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December 2005
Status: Undetermined (reported in the news, but from an anonymous source)
It sounds like an urban legend. At the end of a work day a commuter returns to his car parked at the train station in Westborough, Massachusetts, only to realize he had left it unlocked all day. Miraculously, the car is still there, despite the numerous thefts in that area. But someone has been in his car, and they've left something: a box with a white ribbon on it, placed on the front seat. Inside is a diamond ring valued at $15,000, and a note: "Merry Christmas. Thank you for leaving your car door unlocked. Instead of stealing your car I gave you a present. Hopefully this will land in the hands of someone you love, for my love is gone now. Merry Christmas to you."

This story of remarkable generosity has been widely reported in the news. It's said to have occurred earlier this month, before Christmas. But like I said, the story has many traits of an urban legend: It fits the stereotype of the remarkable-act-of-kindness story that often circulates around the holiday time, and the name of the guy who received the ring is not known.

The Christian Science Monitor was a bit suspicious of the story, so they did some fact checking. But all they've been able to find out is that someone did report finding the ring in their car to the Westborough police. However, the name of the guy isn't being released. So this means that the story could have happened as reported, or maybe someone, for whatever reason, reported a false story to the police (maybe they thought people would enjoy hearing a nice story around Christmas). No way to know. But if the ring ends up on eBay, my vote is that the story is definitely bogus.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 30, 2005
Comments (6)
Status: An unusual way of concealing a crime
image A Hawaiian news station has reported the touching tale of a boy who received a video iPod for Christmas. At least, he received the video iPod box. When he opened the box he found, to his disappointment, only a piece of meat inside of it. His mother, who bought the gift for him at Wal-Mart, where she works, had no idea how the meat could have gotten inside the box, and she's asking the store to give her an iPod instead of the meat. There are two possibilities here. Either the mother is pulling some kind of scam, or a prankster thief got to the iPod while it was in the store and replaced it with a piece of meat. Gizmodo reports hearing from an insider source that claims the latter to be the case (an unknown prankster thief was at work). According to this anonymous source, Wal-Mart investigators have found two other units with meat in them, and an ex-employee is suspected of the tampering. But since Gizmodo's source is unnamed, it's not fully credible.
Categories: Food, Technology
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 30, 2005
Comments (14)
Status: Prank
image I'm about five days late posting this, but better late than never. An advertisement for an "Extra Virgin Mary Statue" slipped by the editors of the conservative Catholic magazine, America. The advertisement offered "a stunning ... statue of the Virgin Mary standing atop a serpent wearing a delicate veil of latex." The "delicate veil of latex" was a blue condom. America's editors didn't examine the accompanying photo closely enough to realize this. And so the ad ran in the December 5 edition. People who contacted the seller were told the ad was meant "as an assault on Catholic faith and devotion." I don't know who the artist was who created the ad. Maybe it was Banksy.
Categories: Advertising, Art, Religion
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 28, 2005
Comments (11)
Status: Prank
Wayne Johnston's garden gnome disappeared. Then he began receiving letters from it posted from all corners of the world. Being a police officer, Johnston launched an unofficial investigation into who was responsible for his gnome's abduction. It turned out almost all his friends were, including those who had been helping him with his investigation.

So this is another instance of the traveling gnome prank. I know that this prank was featured in the 2001 French movie Amelie. It was also further popularized by a Travelocity ad campaign about a traveling gnome. But what I'm not sure about is whether this prank was popular even before Amelie. Have people been sending gnomes around the world for decades?

I should also note that I've finally gotten around to creating a category for gnomes.
Categories: Gnomes, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 28, 2005
Comments (21)
Status: Real
Everyone is linking to these photos of a biker hitting a pothole in the rain and taking a nasty spill. They were taken by Liu Tao for the Beijing Youth Daily. The thing is that Liu knew the pothole was there and, instead of telling people about it, just waited for someone to fall into it so that he could get his shot. Which kind of makes this a photo sequence of a prank in action. Beijing Youth Daily readers have apparently been outraged by the photos, writing in that Liu is "disgusting" and "should really be condemned."

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Categories: Photos/Videos, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 28, 2005
Comments (22)
Status: Real
Alejandro from Colombia sent in these pictures that are circulating via email with the subject "Huevos Fantasticos" (or "Fantastic Eggs" in English). He asks, "Are these things real?" Well, I'm pretty sure they are real. I think they're examples of carved ostrich eggs. Do a google image search for "carved ostrich egg" and you'll come up with plenty of other examples. However, I don't know who the artist is responsible for these specific carvings.

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Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 28, 2005
Comments (10)
Status: Pareidolia
image Shortly before Christmas workers at a Florida restaurant noticed that mineral deposits had created a face-like image on the bottom of one of the warming trays they were using. They knew right away that this had to be the face of Christ. (Who else would appear on a warming tray?) According to this MSNBC article "A spokesman for the Stadium Club says they will not continue to use the pan." In other words, Jesus has ruined a perfectly good warming tray. Thanks a lot, Jesus. I assume the next stop for the holy warming tray is eBay.
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 27, 2005
Comments (28)
Status: Real hunt, fake fox
Fox hunts on the day after Christmas (Boxing Day) are a British tradition. However, due to a recent ban on fox hunting, any (legal) hunts this year are going to have to be fake. Which has me a bit puzzled. What does a fake hunt involve? The UPI report, where I read about these fake fox hunts, simply says that:

Although banned, thousands of fox hunters in Britain took to the trails Monday on horseback for the annual Boxing Day hunt, some of them chasing only scent.

I assume they must be dragging a dead fox to leave its scent for the dogs. Or maybe they have spray bottles (eau de fox). But how does the hunt conclude? After riding around for a while, does everyone just go home? Or do they let the dogs find the dead fox? I wonder how the Free Church of Country Sports feels about fake fox hunts?
Categories: Animals, Sports
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 27, 2005
Comments (9)
Status: Real
Add this to the list of strange extreme sports. Crewmen on military helicopters have apparently been engaging in an activity known as Supermanning. This involves "hanging from an open cargo door and letting the rushing wind 'fly' [your] body, attached only by a safety belt." This practice came to light when Petty Officer Brian Joplin recently died as a result of it. (He fell 125 feet from the helicopter into the Persian Gulf after the safety belt slipped over his shoulders.) I imagine this would make Joplin a strong candidate for a Darwin award. The Virginian-Pilot (may require registration to view the article) provides a brief reconstruction of what happened:

“The co-pilot in the left seat noticed in his … mirror, a pair of boots dangling below the back of the aircraft,”... The co-pilot asked the other crew members by radio if everything was OK and was told it was, according to the report. But then crew members saw Joplin’s belt start to slip and still could not get him inside the helicopter. They told the pilot to slow down immediately and lower altitude. “The co-pilot aggressively decelerated and descended,” the report said. But it was too late. Almost immediately, one of the crew members said, Joplin had fallen.

Another stunt crewmen do to pass the time is called the "slide for life." This involves swinging out on a safety line and slingshotting back into the aircraft. Senior military officers claim to be astounded to learn that this kind of activity has been going on behind their backs. However, while supermanning might be real, fire diving remains a hoax.
Categories: Military, Sports
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 26, 2005
Comments (17)
Status: Partially true
Yahoo News! has posted this odd story about a woman who, in a fit of rage, swallowed an entire cellphone:

A lovers' dispute over a cell phone ended suddenly when the woman swallowed the phone whole, police said. Police said they received a call at 4:52 a.m. Friday from a Blue Springs man who said his girlfriend was having trouble breathing. When they arrived at the house they found the 24-year-old woman had a cell phone lodged in her throat. "He wanted the phone and she wouldn't give it to him, so she attempted to swallow it," Detective Sgt. Steve Decker of the Blue Springs Police Department. "She just put the entire phone in her mouth so he couldn't get it."

I'm not the only one to whom this sounds like an urban legend being reported as news. Real Tech News wonders "what kind of phone it was since I can think of plenty that won’t fit into your mouth that easily." Seriously, it would have to be an incredibly small phone to fit down someone's throat, though I suppose there are people with the ability to swallow large, rigid objects. In the past they might have enjoyed careers as circus performers. This case reminds me of the story I posted about over a year ago of a dog who swallowed a cell phone.
Update: Looks like the woman may have involuntarily swallowed the phone. In other words, it's a case of assault. It didn't seem like the kind of thing that someone would voluntarily swallow.
Categories: Food, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 26, 2005
Comments (15)
Status: Debunking an urban legend
Last year there was some discussion on the site about the gender of Santa's reindeer. The theory (as stated in an email that was doing the rounds) is that Santa's reindeer all have to be female because male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, whereas female reindeer retain their antlers until the spring. Big Gary, who's wintering in Alaska, has sent along this photo of "a bull reindeer in Fairbanks, Alaska, this Wednesday, December 21, 2005," which pretty much settles the question of whether male reindeers can have their antlers in late December, around Christmas time. They obviously can. So Santa's reindeer could be male or female. Thanks, Gary.
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Categories: Animals, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 26, 2005
Comments (10)
I've been ignoring the internet for the past few days because I've been too busy eating, drinking, and opening presents. So I'll wish everyone a belated Merry Christmas now, or whatever holiday you celebrate: Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia—for all those ancient Romans out there (since I studied Latin for eight years, I consider myself an honorary ancient Roman)— or nothing at all.

Although I was trying to ignore the outside world, it did manage to briefly track me down. A reporter from the Washington Post called to talk about the case of fraudulent cloning research in South Korea that's been making headlines. Here's what I said (that made it into the article):

The stem cell case has parallels with some earlier hoaxes, according to Alex Boese, who studies and writes about such cases. In the Piltdown man claim, for example, the British researchers may have been motivated in part by national pride. "At the time, it was assumed that whatever country discovered the missing link would be the root of mankind," Boese said. "Maybe in this case South Koreans wanted to prove their scientific credentials."

I'm putting together a list of the top ten hoaxes of 2005, which I hope to have posted by Jan. 1. I think the South Korean cloning case deserves a place on the list. Another contender is the Kodee hoax (which I never posted anything about at the time because I was too busy finishing my book), in which the Southern Illinois University student paper invented an elaborate story about an 8-year-old girl, Kodee, struggling with her father being overseas in Iraq. If you have any other suggestions for hoaxes that should make the top ten list, let me know.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 26, 2005
Comments (11)
Images purporting to show Saudi Arabian versions of Mariah Carey's album covers have recently appeared on the web. Mediabum.com says that "Because of the laws over there her album covers had to be touched up to be made less sexy." Maybe. It sounds like something that would be done in Saudi Arabia. However, the lack of a clear source for these images makes me suspicious. They could equally well have been created by somebody playing around with photoshop. (And why is there no arabic script on these Saudi Arabian covers?) (And incidentally, I just read that Mariah Carey has 17 Number One singles, tying the number that Elvis had. This is odd because I'm unable to name a single song by her. With 17 #1 songs, I figured I'd know at least one of them.)

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Categories: Celebrities, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 23, 2005
Comments (33)
Status: Photoshopped
image My strong hunch is that this picture has been photoshopped. It looks too well composed not to have been. Also, I don't see how the crackers could balance that evenly on the ant's back. I don't know where the picture comes from, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was either from Worth1000 or some kind of inspirational poster.
Update: It is a Worth1000 picture. (Big surprise there, 90% of hoax pictures seem to originate from there.) It's part of a "Mission Impossible" gallery and was created by Jaffar1900. (Thanks to Marcan Dy Arabian for finding it on Worth1000.)
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 22, 2005
Comments (15)
Status: Urban Legend
image This has already been posted in the hoax forum, but it's too good to ignore. Reuters has reported on a Mexican urban legend concerning a mannequin in the window of a bridal gown store in the city of Chihuahua. Local rumor has it that the mannequin is really the embalmed body of the former store owner's daughter. The former store owner was called Pascuala Esparza. La Pascualita means 'Little Pascuala' (i.e. her daughter). According to the legend her daughter died from the bite of a Black Widow spider on her wedding day, so Pascuala embalmed her and stood her up in the window of the store. It definitely is an urban legend because it would be impossible to embalm someone and have their flesh be preserved that perfectly. For some reason, people tend to think that it's easier to preserve a body than it actually is. For instance, there's also the urban legend about a dead wife used as a coffee table, in which a guy seals his dead wife inside an airtight glass coffin which he uses as a coffee table. In real life, it's not that easy to preserve a corpse.
Categories: Death, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 21, 2005
Comments (46)
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