville, it “usurped” nature’s greatness, standing as “evidence of humankind’s monumental will to power,” as Dawid W. de Villiers writes.

The ancient Greeks believed the pyramids were built with a massive slave labor force, a theory that has persisted. As Verner exhaustively argues in his book, however, they were not only built by humans—instead of aliens or gods—but they were constructed by tradesmen and artisans whose skills were in high demand and who were paid wages and organized under a complex bureaucracy.

And as you can see reconstructed in the Smithsonian video at the top, one of those artisanal tasks was to polish the monument’s outer limestone to a gleaming white finish that reflected “the powerful Egyptian sun with a dazzling glare.” Once the pyramid was completed, “it must have truly added to the impression of Giza as a magical port city, bathed in sunlight,” says archaeologist Mark Lehner in the clip.




In addition to its glowing, polished limestone sides, “the structure would have likely been topped with a pyramidion, a capstone made of solid granite and covered in a precious metal like gold,” writes Kottke. “No wonder they thought their rulers were gods.” Or did ancient Egyptians see the Great Pyramid as a masterpiece of human engineering, built with the skill and sweat of thousands of their compatriots?

Who can say. But it’s likely that 19th-century European explorers and artists might have characterized things differently had the Great Pyramid still scattered the sun over the desert like an ancient beacon of light instead of sitting “dumb,” as Melville wrote, stripped of its facade, waiting to have all sorts of mysterious meanings wrapped around it.

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

For the First Time, Studio Ghibli’s Entire Catalog Will Soon Be Available for Digital Purchase

Some describe Studio Ghibli, the animation company founded by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, as "the Japanese Disney." That does justice to the true nature of neither Ghibli nor Disney, though both ventures have displayed an uncanny ability to produce beloved animated films — and beloved animated films that haven't always been easy to see on demand. Just this past summer we featured the release of Ghibli's Spirited Away in China, eighteen years after its premiere, but even in less politically sensitive territories, fans have had their challenges: finding a way to stream Ghibli movies, for instance, which (at least in North America) will become much easier on December 17th.

On that date, reports Variety's Dave McNary, "GKids will release the entire Studio Ghibli catalog of animated films for digital purchase." From Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and My Neighbor Totoro to From Up on Poppy Hill and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Ghibli's films "will be available to purchase in both English and Japanese languages on all major digital transactional platforms."




This marks "the first time the Studio Ghibli films will be available for digital purchase anywhere in the world," including the studio's homeland of Japan — a country, in any case, with a slightly different relationship to the internet than most, and one that tends to result in a preference for physical distribution over digital.

If you've never seriously watched Studio Ghibli's films, don't be fooled by the name GKids: the American distributor specializes in artisanal animation, mostly but not entirely Japanese (its catalog also includes Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues), and those in charge there know full well the draw of Ghibli for demographics far beyond those still in childhood. One can fairly argue, in fact, that youngsters aren't Ghibli's primary audience; whereas Disney makes animation for kids that many grown-ups can enjoy, Ghibli in some sense does the opposite. The films of Miyazaki, Takahata, and Ghibli's other stalwarts will thus make ideal material for the all-ages at-home movie marathons without which no holiday season is complete, seeing as their animated magic will arrive in the realm of on-demand not a moment too soon.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Kabuki Star Wars: Watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi Reinterpreted by Japan’s Most Famous Kabuki Actor

The appeal of Star Wars transcends generation, place, and culture. Anyone can tell by the undiminishing popularity of the ever more frequent expansions of the Star Wars universe more than 40 years after the movie that started it all — and not just in the English-speaking West, but all the world over. The vast franchise has produced "cinematic sequels, TV specials, animated spin-offs, novels, comic books, video games, but it wasn’t until November 28 that there was a Star Wars kabuki play," writes Sora News 24's Casey Baseel. Staged one time only last Friday at Tokyo's Meguro Persimmon Hall, Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords retells the events of recent films The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in Japan's best-known traditional theater form.

To even the hardest-core Star Wars exegete, Kairennosuke may be an unfamiliar name — though not entirely unfamiliar. It turns out to be the Japanese name given to the character of Kylo Ren, the power-hungry nephew of Luke Skywalker portrayed by Adam Driver in The Force AwakensThe Last Jedi, and the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker.




In Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords he's played by Ichikawa Ebizō XI, not just the most popular kabuki actor alive but an avowed Star Wars enthusiast as well. "I like the conflict between the Jedi and the Dark Side of the Force," Baseel quotes Ichikawa as saying. "In kabuki too, there are many stories of good and evil opposing each other, and it’s interesting to see how even good Jedi can be pulled towards the Dark Side by fear and worry."

The thematic resonances between kabuki and Star Wars should come as no surprise, given all Star Wars creator George Lucas has said about the series' grounding in elements of universal myth. Lucas also actively drew from works of Japanese art, including, as previously featured here on Open Culture, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. And so in Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords, which you can watch on Youtube and follow along in Baseel's play-by-play description in English, we have the kind of elaborate cultural reinterpretation — bringing different eras of Western and Japanese art together in one strangely coherent mixture — in which modern Japan has long excelled. No matter what country they hail from, Star Wars fans can appreciate the highly stylized adventures of Kairennosuke, Hanzo, Reino, Sunokaku, Ruku and Reian — and of course, R2-D2 and C-3PO.

via Neatorama

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Interactive Periodic Table of Elements Shows How the Elements Get Used in Making Everyday Things

“The discovery of the periodic system for classifying the elements represents the culmination of a number of scientific developments, rather than a sudden brainstorm on the part of one individual,” writes Eric Scerri at Scientific American. And yet, while several scientists over the course of the nineteenth century invented systems for classifying the elements, “ask most chemists who discovered the periodic table and you will almost certainly get the answer Dmitri Mendeleev,” notes the Royal Society of Chemistry.  That’s for good reason, since the basis of the table we know today came from the design Mendeleev created in 1869.

This past March saw the 150th anniversary of his achievement, which has hardly remained a historical artifact. Every generation has its table. Mendeleev’s rudimentary beginnings have taken on new shape and have been supplemented with annotations and illustrations in eye-catching color in textbooks and on classroom walls around the world. It’s only fitting, then, that the 21st century has its digital versions of the table, like the interactive design by Boeing software engineer Keith Enevoldsen.




The Interactive Periodic Table of the Elements, in Pictures and Words, adapts itself to different learning styles while providing students of chemistry, of all ages and levels, instant facts about each of the elements it illustrates. Click on Palladium, for example, and you’ll learn about its role in pollution control. The non-corroding hard metal absorbs hydrogen and is used in labware, electric contacts, and dentistry. Rhenium, we learn, is a dense metal used in rocket engines, heater coils, and electric contacts, among other things.

Other “seemingly obscure” elements we may never have heard of, like Gallium and Tantalum, influence our daily lives “quite a bit, it turns out,” as Lacy Cooke writes at Inhabit, serving as components in LEDs and mobile phones. We gather such facts at a glance, as well as the other endlessly useful functions of the table. Enevoldsen further adapts his designs for home or classroom use with printable PDFs, including a version with only words and a simplified table with only pictures. Beginning students may be thrilled to find print-your-own elements cards, as well as other periodic-table-related visual aids like Atomic Orbitals, a color-coded chart that “shows what atoms look like.”

The groupings on the periodic chart so familiar to us today came about when Mendeleev “realized that, by putting [the elements] in order of increasing atomic weight, certain types of element regularly occurred,” the Royal Society points out. But his “real genius… was to leave gaps for undiscovered elements. He even predicted the properties of five of these elements and their compounds.” Enevoldsen’s interactive table makes for an easy format to update. When new elements are named, he adds them to his charts immediately.

Periodic tables like Enevoldsen’s may only barely resemble Mendeleev’s spare original, but the Russian chemist’s classification system still provides the organizing principles by which we understand the fundamental elements that make up the material world. View and download PDF copies of all of these highly informative, and up-to-date periodic tables here. Or purchase posters/prints here.

via Inhabit

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A New Digitized Menu Collection Lets You Revisit the Cuisine from the “Golden Age of Railroad Dining”

The coming of the railroad in the U.S. of the 19th century meant unprecedented opportunity for millions—a triumph of transportation and commerce that changed the country forever. For many more—including millions of American bison—it meant catastrophe and near extinction. This complicated history has provided a rich field of study for scholars of the period—who can tie the railroad to nearly every major historical development, from the Civil War to presidential campaigns to the spread of the Sears merchandising empire from coast to coast.

But as time wore on, passenger trains became both more commonplace and more luxurious, as they competed with air and auto travel in the early 20th century. It is this period of railroad history that most attracted Ira Silverman as a graduate student at Northwestern University in the 1960s. While enrolled at Northwestern’s Transportation Center in Evanston, Illinois, Silverman and his classmates found endless “opportunities for research, adventure, and unparalleled feasting,” writes Claire Voon at Atlas Obscura.




Silverman especially took to the dining cars—and more to the point, to the menus, which he collected by the dozens, “eventually amassing an archive of 238 menus and related pamphlets. After a long career in transit, he donated the collection to his alma mater’s Transportation Library, which recently digitized it in its entirety.” Silverman’s collection represents “35 United States and Canadian railroads,” points out Northwestern, and its contents mostly date from the early 60s to the 1980s—from his most active years riding the rails in style, that is.

But Silverman was also able to acquire earlier examples, such as a 1939 menu “once perused by passengers aboard the famed 20th Century Limited train,” Voon writes, “which traveled between New York City and Chicago.” Twenty years after this menu’s appearance, Cary Grant, “playing an adman in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, orders a brook trout with his Gibson” while riding the same line. The Art Deco menu for the "new streamlined" line features such delicacies as “genuine Russian caviar on toast and grilled French sardines.”

Even kids' menus—now reliably dominated by chicken fingers, pizza, PB&Js, and mac & cheese—offered far more sophisticated dining than we might expect to find, with “items such as grilled lamb chops, roast beef, and seasonal fish" on the North Coast Limited menu below. “The mid-20th century seems to have been a golden age of railroad dining,” remarks Northwestern Transportation Librarian Rachel Cole. “It was never something that railroads profited on, but they used it to compete against each other and attract passengers,” taking pride in “selections that would be rivaled in restaurants.”

The fine dining-car experience might also include novelty items passengers would be unlikely to find anywhere else, such as Northwestern Pacific’s Great Baked Potato, “a monstrous spud,” Voon explains, “that could weigh anywhere between two to five pounds” and came served with “an appropriately sized butter pat.” One can see the appeal for a food and travel enthusiast like Silverman, who had the privilege of trying dishes on most of these menus for himself.

The rest of us will have to rely on our gustatory imaginations to conjure what it might have been like to eat prime rib on the Western Star in the Pacific Northwest in the early 60s, or braised smoked pork loin on an Amtrak train in 1972. If your memories of dining on a train mostly consist of pulling soggy, microwaved “food” from steaming hot plastic bags, or munching on packaged, processed salty snacks, expand your sense of what railroad dining could be at the Ira Silverman Railroad Menu Collection here.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #21 Considers Role-Playing Video Games

What constitutes a video RPG? Is there any actual role-playing involved?

Our audio editor Tyler Hislop rejoins hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss those video games that are supposed to make you feel like you're contributing to the story, that your choices matter, in which you can maybe, you know, choose to wear a funny hat or just craft potions all day instead of advancing the plot. We compare solo vs. social games, compare video to table-top role playing, think about how we relate to the character we're playing, and more.

We touch on Ultima, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft, Horizon Zero Dawn, Skyrim, Fallout, Outward, Death Stranding, Erica, Hellblade: Sakura’s Sacrifice, The Witcher, and more. Also from TV: Bandersnatch, The Guild, and that D&D Key & Peele sketch.

Some sources we looked at included:

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.





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