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Status: Magic TrickA 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: 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.
Status: HoaxI 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: 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)
Status: Viral Marketing CampaignI'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.
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: 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.
Status: Strange, but trueVienna 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)
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: 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).
Status: Weird NewsThe Los Angeles Times reports about a Russian travel agency, Persey Tours, that sells fake vacations: So now who believes that I really did travel to Edinburgh in May for a Museum of Hoaxes get-together?
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:
Status: Probably a hoaxLast 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 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.
Status: Weird NewsThe Times of India reports that fake muscle suits are the latest fashion trend in India : 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.
Status: Strange (but real) marketing campaignYou 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.
Status: Classic prankMaking '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: 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: 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.
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.
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 10, 2006
Status: False advertisingIt 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: 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.
Status: RealDid 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.
Status: UndeterminedSome 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: 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.
Status: RealI 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)