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Your Minnesota guide to keeping holiday table talk light, engaging and politics-free

Let’s face it: We’re experiencing extreme levels of political polarization in the U.S., and not everyone likes to reminded of that during holiday family gatherings.

Christmas dinner

Ah, the holidays. It’s a time of reflection and light amid the darkest month.

Unless you find yourself trapped at the table with family members or friends who just can’t help but talk about politics — and that amid extreme levels of partisan polarization.

In the interest of keeping your holiday table talk light, engaging and politics-free, we’ve compiled five interesting facts about Minnesota to talk about with your family and friends over dinner.

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1. It’s “Cedar Lake” — not “Lake Cedar” — for a reason.

Ever wonder why some Minnesota lakes put the word “lake” first, and others put “lake” second? For example: Lake Superior; Brownie Lake?

It’s because unlike, say France, where “Lac” would come before the name of the lake, there isn’t really a convention in English-speaking North America.

There are patterns, though, and some researchers studied them. They found that parts of the U.S. and Canada colonized by English and German speakers, there are more “Name Lakes,” while in parts of the country colonized by Romance language speakers, like French, it’s more “Lake Name.”

In the sample of lakes the researchers looked at in Minnesota, about 90% are “Name Lake,” with notable exceptions, like Lake Superior. Can you imagine if it were “Superior Lake?”

2. Sometimes, planes collide with animals. Sometimes, it’s a problem.

Minnesota drivers often have to worry about hitting animals with their cars. Did you know that’s also something pilots worry about when they’re flying planes?

Airplane-animal collisions are not terribly uncommon: a Federal Aviation Administration database tracking them recorded more than 2,570 “wildlife strikes” at Minnesota airports between 1990 and March of this year.

Generally, they’re no big deal. Planes hit a lot of small birds. But they can occasionally be costly (the most expensive in the Minnesota database is a 2012 incident that cost $5.9 million in inflation-adjusted dollars) and dangerous (see: Sully Sullenberger, who landed a plane in the Hudson River in New York after geese took out both its engines). 

In addition to run-ins with birds, the Minnesota database as of earlier this year included collisions with bats (41), deer (26), coyote (8), fox (3) and skunk (2). No moose reports in Minnesota, though that has happened in Alaska.

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3. The technical definition of “ice out” is not very technical.

When Minnesotans talk about “ice out,” they’re generally talking about the date in the year when the ice is off of a lake — an important sign of spring. Some ice out records in Minnesota go back to the 1800s.

But how do you measure “ice out”?

Generally speaking, it just means when you can get around in a boat without hitting ice. But for some lakes, it’s a little more specific. On Lake Minnetonka, it’s when a boat can make it from Wayzata Bay to Excelsior Bay. On Rainy Lake, it’s “ice out” when a boat can get from Sha Sha Resort to Kettle Falls Hotel.

Sometimes, people used to also measure ice out in ways most would now consider objectionable.

“Back in the old days, they’d have ‘dump the clunk,’ basically they put a car out on the ice and have a contest over when it’s going to fall through,” Assistant State Climatologist Pete Boulay told MinnPost earlier this year.

Also: Lake ice thaws from the bottom up.

4. Thin Mints are the most popular Girl Scout cookie in Minnesota — and it’s not even close.

Here are the Girl Scout cookie power rankings for Girl Scouts River Valleys, the council that serves about half of Minnesota counties, several counties in western Wisconsin and one in Iowa. Thin Mints win by a landslide.

Girl Scout cookie boxes sold by type, 2021
Source: Girl Scouts River Valleys


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Also, Minnesotans are huge buyers of Girl Scout cookies. Our local Girl Scout council was first in the nation (it’s 10th in membership) in sales 2021. Bet you still have some Thin Mints in your freezer from last year, don’t you?

5. Minnesota isn’t the coldest state in the lower 48.

North Dakota is. We’re tied for second with Maine, at least if you’re looking at the average annual temperature.

The warmest state in the lower 48 is Florida, where half of the people reading this piece will probably decamp after the holidays.

Of course, Alaska is the actual coldest U.S. state, but its data don’t go back as far, making it tough to do an apples-to-apples 50-state comparison that includes it.

While we can’t really claim “coldest state,” we certainly have some of the coldest spots in the lower 48, including International Falls, which fancies itself the “Icebox of the Nation,” as well as Norris Camp, in Lake of the Woods County, as well as Embarrass and areas near Ely.