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February 2006
Status: Parody
image The website of the Ann Arbor Public School system can be found at A parody version of it (created by an unknown author) is at Apparently the school district doesn't find the parody amusing, because they're sending its domain host a cease-and-desist letter claiming infringement of their intellectual property. The two sites do look very similar, but I don't think their case would hold up in court. After all, parody relies upon copying elements of whatever it's making fun of, and parody has always been a "fair use" exception to copyright that the courts have strongly defended. However, the question will be whether the case ever gets to a court. Often domain hosts see a cease-and-desist letter and immediately take down the material in question rather than risk any kind of legal action. We'll have to wait and see what happens here. But I took a screen shot of the parody site, just in case it does disappear.
Categories: Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 28, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Hoax
In the past two weeks there have been a flurry of rumors, accompanied by pictures, about new products from Apple. We've seen this version of a new video iPod:

It turned out to be a hoax created by "Bud62". A picture of an Apple iPhone has also been floating around:

This iPhone is a fantasy product designed by Isamu Sanada (who's just a guy who likes to design fictitious Apple products). And finally, we have another video iPod:

Yet another hoax. Whoever created it has placed a video online showing the entire process they went through to photoshop the image. It's a pretty interesting (and amusing) video. You get to watch a hoaxer at work.
Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 28, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Hoax reported as news
Peter Frost has an article in the current issue of Evolution and Human Behavior in which he argues that the trait for blonde hair evolved 10,000 years ago in northern Europe because men found blonde women to be attractive--and because there were more women than men, the women had to compete for the men. (I'm simplifying his argument a lot.) But I'm not bringing this up to make a point about Frost's article. Instead, I'm bringing it up because the London Times discusses his article and concludes with this observation:

Film star blondes such as Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Sharon Stone and Scarlett Johansson are held up as ideals of feminine allure. However, the future of the blonde is uncertain. A study by the World Health Organisation found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene. According to the WHO study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202.

They're referring, of course, to the story of the WHO Blonde Report, which was revealed to be a hoax back in 2002. The gene for blonde hair is not actually disappearing, nor did the WHO ever sponsor such a study. Did the Times not realize it was a hoax, or did the reporter slip this in as a joke?
Categories: Journalism, Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 28, 2006
Comments (32)
Status: Undetermined
image A resident of the town of Colfax (northern California) claims to have found hundreds of ancient Buddha figurines buried in the American River:

Herman Henry says he found about 400 of the Buddha carvings in a washed out sandbar along the River more than a month ago. The thumb-sized, white carvings may be hundreds of years old. And now federal and state investigators are looking into the discovery and are looking for Mr. Henry.

He found them in a state park. It's illegal to remove historical artifacts from a state park, so that's why the police want to talk to him. Of course, there's also the question of how these artifacts can possibly be genuine. There were people from China in northern California hundreds of years ago, but these artifacts seem suspiciously well preserved. State Park Ranger Donna Turner notes, "It's hard for me to believe that there were just 500 of them laying in the middle of the river in the condition that they are in." My hunch is that Henry came up with a wild story to increase the value of some worthless figurines he was trying to get rid of.
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 27, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Real
I've received quite a few emails about the following story, presumably because it seems like something lifted from Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks. A family in Turkey contains five siblings who have apparently never learned how to walk on their feet. They still walk on all fours, with the weight of their upper bodies supported by their wrists (wrist walking, as opposed to knuckle walking, which is what apes do). You can check out a video of one of these wrist walkers on the website of Turkish researcher Uner Tan.

image image

The case of these wrist walkers is far too widely reported to be a hoax. Apparently there's even a BBC documentary about them in the works. Scientific interest in them stems from the light they might shed on a long-standing debate about how humans evolved the ability to walk upright. Were humans knuckle walkers (like other primates) or wrist walkers before they started walking on two feet?

There's also debate about whether these Turkish siblings are merely suffering from a form of brain damage and never learned how to walk upright (this theory is argued by a team of British researchers... their paper is at the top of the list of articles), or are the siblings a case of reverse evolution (the Turkish researcher Uner Tan is arguing this). Whatever the case may be, none of it seems to be a hoax.

World Science has a couple of informative articles about the controversy (article 1, article 2).
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 27, 2006
Comments (19)
Status: Urban Legend
image One of the many catalogs I receive is the Wine Enthusiast. On the inside cover of the catalog I received last week is a description of Symphony Stemware wine glasses which are supposedly "designed and shaped to enhance the best characteristics of every wine." Accompanying this claim is a map of the tongue with the following caption:

"The specially designed shape of each glass directs the flow of wine to the proper areas of your palate, emphasizing a wine's best qualities and creating a balanced taste for maximum enjoyment."

Symphony isn't the only company to use a tongue map to promote their glasses. Riedel uses the same gimmick in their marketing. The thing is, from what I understand, the tongue map is a completely bogus idea. The tongue is not divided into taste regions. And even if it were, no glass is going to be able to direct flavors to one specific area of the tongue.

An article from the August 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine ("Shattered Myths" by Daniel Zwerdling... I can't find a link to it), tackled the tongue-map myth at some length and thoroughly debunked it:

"The tongue map? That old saw?" scoffs Linda Bartoshuk when I reach her at her laboratory at the Yale Univerity School of Medicine. Bartoshuk has done landmark studies on how people taste. "No, no. There isn't any 'tongue map.'"
Wait a minute: When you sip Pinot Noir from the correct Riedel glass, won't it maximize the fruit flavors by rushing the wine to the "sweet" zone on the tip of your tongue? When you serve a Chardonnay with too much fruit, won't the correct glass balance the flavors by directing the wine to the "acid" spots near the middle? "Nope," Bartoshuk laughs. "It's wrong." She and other scientists have proved that you can taste salty, sweet, and bitter everywhere on the tongue where there are taste buds. "Your brain doesn't care where taste is coming from in your mouth," Bartoshuk says. "And researchers have known this for thirty years."

The Wikipedia article on taste buds also debunks the idea of the tongue map: "Contrary to popular understanding, taste is not experienced on different parts of the tongue. The 'tongue map myth' was based on a mistranslation of a German paper that was written in 1901 by a Harvard psychologist. Though there are small differences in sensation, which can be measured with highly specific instruments, all taste buds can respond to all types of taste."
Categories: Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sun Feb 26, 2006
Comments (30)
Status: A hoax (perhaps?) based on a real experiment
Henry Rosenbaum emailed me with the following description of a hoax, followed by a question:

For 30 years, from the mid-1960's, I lived in central Michigan, about a four hour drive from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where my wife and I often visited for weekends. I well recall an exhibit at one of the major museums that featured an enclosed cage/environment with a number of mice and a descriptive explanation to the effect: The mice were limited in the amount of space they were afforded, yet they were provided all the food and water their colony required, regardless of its numbers. The display stated they had at first healthily thrived and multiplied but as their supported numbers greatly increased without any increase in territory, the members became first combative and then homosexual, with the ultimate dying out of the colony despite the unlimited physical resources. Of course this was to illustrate what (perhaps as Malthus had predicted?) would ultimately happen to man if population growth was not checked.

I believed it was shortly after I left Michigan (mid-1990s) that I read in a West Coast newspaper that the museum had acknowledged the exhibit was a hoax made up in the minds of its (two, as I recall) researchers. I neglected then to clip the article and have for the last couple of years been unsuccessfully trying to re-locate the information of the hoax and its details. I had hoped it might be mentioned in your book and then attempted to research your web site under both mice and rats with variations as well as under several subject matters, all without success. I would appreciate if you could point me in the right direction.

I had never heard of this experiment/museum exhibit before (which is why it's neither in my book or on the site). Does it ring a bell with anyone?
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Sat Feb 25, 2006
Comments (24)
Here's Bob's preliminary account of the powerball lottery hoax:

Alan Abel and I have been talking about doing something with the Powerball for the better part of a year now. It all came together really quickly last weekend when we heard that the record Powerball jackpot was finally won. A number of things came together that made this week just about perfect: It was a record amount; there was only one winner; it was won in a rural state which would make things seem less suspicious; Monday was a holiday, meaning that the lottery office would be closed, almost certainly buying us at least 24 hours to operate before the real winner surfaced.

This is just sort of the Reader's Digest version but I'll put something more comprehensive together for you on Thursday. I flew to Omaha on Sunday afternoon and arrived at midnight Central Time. Monday morning, Alan, his daughter's boyfriend Jeff (who was there to videotape the event and was playing my son) and a lovely woman named Nancy (who played my niece) headed over to Lincoln to set up. We found the convenience store where the ticket was sold; there were about a half-dozen TV satellite trucks outside it. We wanted to find a nice Mom and Pop-type restaurant not too far from there where we could operate.

On the same street, but across town, we found a Denny's-type place called The Village Inn. I walked in, introduced myself to the manager and gave him an envelope with $2000 in it, which I told him to use to pay for the check of everyone in the place. Within about 10 minutes, the first reporter, from a local radio station, showed up. I recorded an interview with him and he also did a live shot from there over his cell phone.

Next, I got a call from Good Morning, America which wanted to fly me to New York City immediately so I could be on their show the next morning. Obviously, I had to decline. Then the floodgates opened. Over the next 2.5 hours or so I was inundated with media. At one point, I had five TV cameras pointed at me, a radio reporter to my left and a print guy to my right. It was madness.

In time, though, the inconsistencies in my story started to show. Since I wasn't privy to the details of the real ticket, I had to make things up. I said that I bought one ticket; the lottery commission said, however, that the winner had bought five sets of numbers on one ticket. Also, I said that I thought that it was a man who sold me the ticket; in reality, it was a woman who sold it. And so forth.

Finally, we decided to head back to our hotel in Omaha. We weren't sure if the thing was going to have "legs" as they say, but it's only gotten crazier since then. I did a short interview over the phone with KPTV, Channel 12 in Portland, OR from the airport in Vegas. Today, I talked to a columnist in Des Moines, KPAM radio in Portland and I'm going to be on the Johnathan Brandmier show in Chicago early Thursday morning.

By the way, using the last name "Pagano" rather than "Pagani" was Alan's idea. His thought was that I HAD to use a different name since I'm fairly prominent on Google but if I used a totally different name, it was possible that one or more of my friends would see me and contact the media outlet to let them know that they got my name wrong. On the other hand, with only one letter off, they'd think that it was a simple typo and just let it pass. Good thinking.

I should mention that the whole venture was bankrolled by a guy named Joe Vitale, who has a website at We couldn't have done it without his patronage.

So, that's the thumbnail version. I'm going to be putting together a longer narrative later, as soon as I (hopefully) get over the horrible virus which has infected everyone in my family and which is making it almost impossible for me to hear anything on my right side.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Sat Feb 25, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: hoax
The following incident caught my attention because it occurred in McKeesport, which is right outside of Pittsburgh. This is where my mother grew up. My grandfather used to be mayor of a small suburb of McKeesport called Liberty Borough. I visited it often growing up. McKeesport is also where Andy Warhol grew up. Sadly, the city has gone way, way downhill ever since the steel mills closed, as evidenced by this incident:

Police in McKeesport said a woman who needed to pass a work-related drug test was the reason behind a fake penis being microwaved at a convenience store. A clerk at the Giant Eagle Get-Go store along Lyle Boulevard told police that a man brought what appeared to be a severed penis into the store and asked her to microwave it Thursday night. But police said the item was actually a fake, hollow penis that a woman planned to use to pass a drug test. McKeesport Police Chief Joseph Pero said the woman's male companion had filled the device with his urine, which the woman somehow planned to pass off as hers for a drug test. The couple stopped at the convenience store to have the device microwaved because the woman wanted the device to be warmed up to something approaching body temperature -- as part of the drug-testing ruse. Police said they plan to charge the man and woman criminally, although the exact charges haven't been determined.

My main question is this: Why did the woman need a fake penis in order to pass a drug test? Does that make any sense at all?

Update: It's been pointed out to me that the news report misspelled the name of the road. It's Lysle Boulevard, not 'Lyle' Boulevard.
Categories: Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 24, 2006
Comments (20)
I've just received a few copies of my book, Hippo Eats Dwarf, from my publisher. This is the final version that will be on sale in stores in a few weeks. It's great to see the book finally done and in print!

Anyway, since I have a few extra copies, an idea occurred to me. Why not give them away? But not as prizes. Instead, give them away to volunteers on the condition that, once read, they're passed along to someone else. Each person who gets the book will write a note in it saying where it's been and also try to send a picture of the book back to me. This way I can create a visual diary of the adventures the books have as they (hopefully) travel around the world. I imagine it as a book version of the traveling gnome prank. The experiment will be to see how far the books can travel, and for how long.

I've decided to give away ten books. If you're interested in participating email me your address. (Don't leave your address in the comments!) I'll send a book to the first ten people who respond (though I'm giving priority to the moderators, if they want to participate). [Update: I've now got the ten volunteers!] I'll also keep a wait list of people willing to receive the book, so in case someone can't think of anyone to pass it along to, they can contact me and I'll give them a name to send it to.

I figure the worst that can happen is that someone will keep a book. Which is why I'm 'setting free' more than one book. But if people do play along, it'll be interesting to see what happens.

To start the ball rolling, here's a picture of Hippo in my backyard in San Diego, posing with a few friends. (Yeah, I need to mow the lawn.)

Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 24, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: True
image Thanks to Big Gary for directing my attention to Janise Wulf, the 62-year-old great-grandmother who just gave birth to her 12th child. Gary wasn't totally sure that the story was real, but I'm pretty sure it is. After all, on my page about birth hoaxes I note a true story of a 63-year-old woman who gave birth back in 1997. And the Guardian reports that the oldest woman ever to give birth was Adriana Iliescu, who did so at the age of 66 last year. I know a lot of kids are raised by their grandparents, but it would still be weird to be a teenager and have an 80-year-old mom.
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 24, 2006
Comments (18)
Status: Hoax
Alan Abel has struck again, this time with the help of a regular here at the Museum of Hoaxes, Bob Pagani (aka Cranky Media Guy). Bob pretended to be the winner of the $365M Powerball lottery. (The real winners were a bunch of meat packers.) Apparently Abel helped behind the scenes. The action took place on Monday, but I didn't hear about it until today when I got an email from a reporter at the Des Moines Register asking me if I had heard about the Powerball Prank, and what I thought about it. A quick news search pulled up this article:

On Monday, a man who said he was an unemployed trucker from Omaha named Bob Pagano showed up flashing cash in Lincoln at a local Village Inn restaurant, claimed he was the winner and bought everybody in the place dinner. But Pagano said he had picked the winning numbers, while lottery officials said the winning numbers were a "quick-pick" generated by computer. Also, the photocopy of what Pagano claimed was the winning ticket said it was bought on Sunday, Feb. 17. Sunday was Feb. 19. The drawing was on Saturday, the 18th.
Alas, it was learned Tuesday that the man's name actually was Bob Pagani - not Pagano. Pagani is a cohort of Alan Abel, who has long been known around the world for putting on elaborate hoaxes. "Bob Pagani has been a confederate of mine for 25 years," Abel told The Associated Press.
Abel said he and Pagani noticed the gaffe on the date printed on the photocopy of the purported winning ticket just before launching their ruse.
"It was a goof," he said. Pagani said he'd been planning a Powerball hoax for about a year.
"He held court for about three hours at the Village Inn restaurant," Abel said. "He was swarmed."

More details from Bob himself should be forthcoming soon!

On a historical note, this isn't the first time Abel has engineered a lottery prank. He pulled the same prank back in 1990. On January 8, 1990 Charlene Taylor held a party at the Omni Park Central Hotel in mid-Manhattan to announce that she was the winner of the recent $35 million New York lottery. She told the media that the winning numbers had been revealed to her in a dream by Malcolm Forbes and Donald Trump as they flew around on a magic carpet. All of this was duly reported by the New York press. A day later the media realized that Taylor wasn't a lottery winner. She was actually an actress hired by Abel. The New York Daily News was the only paper not to fall for the hoax, because its reporter had recognized Abel standing in Taylor's hotel room.
Categories: Business/Finance, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 22, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: urban legends
An article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer records some Philippine urban legends: the "White Lady" of Balete Drive, Robina Gokongwei's "snake twin" lurking in department store dressing rooms, the elusive "kapre" that lives in an ancient mango tree near the Emilio Aguinaldo house in Kawit town, and Andres Bonifacio's love child from a place aptly named Libog (now Santo Domingo) in Albay province. None of those mean much to me. But most of the article is devoted to discussing two other Philippine legends that are of more general interest. The first one is that Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, "was the father of Adolf Hitler, the result of an indiscretion with a prostitute in Vienna." The second one is that Jose Rizal was also Jack the Ripper:

Rizal was in London from May 1888 to January 1889, in the British Library copying "Sucesos de las islas Filipinas" by hand because there were no photocopying machines at the time. Jack the Ripper was active around this time, and since we do not know what Rizal did at night or on the days he was not
in the library, some people would like to believe Rizal is suspect. They argue that when Rizal left London, the Ripper murders stopped. They say that Jack the Ripper must have had some medical training, based on the way his victims were mutilated. Rizal, of course, was a doctor. Jack the Ripper liked women, and so did our own Rizal. And -- this is so obvious that many overlooked it -- Jose Rizal's initials match those of Jack the Ripper!

If Jack the Ripper did turn out to be Filipino, that would throw a wrench in his status as the Most Evil Brit of all time.

Related Posts:
Nov 9, 2005: Japanese Urban Legends
Oct 14, 2004: Iraqi Urban Legends
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 22, 2006
Comments (190)
Status: Pastry disguised as fast food
Apparently some men feel self-conscious about eating pastries in public, fearing that chowing down on confectioneries doesn't look very manly. Mamido's burgers, a restaurant in Japan, has the solution. It disguises pastries as fast food. Treehugger reports:

The "bun" is actually a sponge cake, the "patty" inside is chocolate cream, and the "pickles" are kiwis. The deep-fried fish burger, meanwhile, priced at ¥440 ($3.70), features a banana shaped like a fish fillet in sponge cake. It is topped with "tartar sauce," which is actually fresh cream. And the gratin burger, also at ¥440, is a sandwich with a cream cheese and fruit filling. The side dishes are equally ingenious. The French fries look like the real thing but are actually custard cream covered in starch powder and deep-fried.

I have no problem eating pastry in public, but I'd gladly eat some of this fast-food/pastry as well.

Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 22, 2006
Comments (12)
Status: Real
image On Google video there are a couple of commercials from the early 80s touting a weight-loss product called Ayds. (An Ayds radio commercial can be heard here.) The name of the product is so unfortunate, that it makes the ads sound like Saturday Night Live skits, with lines such as: "Ayds helps you control your appetite so you lose weight... Why take diet pills when you can enjoy Ayds?... Ayds helps you lose weight safely and effectively!"

However, the ads are totally real, as was the product. Many of you might even remember it (though I don't). Ayds was an appetite-suppressant candy that came in chocolate, butterscotch and caramel flavors. During the 70s it was one of the top-selling weight-loss products. But then along came AIDS. In 1983 Time Magazine reported retailers as saying that "the disease is not hurting the product... Ayds sales have never been better." However, by 1988 the Associated Press was reporting that Ayds sales were down 50 percent, because of the similarity between its name and AIDS. This prompted the maker of the candy to change its name to Diet Ayds. The AP reported "Dep chairman Robert Berglass told the AP the company wanted to soften the name without completely changing it and losing identification. Sales were moving back up, he said, but he was reluctant to predict a full recovery." Evidently the candy didn't make a recovery, but I can't find any record of exactly when it ceased being sold.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 22, 2006
Comments (86)
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