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8 fun facts about Minnesota to talk about with your family instead of politics this holiday season

Minnesota’s most popular high-school mascot; the U’s most money-making patent; and more.

You can file a request with MnDOT to light up the 607 light fixtures on the 35W bridge pretty much any color of the rainbow.

Whether you agree with them or not, you might not want to talk politics with your family over the holidays — we don’t either.

With that in mind, here’s a list of eight decidedly more fun facts we learned about Minnesota this year, which you can deploy to steer the conversation at your holiday gathering clear in a different direction when it turns to Robert Mueller, Donald Trump, or anything going on in Minnesota’s political sphere.

1. There are no poop trains leaving the station in Minnesota…

Remember the story about the smelly as all get-out train full of New York City poop stranded in Alabama? Yep, the Big Apple landfills its sewer sludge hundreds of miles away from New York (federal policy bars them from just dumping it in the ocean). Not so in Minnesota, where sewage is processed in-state (incinerated, in the case of the Twin Cities metro). You can read about what happens after you flush here.

1.5. …and:

It takes about a day for sewage to get to the Met Council’s processing plant in St. Paul from Forest Lake, the northernmost part of its service area. It takes less than eight hours from Hopkins or three hours from Minneapolis.

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2. Minnesota’s most common high school mascot is an eagle.

Yep, America’s mascot and the band with the best-selling album of all time is also Minnesota’s most popular high school mascot. There are 24 high schools that claim this bird of prey as their emblem. That’s followed by tigers, panthers, cardinals and lions.

That’s pretty boring, so consider this: Moorhead High School’s mascot is a spud (the area has a potato farming history) Blooming Prairie’s is an “awesome blossom” (someone tried to make their blossom mascot look scarier but Blooming Prairians of the ’70s thought it just looked awesome). Sauk Centre has the Mainstreeters, a tribute to native son Sinclair Lewis, and Duluth’s Marshall has the hilltoppers because it’s on one of that hilly city’s hills.

3. Minnesota does have earthquakes.

Ever wonder why Minnesota doesn’t have earthquakes? We did, and it turned out we were wrong.

Minnesota has had 20 small to moderate earthquakes on record. One, in 1917, had people in the town of Darling wondering if World War I had come to Minnesota (the U.S. had just gotten involved in the conflict).

Scientists don’t all agree on why there are quakes in Minnesota, which is pretty far from the edge of the North American tectonic plate, but it might have to do with coastal quakes on the plate’s edge shaking up ancient fault lines close to home.

As you might have guessed though, this isn’t Minnesota’s most pressing natural disaster concern.

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4. The Honeycrisp might be the University of Minnesota’s most famous intellectual property, but it’s not the U’s most lucrative patent.

The compounds behind an HIV treatment are, having made the U more than $370 million in the last decade, compared to less than $11 million for Honeycrisp. Still, not bad for an apple.

5. You can file a request with MnDOT to light up the 607 light fixtures on the 35W bridge pretty much any color of the rainbow.

They won’t just do it for your birthday, though. It has to be an event of local or national significance.

6. Tuberculosis was once the #1 killer of Minnesotans.

That’s according to a Victorian death wheel that belongs to the Minnesota Historical Society.

The chart shows cause of death for Minnesotans in 1888, and also how unlucky people were to be alive before modern medicine.

Rounding out the top five causes of death were old age, infantile debility, diarrhoeal diseases of children and pneumonia, most of which are pretty curable today. Now, you’re most likely to be killed by cancer, heart disease, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease or Alzheimer’s. Maybe in another 130 years, those will be just a space doctor’s visit away from a cure.

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7. Minnesota didn’t always have 87 counties.

Minnesota’s county situation was pretty fluid for the state’s early history. When Minnesota was a territory, it had giant bands of counties that stretched across the state and into the now-Dakotas, for instance.

There use to be counties called Monongalia, Mahkato, Wahnahta, Doty (on the map near Duluth for less than a month), Davis, Pierce, Newton, Big Sioux, Buchanan and the colossal Pembina in the northwest corner of the state.

Read more about it (and see maps) here.

8. The number of breweries opening in Minnesota has grown — especially in Greater Minnesota.

As opposed to previous years, when the brewery boom was more focused in the Twin Cities, a lot of the new ones opening are in small towns, like Ashby, Fergus Falls, Fountain and Walker.