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October 2005
Status: Dubious Product Claims
image The makers of Hydra High Energy H2O claim that most people in the world are chronically dehydrated. In fact, they claim that even people who are drinking up to half their body weight in water every day, are still dehydrated. They offer their product as the cure for this problem. They state that it "dramatically increases intra-cellular hydration – by an average of more than 22%"

So what makes Hydra H2O more hydrating than normal water? Well, according to the Hydra H2O website, normal water is comprised of large "H2O cluster aggregates" that have difficulty passing through the walls of cells. Hydra H2O, on the other hand, has been transformed via a proprietary process to become "micro-clustered." This micro-clustered water can pass more easily through cell walls, and thus hydrates the body more effectively. In fact, Hydra H2O is so potent that all you need do is mix two capfuls of it with one gallon of normal water "to make one gallon of super-hydrating Hydra Hi-Energy H20."

So what exactly is the secret proprietary process that transforms normal water into micro-clustered Hydra H2O? As far as I can tell, the secret is that they shake the water. However, they're not about to put it this plainly. Instead, they say that they use a "proprietary process of motion." They also note some mumbo jumbo about the use of "electromagnetic influences" and "pulsating vortexes."

In other words, my guess is that, except for its price tag, Hydra H2O is exactly the same as normal (shaken) water.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 31, 2005
Comments (14)
Status: Pareidolia
image The latest face of a deity to be seen in a random object is the face of Jesus that some people claim they can see in the trunk of a tree on North Clinton Avenue in Rochester, New York. They're now calling it the Jesus Tree. Most of the time, when people start claiming to see the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich or Jesus in an oyster shell, I can at least make out the outline of a face. But in this case I can't see anything at all. Maybe you need to have more faith in order to be able to see it.
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 31, 2005
Comments (37)
Status: Unlikely
A group of anti-development activists calling themselves the Knights of Saint Edmund have hit upon an unusual way of stopping a shopping center from being built in their hometown, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. They're threatening to unleash the ancient Curse of St. Edmund upon the developers. Their website states that:

On St Edmund's day, the 20th November 2005, a formal and public cursing ceremony will take place at Bury St Edmunds to once again summon the avenging saint and dread King to punish his 21st century enemies. The ancient curse of St Edmund has not been used for over 500 years, but with the determination of developers to destroy the whole character of a town laid-out almost 1,000 years ago, leaves the good people of Bury St Edmunds with no other option. They will have to summon divine vengeance down upon those hell-bent on wrecking their town, unless Centros Miller Ltd., Miller Group and Debenhams unconditionally withdraw all their plans for redeveloping the cattle-market site by close of business on Friday 18th November 2005.

Victims of the Curse of St. Edmund have supposedly suffered some gruesome misfortunes, such as blindness, madness, syphilis, and being "eaten up inside by worms." However, the town historian of Bury St. Edmunds denies that there is any legend of a curse: "They have no historical authenticity – there is no such thing as the curse of St Edmund." Still, you've got to give them credit for trying. Maybe there's some ancient American curse that can be used to stop Wal-Mart from opening more stores.
Categories: Paranormal, Places
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 31, 2005
Comments (18)
Status: Real
image This really shouldn't surprise me, but for some reason it does. A company has developed peanut butter slices that come in packs (similar to packs of sliced cheese). I'm not sure how they made the peanut butter rigid enough, and non-sticky enough, that it could be formed into a plastic-wrapped slice. But somehow they did. I'd be worried that whatever they did to it would affect the taste. No word on whether anyone has developed sliced jam. [Update: they have; see the comments below.] I think if you're going to eat sliced peanut butter, you naturally should have it on Sara Lee's crustless bread. It would be the perfect meal for anyone too lazy to do anything on their own. (Thanks to Kathy for giving me a heads up about this product)
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 28, 2005
Comments (29)
Status: Art Fake (i.e. it's not Shakespeare)
image The National Portrait Gallery has reported that the Grafton portrait, long thought to depict Shakespeare as a young man, doesn't depict him at all. They don't know who the guy in the painting is. The portrait apparently served as the inspiration for the portrayal of Shakespeare in the movie Shakespeare in Love.

So the Grafton portrait will now join the Flower portrait (revealed to be a nineteenth-century fake earlier this year) in the category of "portraits of Shakespeare that don't actually show Shakespeare." My hunch is that all the depictions of Shakespeare are unreliable. We'll never know what he looked like.
Categories: Art, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 28, 2005
Comments (10)
Status: Real
image A photo is doing the email circuit, showing a bathroom that men who don't enjoy being watched as they 'go about their business' might not want to use. Yes, it is a real bathroom. It's located on the second floor of the Sofitel Hotel in Queenstown, New Zealand. Here's from a press release about the bathroom:

Queenstown photographer Sheena Haywood shot the images of models from local agency Ican -- after Auckland model agencies turned down the job when they heard where the images were going to be placed. “We had a lot of fun with the shoot, made all the better for the fact that there weren't any men there when we did it,” said Sheena.

The general manager of the hotel commented that "he was now under pressure from those of the female persuasion to decorate the neighbouring women's toilets with something equally eye-catching."
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 28, 2005
Comments (14)
Status: Real
image Here's a new picture doing the email circuit. It's accompanied by this caption:

A Volkswagen Polo is loaded in the car towers of the VW Autostadt in Wolfsburg, northern Germany on Wednesday. The Autostadt, situated next to Volkswagen's headquarter, is the company's theme park, and distribution centre where daily 5,500 visitors view Volkswagen brands like Bentley, Audi, Lamborghini.

It looks like something out of a science-fiction movie, but it's real, as is the caption. The picture was taken by AP photographer Fabian Bimmer. It appeared in SFGate.com's photo gallery on October 19, 2005. (Thanks to Dipankar Mitra for sending it to me.)
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 27, 2005
Comments (23)
Status: Real
Chess Boxing seems to be getting a lot of attention lately. The basic premise of this sport is that you play chess for four minutes, and then you box for two minutes. Then you go back to playing chess, followed by another round of boxing. And this goes on and on for eleven rounds until someone is either knocked out, or checkmated. The website of the World Chess Boxing Organization states that:

One of the goals of this new sport is the old ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body: mens sana in corpore sano. During a chessboxing fight the control of aggression plays a big role. That's why WCBO's motto is: "Fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board".

A search of news articles about chess boxing confirms that this is, indeed, a real sport. Though it may be a while before it gets included in the Olympics. The Wikipedia article about Chess Boxing provides this history of the sport:

The concept was invented in 1992 by cartoonist Enki Bilal, and a match of chess boxing was a major plot point of his graphic novel Froid-Équateur. Iepe "the Joker" Rubingh, a Dutch artist, inspired by Bilal's book, brought the concept to life in the spring of 2003... The first world championship was held in Amsterdam in 2003 and was won by Iepe Rubingh himself. The 1st European Chess Boxing Championship took place in Berlin on 1 October 2005 when Tihomir Titschko of Bulgaria defeated Andreas Schneider of Germany after the latter conceded defeat in the seventh round.

(via The Presurfer)
Categories: Sports
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 27, 2005
Comments (16)
Status: Real (though the pumpkins are fake)
image The newest thing for Halloween is fake pumpkins. Made out of polyurethane foam, they can be carved just like the real thing. But don't try to eat the seeds. A guy quoted about this issue in the Loudoun Times-Mirror notes that: "There's something wrong with society if people start carving plastic pumpkins." I don't think I have anything to add to that statement. The article also notes that once you've carved your foam pumpkin, it wouldn't be wise to light it up with a candle. You need to use a flashlight.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 26, 2005
Comments (25)
I've learned that the Museum of Hoaxes got mentioned in the Wall Street Journal last week. The title of the article was "Photo Firms Hunt Copyright Violators" (October 19, 2005) by Vauhini Vara. I got included because of my brief fight with the Science & Society Picture Library over my use of the Cottingley Fairy images. Unfortunately the reporter didn't fully represent my side of the argument. Here are the relevant sections from the article:

Bloggers, beware: That photo of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes on your Web site could be fodder for a lawsuit. Stock-photography companies like Getty Images Inc. and Corbis Corp. are using high-tech tools to crack down on Web site owners who try to use their photographs without paying for them...

Earlier this year, the Science & Society Picture Library in London, which manages copyrights on more than one million images, sent letters to several Web sites asking them to take down copies of the "Cottingley Fairies" -- photos that appeared to show two young girls playing with ghosts, and later turned out to be a hoax. One site, the Museum of Hoaxes, left the photos up, arguing in a message on the site that fair use should apply since it displayed the photos alongside an article critiquing them. Chris Rowlin, acquisitions executive at the Picture Library, said it didn't pursue the issue further, partly because the Museum of Hoaxes isn't trying to sell the photos for profit.


Yes, I do feel that my use of the images would qualify as "fair use" since I directly comment on them. However, I argued to the SSPL that I didn't need to make a claim of fair use, because the Cottingley Fairy images are in the public domain. The law in America is that anything published before 1923 is automatically in the public domain. As far as I'm aware, there are no exceptions to this. The Cottingley Fairy images were published in America in 1922. Therefore, they're now public domain. Anyone can use them without having to seek permission from anyone else. In fact, I noted to the SSPL that they were probably making an illegal claim of copyright by sending me a cease and desist letter in regards to the images. Apparently they never mentioned any of this to the Wall Street Journal reporter. And somehow the reporter mistook my argument about the images being in the public domain for an argument of fair use, even though I thought my statement was pretty clear.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 26, 2005
Comments (7)
Status: Real
Gary emailed me this article with the comment "Please tell me this is a hoax." Sadly, I think it's not. Here are some highlights from the article:

Grooming isn't just for dogs anymore, and many pet owners are bringing in their rats to groomers like Garrison, who uses waterless shampoo to make their coats shine and smell sweet... "We need to be there for all our clients," Garrison said. "I think we might be the only place around that grooms rats."...
"The most difficult part of grooming rats is trimming their nails," Garrison said. "They have very small feet." Ferguson recommends pet owners get their animals groomed at least once a month to protect them from parasites. "I love rats," she said. "It's an obsession to me. Sometimes when they get nervous they (urinate) but they don't usually bite. We know how to handle them because that's what we do."


A quick Google search brings up quite a few resources for rat owners who want to groom their pets. The biggest challenge for rat lovers seems to be the little drops of urine the delightful creatures leave as they walk around.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 25, 2005
Comments (49)
Status: Undetermined
CNN reports that the city of Rome has passed a set of laws to prevent cruelty to animals. For instance, dog owners will be forced to walk their dogs regularly. And round goldfish bowls have been banned because round bowls supposedly cause the fish to go blind. Specifically, the article says:

The newspaper [Il Messaggero] reported that round bowls caused fish to go blind. No one at Rome council was available to confirm this was why they were banned. Many fish experts say round bowls provide insufficient oxygen for fish.

I have never before heard this claim about the dangerous effects of round bowls. I tried to google "round bowls goldfish blind" to see if anyone has written about this, but no luck. However, depending on the size of the opening in the bowl, it does seem logical that the fish may not get enough oxygen. And if they don't get enough oxygen, maybe they'll go blind (shortly before they die).

Incidentally, I'm totally in favor of laws forcing people to walk their dogs. I hate it when people (such as my neighbor) keep their dog chained up in their yard all day, every day.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 25, 2005
Comments (39)
Status: Hoax (part of a viral marketing campaign)
image Russian geologist Arkady Simkin claims to have participated in an oil-surveying expedition to Northern Siberia that found an enormous, skyscraper-size creature buried in the ice. He gives the following description of the creature (which he refers to as Taurus Major) on his website: The animal appears to be a huge quadruped with horns much like a bull. In fact it looks to be a hybrid of a bull, woolly mammoth and a rhino – if such a thing existed. But its size is truly colossal. The horns are immense in dimension and protrude from the head with incredible length. The body is covered with a combination of coarse fur and what can best be described as ‘body armor’ (like an American armadillo) – protects its enormous joints and head.

What makes Simkin's site interesting (and I'm referring to Simkin as a real person, though I doubt he is) is the movie and radio interview that he's posted on the site. The movie is pretty impressive and indicates that someone spent some money to produce it. The radio interview, by contrast, is fun to listen to, but is obviously scripted.

I'm taking it as a given that the ice giant is a hoax, but I have no idea who's behind it. Maybe it's a publicity stunt for a book, movie, or video game. I'm sure that we'll find out soon enough. The name Arkady may be an allusion to Arkham from the work of H.P. Lovecraft. The Taurus Major creature itself also seems very Lovecraftian. (Thanks to Darrell for the link)

Update: It's part of a viral marketing campaign for a new Playstation game called Shadow of the Colossus, which involves hunting and killing giant creatures. The website giantology.typepad.com, supposedly about "the mythology and culture of giants throughout the ages of humanity," is also part of this same marketing campaign. The giantology site has been hosting footage showing the skeleton of a giant uncovered on a beach in India by the tsunami. Quite a few people have linked to this footage, but it's all part of the same marketing effort.
Categories: Cryptozoology, Extraterrestrial Life
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 25, 2005
Comments (40)
Status: Undetermined (but probably a hoax)
image Not many people like rats. But the members of the Great Pointed Archer Society do. As they proclaim on their very slick website: The immediate goal of this website is to replace the offensive name ‘rat’ with the untainted, and beautiful name Great Pointed Archer. By doing away with this all-to-common slur, we can begin to repair centuries of disrespect and hatred. After all, it’s not their fault they live in the sewer and eat trash.

It's not clear who's the creative force behind the Great Pointed Archer Society. It seems to be a little too well designed to actually be a society of rat lovers. For instance, compare it to the much less flashy (and therefore more obviously real) Rat Fan Club website. So almost everyone is guessing that it's a stealth advertising campaign whose ultimate object has yet to be revealed. The Great Pointed Archer Society is selling t-shirts (which is always a strong indicator of a hoax), but I can't believe that the entire site was created just to sell the shirts. (Thanks to S.M. Elliott for the link)
Categories: Advertising, Animals
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 25, 2005
Comments (8)
Status: Hoax
It's been very widely reported in the past few days that singer Charlotte Church and Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher will be paired up in a new ad for Pepsi. According to the report:

the unlikely pair will head-up a lucrative advertising campaign, which will feature the OASIS frontman "teaching" Church how to trash hotel rooms and smash instruments while enjoying a selection of alcoholic drinks mixed with the cola beverage. A PepsiCo source tells British newspaper the Daily Star, "We've always got safe, family friendly stars to endorse Pepsi in the past, like BRITNEY SPEARS, BEYONCE KNOWLES, CINDY CRAWFORD and BLUE. But Pepsi is becoming more and more popular as a cocktail mixer at parties, so we want a wilder, more controversial image to go with that, and Liam and Charlotte are ideal. They both love their booze and between them they cover the gender demographics we're trying to target."

However, in today's New York Times Pepsi denies the whole thing: Richard Detweiler, a spokesman for the Pepsi-Cola International division of the Pepsi-Cola Company in Purchase, N.Y., says that the United States, Pepsi-Cola's biggest market, typically tends to have its own campaigns, with other ads running in major markets like Europe... Asked about the British newspaper reports, Mr. Detweiler says "there are no such plans" for the commercial they described. "I assumed it was tongue-in-cheek," he says, because of the implausibility that Pepsi would sell itself as a mixer with alcoholic beverages.
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 24, 2005
Comments (4)
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