This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.
Known outside Minnesota as "The Land of 10,000 Lakes", this often-misunderstood state is fiercely independent and unique. The region is homogenous, with nearly 90% of the population able to trace their heritage back to Northern Europe. Minnesotans may think of themselves as a breed apart, but the rest of us like to think of them as the creamy filling in our national Oreo cookie; great when you pry the Canada cookie off the top and combine it with another America and Minnesota to create a sort of jury-rigged Oreo Doublestuf.
Minnesota's largest urban area is the Minneapolis and Saint Paul metro area, known collectively as the Twin Cities. That's a cute way of saying they form one big urban area; a frosty suburb with some genuine bumps of culture here and there. It's a great place to visit and watch the Twins or the Vikings lose a ball game. National Public Radio legend Garrison Keillor and left-wing talk radio host Al Franken are both from the area. Many consider Minnesota to be a fairly liberal state and I think this proves the state is on the leading edge of the intolerably boring radio movement.
Located in Bloomington, part of the Twin Cities metro area, and situated conveniently close to an airport and casino, the Mall of America is the largest shopping mall in the United States and one of the largest in the world. Many Minnesotans are ashamed of the mall, but in their darkest moments they all succumb to the lure of Orange Julius and Dollar Daze at Bloomingdale's.
The Mall includes an indoor theme park, a 14-screen theater, and an aquarium. It is perfectly designed to accommodate a teenage coming-of-age comedy or a zombie apocalypse. While the Mall of America has maintained a relatively high level of occupancy, it has lost several of its anchor stores and a number of other vendors.
Despite this, the crazy backers of the mall intend to enlarge it even further. Fearing that the mall might one day grow to encompass both of the Twin Cities, city planners are engaged in a legal battle with the mall's backers.
Visitors to the Mall of America think nothing of the world beyond its walls. They are overwhelmed by the flashing lights and commerce opportunities and suffocated beneath the soft-pretzel stink of capitalism. For them a foreign nation is the baby changing room on the second floor.
Caught between the Midwest and the South is our final stop on today's journey. Missouri is a Midwestern state with a heavy dose of Southern Fried Stupid in a similar, but opposite, manner to Kentucky and its thin coating of Midwestern Chili Cheese.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has sworn to personally investigate the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. In fact, Putin plans to use his expertise to solve most major crimes.
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