Z-Happy Mr. Springer

Roger D. Kornberg made waves when he studied the molecular bases of eukaryotic transcription. Rosalyn Yalow won acclaim when she developed radioimmunoassays of peptide hormones. Californian Curtis Howe Springer made his mark by dreaming up a place name he could be sure would come last in U.S. road atlas indexes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Molecular biology and health-and-medicine advances vs. crazy-ass town name: Who are we to judge?

Springer’s creatively named “town” – Zzyzx Hot Springs – was really a health spa built on the 12,800-acre mining claim he staked out in California’s Mojave Desert in the 1940s. But when the former radio evangelist and tonic maker began selling lots to anyone who forked over some cash, the feds zzipped in and escorted Springer to the slammer.

Nevertheless, maybe this clever hustler was onto something. If you were a Kornberg or a Yalow, you were awarded a Nobel Prize that escaped the notice of anyone but eggheads in ivory towers. If you were Curtis Howe Springer, you didn’t achieve fame and fortune but you sure as hell put a name on the map. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names approved Zzyzx (pronounced ZYE-zix), California now the site of Cal State’s Desert Studies Center – as a place name in June 1984.

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