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June 2007
A popular genre of art hoax involves a collector being conned into praising (and often buying) a work of art that he believes to have been done by a great artist, but which is later revealed to be the work of an animal or a young child. (See Monkey Art Fools Expert.) An example of this hoax is reported by Keith Allen in his autobiography, Grow Up. The Telegraph reports:
The esteemed theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn was left with a face the colour of a blank canvas after being told the £27,000 painting he had splashed out on really was thrown together by a two-year-old and his friend. Sir Trevor had spent the money on a work by Damien Hirst - only to be told during a later conversation with the artist that it was created by two children. In fact, Hirst claimed that the piece, one of his "spin paintings", was a collaboration between his son Connor, who was two at the time, and the actor Keith Allen's son Alfie, younger brother of the pop singer Lily Allen, who was 10.
There's no verification that this actually happened, so perhaps Allen was simply making up an amusing story. However, the Telegraph notes that Sir Trevor later sold the same painting for £45,000. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 19, 2007
Comments (8)
New video footage claims to show the Loch Ness Monster leaping out of the water. Despite the fact that the footage is obviously fake, there's a bigger problem with the claim that this shows the Loch Ness Monster. Whatever body of water is shown in the clip doesn't look like Loch Ness. Loch Ness is pretty narrow, and you can always see the other side. This footage, on the other hand, looks like it was shot on the coast of the sea.

Another theory just occurred to me. Maybe what this video really shows is one of those leaping sturgeon that's been knocking out boaters lately.

Categories: Cryptozoology
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 19, 2007
Comments (14)
image Here's something to add to my list of Gross Things Found in Food. Philadelphia resident Earl Hartman was sitting down at home to enjoy some green beans and chicken, when he noticed something unusual in his beans.
"When I sat down, I noticed something didn’t look right. It didn't look like a green bean," he said.
It wasn't a green bean. It was a snake head.

This seems to be a legitimate case of something odd that found its way into a can of green beans. Seneca Foods, the company that cans the beans, admits that a snake head could have found its way into the beans. Earl Hartman says:
"The company said that they have an automated sorting and sometimes things like this happen. I asked about the rest of the body and he told me that it was probably kicked out by the sorter, but they're not sure," he said.
Hartman isn't suing, which also adds to the probability that the snake head is a legitimate find.

While visiting Sedona, Arizona I once tried rattlesnake. It was okay. But I wouldn't want to find a rattlesnake head in my canned veggies. (via Art of the Prank)
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 18, 2007
Comments (6)
image Athletic-apparel company Lululemon has recently been advertising what they claim to be the world's first cologne pill. You swallow it and then you sweat cologne. They call it L'Odeur. The tagline for the product is "Swallow the cologne pill. Sweat the fragrance." You can check out the ad here. There's also an accompanying cheesy video on You Tube.

Of course, it's a hoax. The cologne-pill ads are actually designed to attract attention to a new real product, Silverescent, which is a clothing made from a material that is supposed to reduce sweat odors.
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Sun Jun 17, 2007
Comments (3)
image When workers in Eston Town Hall went to the bathroom, they were surprised to find a sign with the following message posted in the lavatories:
Think Green. Think Safe.
Do you really need to go?
Toilets and sinks account for approximately 75% of the water used in workplaces. It is important for all of us to do more to save water, both to protect our world's natural resources and to lower the economic impact of wasteful water usage.
Staff members complained that they thought this was taking environmentalism to an extreme. But some investigation revealed that the signs were a prank. The identity of the prankster is unknown.

So the signs were a joke, but I have read serious proposals asking people not whether they really need to go, but whether they really need to flush so often. It's the old "If it's yellow, mellow; if it's brown, flush it down" advice. And there's quite a bit of research into creating urine-separating toilets, that would prevent the need to flush urine into the sewage system.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Sun Jun 17, 2007
Comments (7)

Artist fools punters into buying tins of cheap plaster… (David B.)
Tins of Italian artist Piero Manzoni’s excrement, sold as art to collectors for thousands of pounds, have been in the news recently, as it seems that they may contain nothing more than plaster.
A spokeswoman at the Tate museum in London insisted that the revelation did not invalidate the tin as a work of art.
“Keeping the viewer in suspense is part of the work’s subversive humour,” she said.

The world’s most famous photos (Beasjt’s number is 669)
This website displays a collection of what they say are the world’s most famous photographs. There has been some debate amongst the forum members as to which photos should be included.

Chatline for dolphin (Madmouse)
A dolphin raised by a deaf mother is having problems learning vocalisations. So a chatline has been rigged up at her Florida home so that she can communicate with dolphins in a nearby lagoon.

Ninja Power vs. the Old Dude of Doom!!! (Accipiter)
A ninja who targeted isolated Italian farms whilst wielding a bow and a knife was captured on Monday, after an elderly farmer confronted him with a rifle. The ninja was arrested, following his escape by bicycle, when the police pursued him to an abandoned farmhouse. He turned out to be Igor Vaclavic, a former soldier from the Russian army.
Categories: Animals, Art, Law/Police/Crime, Photos/Videos
Posted by Flora on Fri Jun 15, 2007
Comments (2)
image On Wednesday many residents of Salt Lake City thought they saw a UFO. A mysterious blimp-like object floated over the city for a while and then disappeared. Someone with a video camera caught it on film. Local air traffic controllers said that they didn't pick up any object on their radar.

If you look at the video, it seems pretty obvious that it's some kind of man-made blimp. Nevertheless, witnesses were quick to speculate that it was some kind of massive 100-foot-long extraterrestrial craft.

The object (which was actually less than 30 feet long) eventually crash landed east of the city. It was identified as belonging to a Daniel Geery, who described it as a "hyper blimp." According to the local news station:
Geery told 2News that he was using a remote control to perform a test flight of his "hyper blimp" at dawn Wednesday when a power pack on the object failed, and drifted away. "I put a different prop on it and wanted to see if it would have a bigger effect," he said. "And it did. but only flew for 5 or 10 minutes and then just... dead." Geery knew that he would have trouble retrieving his hyper blimp -- mainly because there was little wind and he knew that meant the balloon would hover for hours.
So that's one UFO mystery cleared up. Or maybe this story of some guy testing the propellor on his hyper blimp is just a story the government invented to conceal the truth from us. That's what they want us to believe! (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Extraterrestrial Life
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 15, 2007
Comments (2)
Test your knowledge of hoaxes. David Emery, About.com's Urban Legends and Folklore guide, has posted a pop quiz about Historical Hoaxes and Fallacies. I got 15 out of 15, a perfect score. Woo Hoo! (It would have been kind of embarrassing if I had gotten any wrong, though there was one question about what Neil Armstrong said when he first stepped onto the surface of the moon that I had to think about for a while.)
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 14, 2007
Comments (18)
The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the Lane family from New York City in which the father named one of his sons Winner and the other Loser. (Actually, the article is a few years old, but it was new to me.) At first the article struck me as sounding too weird to be true. Why would a father name his son Loser? But apparently it's true. At least, it's been reported elsewhere by credible sources, such as in this Slate.com article by the Freakonomics authors.

The story is that the father, Robert Lane, decided to call his son Winner, thinking it would give the kid a boost in life. Three years later he had another son, and on the spur of the moment decided to call him Loser. As the Freakonomics authors say about his decision, "Robert wasn't unhappy about the new baby; he just seemed to get a kick out of the name's bookend effect." If the guy had a third son he should have called him "Lover." That, at least, would have fit with the last name.

The punchline to the story is that Winner Lane ended up as a loser in life, a petty criminal living homeless on the streets. Loser Lane, on the other hand, has been a success in life. He's a detective in the South Bronx.

I should add Loser Lane to my unfortunate names thread.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 14, 2007
Comments (12)
Many cellphone users are reporting that they often feel their cellphone vibrating, when it's not vibrating at all. The phenomenon is being called Phantom Vibration Syndrome (an allusion, I assume, to Phantom Limb Syndrome, in which amputees feel sensations in their missing limbs).

Psychologists attribute these phantom vibrations to cellphone users' brains becoming over-alert to the sensation of vibration, and therefore experiencing false alarms:
Alejandro Lleras, a sensation and perception professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, adds that learning to detect rings and vibrations is part of a perceptual learning process. "When we learn to respond to a cellphone, we're setting perceptual filters so that we can pick out that (ring or vibration), even under noisy conditions," Lleras says. "As the filter is created, it is imperfect, and false alarms will occur. Random noise is interpreted as a real signal, when in fact, it isn't." Phantom cellphone vibrations also can be explained by neuroplasticity — the brain's ability to form new connections in response to changes in the environment. When cellphone users regularly experience sensations, such as vibrating, their brains become wired to those sensations, Janata says. "Neurological connections that have been used or formed by the sensation of vibrating are easily activated," he says. "They're over-solidified, and similar sensations are incorporated into that template. They become a habit of the brain."
I'm one of the last remaining people on the Planet Earth not to have a cellphone, so thankfully I'm immune to this syndrome.
Categories: Psychology, Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 14, 2007
Comments (16)
Rumor has it that Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, could include, among his many other accomplishments, inventing macaroni and cheese (one of my favorite foods). The wikipedia entry for mac and cheese mentions this rumor:
According to more than one urban legend, macaroni and cheese was invented by Thomas Jefferson, who, in the variant told by Alton Brown of Good Eats, upon failing to receive an Italian pasta-making machine, designed his own machine, made the macaroni, and had the cook put liberal quantities of York cheddar and bake it as a casserole.
I don't know how old this rumor is. I found references to it in newspapers from the 1990s, but not earlier. But needless to say, the rumor is incorrect. Jefferson does appear to have served macaroni and cheese at the White House, however he definitely didn't invent the dish.

Jack MacLaughlin sheds some light on Jefferson's relationship to Macaroni in his book Jefferson and Monticello: the biography of a Builder:
Macaroni was a highly fashionable food in late eighteenth-century Paris, and Jefferson not only enjoyed the dish but also commissioned William Short to purchase a machine for making it. The machine was later shipped to America. Jefferson also investigated the manufacture of macaroni during his trip to northern Italy and drew a sketch with detailed notes on the extrusion process. When Short was in Italy, he sampled the local product and concluded that the cooks of Paris made better pasta than he could get at Naples. Apparently, the macaroni machine that Short bought was either not durable or unsatisfactory, for in later years Jefferson imported macaroni and Parmesan cheese from Marseilles for his use at Monticello. While in France, he also copied a recipe for making macaroni ("Nouilly a maccaroni") without a machine. This recipe makes clear that what was eaten as macaroni was what Americans today would term spaghetti — the dough was rolled thin and cut into strips, and each strip was then rolled with the hands into a noodle shape.
So it seems that Jefferson may have served pasta and cheese, but when he did the recipe was already in wide use in Europe. Marlena Spieler, author of Macaroni and Cheese, writes that:
The first written recipe [for macaroni and cheese] seems to be from The Experienced English Housekeeper, by a Mrs. Elizabeth Raffald. Published in 1769, it appears to be the forerunner of our own American classic: bechamel sauce with Cheddar, mixed with macaroni, sprinkled with Parmesan, then baked until bubbly and golden. Another recipe, macaroni a la reine ("Macaroni in the style of the queen"), made from a similar mixture of pasta, cream, and melty cheese (often Gruyere), appeared frequently in British cookery books until relatively recent times.
So there you have it. No one knows exactly who invented mac and cheese, but it wasn't Jefferson, though he seems to have been a fan of it.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 13, 2007
Comments (8)
image
Dog Gives Birth to Kitten
A dog in a Chinese village has allegedly given birth to a litter that included what looks like a kitten.
“Local residents have been flocking to his house to see the 'kitten' which local vets say is really a puppy which looks like a cat because of a gene mutation. It apparently yaps like a puppy.”
Whether or not the photo that accompanies the article is actually a picture of the litter is uncertain.
(Thanks, Sarah.)

Is Des a Feline Record Breaker?
Des, a cat belonging to Alison Thomas of South Wales, boasts an impressive 26 toes. Polydactylism is not uncommon in felines, and there are reports of cats with 24 toes, but Mrs Thomas is trying to find out whether 26 may be a new UK record. Unconfirmed reports from North America mention cats with 28 toes.
(Thanks, Beasjt.)

Octopig
It has been reported that a pig in Croatia has been born with six legs and two penises. As Sarah pointed out in her email, the ‘Octopig’ should more accurately be called ‘Hexapig’.
Categories: Animals, Birth/Babies
Posted by Flora on Wed Jun 13, 2007
Comments (16)
I've heard of renting wedding dresses, but I'd never heard of renting the wedding cake. But apparently renting fake wedding cakes is becoming increasingly popular. Here's how it works:
The idea is to have an elegant, multitiered pretend cake for show while serving guests slices from a real, tasty and inexpensive sheet cake. The inside of a faux wedding cake crafted by Fun Cakes in Grandville contains mostly plastic foam, with a secret spot reserved for a slice of real cake to be shared by the bride and groom. Everything is covered by gum paste and fondant, a frosting-like confection made from sugar and water often used in cakes and pastries. After a bride and groom take the traditional first slice of their real wedding cake, it's often wheeled away from guests, out of their sight, to be cut up and served on plates. Do the same thing using a fake cake and a sheet cake, and guests will be none the wiser.
It seems like a sensible idea to me. Though, of course, another option would be simply not to have such an expensive wedding if you can't afford it. I'm constantly amazed at the obscene amounts of money some people spend on their weddings. My wife and I had a very simple, low-key wedding, though we did splurge on an Elvis-shaped groom's cake (real, not fake).
Categories: Food, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 13, 2007
Comments (9)
In the past few days, several hoaxes have been circulating on the internet about Paris Hilton. The first claims that she was stabbed in jail. The second suggests that she committed suicide. The appearance of these hoaxes was rather predictable, given the media circus surrounding her time in jail. The method of operation of both hoaxes was to disguise themselves as credible news sites. The "Paris Hilton was stabbed" story disguised itself as a CNN webpage. The "Paris Hilton committed suicide" one disguised itself as Australia's ABC. I'll have to add these to my page about celebrity death hoaxes.
Categories: Celebrities, Death
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 13, 2007
Comments (10)
Swindlers conned a Vietnamese businessman into buying $25,000 worth of "God Metal." Apparently, the existence of God Metal is an old folk legend in Vietnam. According to Thanh Nien News:
‘God metal’, also known as ‘black copper’, is almost a myth in Vietnam. Those who claim to have seen it say it is extremely heavy but floats in an iron bucket of water. In its vicinity glass shatters, matches and lighters do not ignite, iron nails are repelled, and gold turns white.
The mark for the scam thought he could resell the God Metal for millions of dollars. But first he wanted to make sure that it could do all that the legend said:
The gang came with a notebook-sized bar of black copper weighing 2.1 kg. They performed ‘tests’ in front of him and the metal seemed to possess all its mythical properties: a mirror and a clinical thermometer did shatter into pieces and a gas lighter failed to ignite.
They even showed him a burnt mobile phone, claiming to have “forgotten to turn it off before placing it near the metal”.

He paid the gang an advance of $25,000. But the next day the swindlers were nowhere to be found. Nor was his cash. (Thanks, Joe.)
Categories: Business/Finance, Con Artists
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 09, 2007
Comments (4)
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