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July 2006
Status: Magic Trick
image A lot of sites have been linking to this video of a pair of quick-change artists performing on NBC's America's Got Talent. The video is fun to watch if you haven't seen them performing before. The pair are magicians David & Dania, who were recently profiled in this Slate.com article. Apparently the duo have become the most popular act during NBA half-time shows.

So how is the trick done? Slate.com reports that:
the trick dates back to the 19th century, and the first English-language manual to describe the art was published in 1911. Back then, magicians connected the various layers via hook-and-eye fasteners; today, the literature describes no fewer than 15 different methods of pulling off the trick, using such devices as Velcro, magnets, and "fish bone pull fasteners."
In other words, it relies on special clothing and a lot of practice. If you watch the video closely, the moment when she has the hoop around her and changes from a green into a purple dress is the one time you can almost see the costume change occurring. I have no idea how she pulls off the trick at the end in which she changes clothes as glitter falls around her.
Categories: Magic, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 16, 2006
Comments (51)
Status: Hoax
image I missed this story last month, but better late than never. Early in June a lot of newspapers ran this photo of Qiao Yubo, a Chinese woman supposedly pregnant with five babies. Apparently it was one of the most viewed photos on Yahoo! News. The caption accompanying the photo stated that she was 1.67m tall, five months pregnant, had a waist measuring 1.75m, and was eating seven meals a day.

Honestly, I have a hard time understanding how anyone thought this was real. Her stomach looks obviously fake. And sure enough, a few days later it was revealed that what was really beneath her dress were "three bed quilts, a dozen sweaters, shirt, cushions, hats and so on." Other news sources state that she had as many as 20 bed quilts beneath her dress. This was only discovered after a clinic offered her a free medical check-up, prompting her to come clean. This is the story of why she did it according to the South China Morning Post:
Six months ago, she became pregnant again with triplets or quadruplets, doctors said. But she miscarried again three months ago at the same time that her husband, Liu Defu , was injured in a traffic accident. Concerned because he was the only son in his family, Ms Qiao decided to tell a white lie so as to reduce the stress he was under. Two weeks ago, she found out she had become pregnant for the third time. She said she planned to "grow" her stomach first, and when it was bigger take the stuffing out. However, Ms Qiao found it impossible to hide the truth as more doctors wanted to examine her, and more journalists wanted to interview her. The woman's husband, family and neighbours were all deceived. Mr Liu told the New Culture Post that he had not dared touch his wife recently, and had kept a distance between them in bed since she claimed to be carrying quintuplets.
Readers of Hippo Eats Dwarf (particularly Reality Rule 1.1: Just because a woman looks pregnant, it doesn't mean she is) would not have fallen for this hoax. (Thanks to Robert Brewington for the link)
Categories: Birth/Babies, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 14, 2006
Comments (13)
Status: Viral Marketing Campaign
image I've received a few emails asking me for info about noscruf.org. It appears, on the surface, to be a site created by the NO SCRUF organization, which stands for "National Organization of Social Crusaders Repulsed by Unshaven Faces." It's supposedly a growing coalition of women who have vowed not to shave until men start shaving. Their website, which features lots of photos of hirsute models (obviously photoshopped, or using glue-on hair), proclaims: "Let's end the trend of prickly, scratchy, stubbly faces. We're not going to shave until men do." Last week a No Scruf protest rally was also held in New York's Herald Square featuring TV stars Kelly Monaco and Brooke Burke.

It's pretty easy to figure out that this isn't a real grassroots movement of stubble-hating women. It's a viral marketing campaign dreamed up by Gillette. I figured this out by doing a quick search for domain name info about noscruf.org. Turns out the site's name was registered by Procter & Gamble and the site itself is hosted on servers owned by Gillette. They didn't even try to hide this information.

As for No Scruf's message, I hate shaving, so despite Gillette's efforts to convince me otherwise, I'm keeping my stubble.
Categories: Advertising, Body Manipulation, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 14, 2006
Comments (19)
Status: Weird News (True)
Big Gary forwarded me this news story about a "machete-wielding gang in angry clown make-up" who have been attacking people in Washington State. The article notes that the group call themselves "juggalos" and often shout "Woo, woo, juggalo!" to each other as they attack victims. The article concludes by noting: "Juggalos often dress in black and wear clown face paint."

Big Gary wonders: "Does Seattle really have a subculture of people who call themselves 'Juggalos,' dress in black, wear 'angry clown' face paint, and carry machetes? And if so, how do I join?"

Yes, Gary. There is such a subculture of Juggalos. But please, as a favor to me, reconsider your decision to join them. It really tears me up inside every time a Museum-of-Hoaxer succumbs to the dark side and ends up prowling the streets as an angry, machete-wielding clown. I've seen it happen far too often!

As for these Juggalos. They're fans of the musical group Insane Clown Posse. Though as the site whatisajuggalo.com explains, they go beyond merely being fans:
Many people often believe that Juggalos & Juggalettes are just another name for fans of Insane Clown Posse. Being a Juggalo is much more than liking the music; it is a way of life. A fan is someone who only likes the music either because it's the fad right now, or because they want to conform. Fans don't see the true message of the music, just the outer layer. Fans are quick to forget you as soon as the next big sensation comes along. They also will hound ICP for autographs and see them only as big famous stars. A Juggalo is one who lives their life by the hatchet. In other words, they believe in the true meaning behind ICP's songs try to live by J and Shaggy's preachings. Juggalos are down with the clown for life, and will never turn their back on ICP because they are said to be "uncool." ... They are dedicated to Psychopathic forever.
For what it's worth, my advice if you see a machete-wielding clown approaching you in a dark park at night: run the other way as fast as you can.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 14, 2006
Comments (31)
Status: Strange, but true
image Vienna boasts the world's only vegetable orchestra. Members of this orchestra play only instruments made out of vegetables. Among their instruments: the cuke-o-phon, the radish-marimba, and the carrot-flute. (A few kitchen utensils such as knives and mixers are also used, on occasion.) And I love this part of the concept: "the instruments are subsequently made into a soup so that the audience can then enjoy them a second time"

In their FAQ, the vegetable orchestra reports that yes, they are serious about their music. It's not just a gag. And they seem to have quite an active tour schedule. They also report that the freshness of the vegetables makes a big difference in the quality of the sound.

I wonder if throwing tomatoes at them at the end of the concert would be considered a compliment? (via the Salvador Dali Museum)
Categories: Entertainment, Food
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 13, 2006
Comments (12)
Status: True (kind of, though I wouldn't use the word 'foretold')
2spare.com offers a list of the Top 15 Strangest Coincidences. It's an interesting list (Thanks for the link, Kathy!), and as far as I can tell all the coincidences they list are basically true. Or, at least, they've all been widely reported, and I haven't been able to find any false statements in them yet. (I didn't analyze all of them that closely.)

But one coincidence I found particularly interesting, that I hadn't read about before, involved an American writer named Morgan Robertson who in 1898 wrote a novella titled Futility. It told the story of a massive ocean liner named the Titan that hits an iceberg while crossing the Atlantic and sinks. Fourteen years later, in real life, the Titanic hits an iceberg while crossing the Atlantic and sinks. Very weird.

The coincidence was definitely not lost on Robertson who immediately had his story republished after the Titanic sank, with the new title Futility and the Wreck of the Titan. Apparently he tweaked the republished story a little bit to make the similarities even more striking. (He altered the dimensions of his fictional boat to make it more like the Titanic.) But the biggest similarity of all (Titan vs. Titanic) he didn't need to tweak. That was legitimately in the original story (which can be read here).

This coincidence is discussed on skepticwiki, which points out that the story is often used by believers in the paranormal as evidence of premonition. But as they point out:
"The most startling coincidence above all is the similarity in names between Titan and Titanic. In 2003, Senan Moloney wrote an article for the online resource Titanic Book Site where he finds three occasions before the writing of "Futility" where a ship named Titania sank at sea, and one of these bore certain similarities to the eventual Titanic disaster. It could be that, inspired by this disaster (or all three) Morgan Robertson chose to base his ocean liner's name on their names."
Still, it is a very striking coincidence. But sometimes strange coincidences do happen. That doesn't make them paranormal.

In fact, 2spare.com leaves off its list what I find to be the most amazing coincidence in history: that when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620, one of the first native Americans they met not only spoke fluent English, but had actually lived in England for a number of years and had crossed the Atlantic numerous times. (He was more cosmopolitan and well-traveled than they were.) To me this is just amazing that out of the entire huge continent the Pilgrims managed, by sheer luck, to find the one guy, Squanto, who spoke English. It's like traveling halfway across the galaxy, landing on a planet, and discovering that the inhabitants speak English. (Of course, that happens in Star Trek all the time.) And without Squanto's help the Plymouth Colony probably wouldn't have lasted through the winter, and American history itself might have taken a very different course. But it was just a coincidence. Nothing supernatural about it (though the Pilgrims definitely viewed it as an example of divine favor).
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 13, 2006
Comments (27)
Status: Weird News
The Los Angeles Times reports about a Russian travel agency, Persey Tours, that sells fake vacations:
For $500, nobody will believe you weren't sunning yourself last week on Copacabana Beach, just before you trekked through the Amazon rain forest and slept in a thatched hut. Hey! That's you, arms outstretched like Kate Winslet on the bow of the Titanic, on top of Corcovado! Persey Tours was barely keeping the bill collectors at bay before it started offering fake vacations last year. Now it's selling 15 a month — providing ersatz ticket stubs, hotel receipts, photos with clients' images superimposed on famous landmarks, a few souvenirs for living room shelves. If the customer is an errant husband who wants his wife to believe he's on a fishing trip, Persey offers not just photos of him on the river, but a cellphone with a distant number, a lodge that if anyone calls will swear the husband is checked in but not available, and a few dead fish on ice.
So now who believes that I really did travel to Edinburgh in May for a Museum of Hoaxes get-together? wink

The broader focus of the LA Times article is how awash in fakery Russian society is. You can get fake versions of almost anything in Russia: clothes, food, electronics, university degrees, art, legal documents, etc. One line in the article I thought was particularly ironic:
The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade has estimated that 50% of all consumer goods sold in Russia are fake; the counterfeit trade, Minister German O. Gref announced in January, has reached $4 billion to $6 billion a year — no one knows exactly, because the books are cooked.

Categories: Exploration/Travel, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 12, 2006
Comments (23)
Status: Probably a hoax
image Last week the London Times printed a photo that, so it claimed, was the only known photograph of Mozart's widow (Constanze), taken in 1840 at the home of Swiss composer Max Keller when she was 78 years old. (She's supposedly the woman on the far left.) However, the photo has generated controversy online, where a number of scholars have labeled it a hoax.

The Sounds & Fury blog cites Agnes Selby, author of a biography of Constanze Mozart, who writes that:
this is certainly not Constanze but someone's aunt. The whole story was concocted by Keller's grandson... There is absolutely no way she could have traveled to visit Maximillian Keller during the period when the photograph was taken. Contrary to the statements made in the newspaper, Constanze had no contact with Keller since 1826. There is no evidence that she had corresponded with him or visited him.
This is followed up by a message from Dr. Michael Lorenz of the University of Vienna's Institute of Musicology who points out that a) this 'newly discovered' photo has been circulating around since the 1950s and has long been thought to be a hoax, and b) "It was simply not possible in 1840 to take sharp outdoor pictures of people as long as the necessary exposure time still amounted to about three minutes. The first outdoor portraits of human beings originate from the 1850s and the picture in question definitely looks like an amateur snapshot from the 1870s."

However, this latter claim (about the technology for outdoor group-photo taking not existing in the 1840s) is contested by Dan Leeson.

But overall, it doesn't seem that there's any real evidence to suggest the woman in the picture is Constanze Mozart. So this should probably be listed as a hoax.
Categories: History, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 12, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: Weird News
The Times of India reports that fake muscle suits are the latest fashion trend in India :
Made of a combination of spandex and rubber, this suit replete with biceps, washboard abs and killer pectorals can be worn under T-shirts, giving the wearer a vicarious thrill of having a 'to-die-for' upper body. And these 'made in Bangkok/Hong Kong/Taiwan' suits are selling like hot cakes from stores that are stocking them... With each suit retailing for anything between Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500, the suit is the most indemand quick muscle fix not to mention a great (albeit 'deceitful') way of bowling the ladies over!
As long as the guys keep their clothes on, I guess these suits might fool some people. But as soon as they remove their clothes, they'll be exposed as a phony. That kind of seems to defeat the purpose.
Categories: Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 12, 2006
Comments (13)
Status: Strange (but real) marketing campaign
image You see a large cockroach on your floor. If you don't scream and run the other way, you might try to kill it. But it won't squash like a normal roach. So you pick it up, and then you see the advertisement printed on the bottom of it: "See how easy it is to get into your house? D.D. Drin. Insect Elimination."

This scenario may happen to you, because fake slogan-bearing roaches are apparently being slipped beneath people's doors as part of a marketing campaign designed by Master Comunicacao, a Brazilian ad agency (as reported by AdArena). I don't know why the ad is in English if the agency is Brazilian.

Ironically enough, given this campaign, in the advertising industry consumers themselves are sometimes referred to as roaches. Thus 'roach baiting' refers to the practice of hiring cool-looking people to hang out in public and visibly use a product. The cool-looking person is supposed to serve as a trendsetter who influences roaches (i.e. the consumers) to follow his or her lead.
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 11, 2006
Comments (21)
Status: Classic prank
Making 'Bunny Ears' behind someone's head has to be the most ubiquitous prank of all time. I can't think of anything that would rival it. In fact, it's so pervasive, so taken-for-granted, that I had never given it a second thought until I read this article by Rachel Sauer in which she attempts to trace a brief history of the bunny-ears prank. She writes:
Way back in the early history of photography, back when people had metal rods strapped to their backs and clamped to their necks so they could sit still for the 30 minutes required for exposure, there were no bunny ears. In fact, in those portraits, there were no smiles. It was a very severe time, as though everyone had just received terrible news... It is impossible to pinpoint exactly when bunny ears first showed up in photographs behind someone’s head, though it started happening often in the ’50s. And, oh, to know why they did. ... Why a rabbit? Why not a Statue of Liberty crown with all five fingers? Why not a single antenna? Why not devil horns, with the index finger and pinkie?
So she assumes that the prank only came into existence when people started to pose for photographs. Which makes sense, I guess. Nowadays it's rare for someone to make bunny ears except when a photo is being taken. Though maybe, back in the middle ages, making bunny ears during formal occasions (perhaps as the priest was saying mass) was a popular jest. Who knows? Obviously this is a subject crying out for further research.

Sauer also points out that the more formal the occasion, the funnier bunny ears become:
It’s funny when George H.W. Bush makes bunny ears on his wife, Barbara. It would be knee-slapping if someone did bunny ears on the pope, say, or Osama bin Laden. Incongruity makes them funny. But then, it’s not so funny when your idiot roommate ruins every picture.
Since I evidently have nothing better to do, I spent half-an-hour finding interesting bunny-ear photos on the web. Here's what I came up with. (A few of them I could only find in thumbnail size.) They are, from the top left: George H.W. Bush giving his wife bunny ears (from Sauer's article); Muhammad Ali giving them to Billy Crystal; George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg; A British schoolboy gives Charles Clarke, the UK's education secretary, bunny ears during his official visit to the school (this photo caused a bit of controversy as it soon appeared in many British papers, amid allegations that the photographer had egged on the boy to do it); Crosy Stills and Nash giving each other bunny ears; George Lucas earing a stormtrooper; Gloria Steinem bunny-earing herself... a reference to her past as a Playboy bunny, I assume; a nurse bunny-earing a skeleton; Ted Case of AOL giving Ted Turner some ears; Paul Newman being eared by his wife, Joanne Woodward; and finally, Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon.

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If any of you have interesting bunny-ear photos, email them to me. If I get enough good ones, I might consider adding a gallery of bunny-ear photos to the museum.
Categories:
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 10, 2006
Comments (30)
Status: False advertising
It was only in the course of writing Hippo Eats Dwarf that I became aware of how widespread the use of deceptive marketing is in the food industry. 'Chicken nuggets' often contain mostly ground-up skin and bones from cows and pigs. Order veal at a restaurant and there's a good chance you'll be served cheap pork. And fish restaurants are notorious for serving cheap fish to their patrons, having creatively renamed it to sound more appealing. So, for instance, Pacific Rockfish becomes 'snapper,' and very often lobster is really South American langoustine. So this news from Consumer Reports about a widespread farm-raised salmon scam didn't really surprise me:
Salmon that is labeled "wild" may actually be farmed-raised, an analysis in the August issue of Consumer Reports reveals. Consumer Reports bought 23 supposedly "wild" salmon filets last November, December and March-during the off-season for wild-caught salmon-and found that only 10 of the 23 were definitely caught in the wild. The rest of the fish was farm-raised salmon... Typically, wild salmon costs more than farmed. CR paid an average of $6.31 a pound for salmon labeled as farmed (all of which was indeed farmed) compared with $12.80 for correctly labeled wild salmon. The most costly of the bunch was farmed salmon labeled as wild, with an average price of $15.62 a pound.
So how do you tell if your salmon is farm-raised or wild? They recommend two ways. First, if it's from Alaska it's probably wild, since Alaska doesn't allow Salmon farming. Also, "CR's expert tasters noted that wild salmon has a stronger flavor and firmer flesh than farmed." Of course, you also have to hope that your 'salmon' isn't really pink-dyed tuna.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 10, 2006
Comments (13)
Status: Real
image Did car manufacturers ever offer the option of an in-car phonograph? I would have thought not. After all, the technological challenge presented by such a product is obvious. How can you get it not to skip? But trusting in the common sense of car manufacturers is never a wise thing to do. So in this respect it's probably obvious that, yes, such a feature was once offered, though for a very brief period of time. Predictably, the in-car phonographs skipped like crazy and were pulled from the market.

Ookworld.com offers a history of the Highway Hi-Fi. They debuted in 1956 as an option in some Chrysler models. The big catch was that they only played records specially made for in-car phonographs: 7-inch 16⅔-rpm ultra-microgroove format records. There were only six discs in this format to choose from. Those discs contained a selection of "classical recording, the tops in popular music, drama, children's stories" selected by Columbia Records executives.

Chrysler didn't offer this style of in-car phonograph again. But in 1960 it did offer a unit that played regular 45-rpm records. You could stack up 12 of them at a time. It worked well if you were sitting in your car idling. As soon as the car started to move, there were problems.

The UAW-Daimler-Chrysler site also offers a shorter history of the in-car phonograph, with color pictures.
Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 10, 2006
Comments (16)
Status: Undetermined
image Some of the things I post about aren't the most intelligence-enhancing things in the world. I know that. But what follows is really scraping the bottom of the barrel, so to speak. It's a woman who appeared on the Maury Povich Show who claims to be Pickle-Phobic. The mere sight of pickles sends her into a state of screaming panic. Her fear of pickles is ruining her life. Here's what she has to say:
"My name is Mariah, and I hate pickles. I hate everything about... Pickles are destroying my life. People make fun of me. I feel ashamed. I'm actually afraid of them. I think about pickles I just want to throw up and run away. What I hate most about pickles is the shape, the texture of it, the color. Ewww!"
I realize that people can have irrational phobias about things, but a phobia of pickles? She must be joking. No way can this be real. My vote is that she's either making this up completely, or exaggerating it a lot in order to get on TV. And even if she were terrified of pickles, surely it would be easier for her to simply avoid pickles, rather than to try to cure her of the problem.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 09, 2006
Comments (47)
Status: Real
image I don't like to make fun of people's appearances (doing so disturbs my soft, liberal sensibilities), but when I saw this picture of Ann Coulter I thought that it was either photoshopped, or she had the strangest looking hand I've ever seen in my life. In fact, I would hesitate to even use the words 'hand' to describe that thing at the end of her arm. Instead, the phrase 'raptor claw' seems like it might be more appropriate. The thing is almost as long as her forearm! But a quick check on anncoulter.com (which, I assume, is her website) reveals that the picture is posted there. Which means that it must be real. Freaky. I think I'm going to be having nightmares about this. (Via US Magazine)
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 09, 2006
Comments (39)
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