The Stanley Cup Playoffs are well underway. Fans of the Winnipeg Jets are heartbroken; Chicago Blackhawk lovers are feeling great.
But you don't need to be an NHL superfan to find something fascinating about hockey. A.J. Jacobs, an editor-at-large for Esquire and a professional know-it-all, joined NPR's Scott Simon to talk about quirky facts from the sport's past and present.
How much hockey trivia do you know? Take a guess at which of the facts below are true, then hit "play" to see if you were right.
What important element of hockey was established at the very first official indoor hockey game?
Did the very first game enter sudden-death overtime? Did the players immediately decide to grow a bushy playoff beard? Or did the game descend into a brawl?
What food items were repurposed as early hockey pucks?
One of the earliest hockey pucks was frankly unpleasant: cow dung. Cut-up lacrosse balls and wooden pucks were also common. But so was at least one edible item.
What foodstuff was used on the ice: hardtack biscuits, potatoes or pork chops?
What foul things did audiences famously throw onto the ice?
Rats, hats, pizza, hamburgers, teddy bears, shoes ... fans are famous for throwing all of those onto the ice. But the most famous projectile is not for the squeamish.
What, as NPR's Scott Simon notes, did one group of fans regularly toss on the ice: dog feces, dead octopuses, live cockroaches or rotten eggs?
What has the Stanley Cup been up to?
The Cup itself, which is awarded to the NHL's top team, has been around the block a few times.
In fact, it's better to ask what the 122-year-old Stanley Cup hasn't been up to. Take a guess as to which of these experiences the Stanley Cup has not (yet) had:
- Swimming underwater
- Hosting a baptism
- Being wielded as a weapon
- Feeding a dog
- Visiting a strip club
- Serving as a toilet
And finally, what happened in some of hockey's most epic bouts on the ice?
There are no bonus points for knowing that hockey games often end in brawls. But which of the following actually happened: a player trying to start a fire, a fan being beaten with his own shoe, or a player's hairpiece being ripped off midfight?
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are well underway. A.J. Jacobs, our friend who learns a little bit about everything just in time to try to take advantage of it, joins us to talk about 'ockey past and present - eh? A.J. works ostensibly for Esquire magazine. I don't know of anyone who sees him in the office. He joins us in our studios in New York.
Thanks very much for being with us, A.J.
A.J. JACOBS: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: You have dug up some details about what amount to the origins of the sport, right?
JACOBS: Yeah. The first official indoor hockey game was played in 1875 in Montreal by students at McGill University. And I am happy to say that it established a longtime tradition because as the local newspaper reported, shins and heads were battered, benches smashed and the lady spectators fled in confusion.
SIMON: Now that's entertainment, isn't it?
JACOBS: Well yeah. I'm thinking the Canadians are so nice and so polite, and then you put skates on them and it's Dr. Jekyll and Mr...
SIMON: Total - yeah - total transformation, isn't it? Absolutely amazing. And I understand that the earliest pucks - let me put it this way, the earliest pucks were not something you'd want your children to play with.
JACOBS: Yes, although my 8-year-old boys found it very amusing.
SIMON: (Laughter). Sure.
JACOBS: But they were - yes, the earliest pucks were made of cow dung, frozen cow dung. It was cheap, available, it was eco-friendly. And pucks have been made of wood, chopped-up lacrosse balls, potatoes.
SIMON: And A.J., there's also a history, isn't there, of stuff besides pucks winding up on the ice in organized hockey?
JACOBS: Absolutely, yes. Hockey fans are notorious for - they like to get involved in the game. So they have thrown a tremendous number of random objects onto the ice, including pizza, hamburgers, rats, teddy bears, sharks, hats, shoes and octopi.
SIMON: That's very famous. The Detroit Red Wing fans used to toss octopus onto the ice, right?
JACOBS: That's right. It is a long-standing tradition and it's because the eight arms of the octopus represent the eight games that it used to take to win the finals, so it is a loving but disgusting gesture.
SIMON: Yeah, and not loving for the octopus, as it's often been pointed out.
JACOBS: Right, or the Zamboni driver.
SIMON: (Laughter). Right. To the Stanley Cup itself, which has awarded the NHL's top team, this Cup has been around the block a few times, hasn't it?
JACOBS: It has led quite an eventful life. It's 122 years old and it's been at the bottom of swimming pools and canals and it's been used to baptize babies, as a cereal bowl, as a dog food bowl. It has spent some time at strip clubs. And it's not all fun and games because in 1964, a Canadian player put his infant son in the Stanley Cup for a photo and the baby mistook the trophy for a potty.
JACOBS: The trophy is a survivor, it's a survivor is what I'm saying. I know you like to keep things classy on your show so I went high-brow.
SIMON: Yes, and I'm so glad you added that. We can't discuss hockey without including one of the, you know, I'm afraid it's a time-honored if despicable tradition, and that's brawls.
JACOBS: That's true. Hockey players do sometimes express their feelings in nonverbal ways. And your show is far too short to list the epic fights but I'll just give you three of my favorites, where the Swedish player who tried to set his opponent's hockey jersey on fire. There's the player who took a fan's shoe and beat him with it. And there is the fight where Bobby Hull, hockey great Bobby Hull's wig was ripped off in the middle of the fight, according to spectators.
SIMON: Did they return it, by the way?
JACOBS: Apparently he dropped it on the ice.
SIMON: He just - you know, he wanted to confuse the Maple Leafs. A.J. Jacobs, he is currently busy organizing our global family reunion that is set for June 6 in New York.
A.J., as usual, you made my morning. May many octopi land on your ice.
JACOBS: (Laughter). Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.