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.
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