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October 2007
Christopher Ogden posed by a tree in the town of Ninety Six, South Carolina, and his dad took a picture of him (below). When the two of them saw the full-size image, they noticed something strange. A mysterious figure seemed to be standing beside Christopher, even though he was standing alone when the shot was taken. The photo made its way to a local paper, The Index-Journal, to whom Christopher gave this statement:
“As a civil engineer, I’m well educated, and I’ve looked at it, and my dad has looked at it, and in my own opinion, it does seem to me like there’s something strange there..
“I’m Caucasian, and wearing a striped shirt and a pair of jeans and sunglasses, and immediately next to me it appears there is an African-American person -- I can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman standing next to me -- wearing some kind of white garb. I can tell you for a fact that there was no one standing next to me when that picture was taken.”

There are three theories about what this might be: 1) a double exposure; 2) sunlight on a tree; or 3) a ghost.

I'm going with theory two.

Categories: Paranormal, Pareidolia, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 31, 2007
Comments (19)
Newkerala.com reports on a cruel prank that took a tragic turn:
Dubai, Oct 29: An office boy of Indian origin working for a private firm tried to commit suicide after his colleagues played a prank on him and said he will not get his salary.
The prank turned into a tragedy as the boy who had been employed only for 15 days got so upset that he slashed his wrist with a knife. He lost consciousness and was admitted to Rashid hospital here yesterday.
One of the victim's friends said their company usually paid the salaries of the employees on the third of each month, Gulf News reported.
However, the boy was oblivious of the fact anf his colleagues enjoyed the ''game'' and teased him on and on.
The office boy panicked and even tried to meet the manager to check if he would be paid or not.
One of his colleagues said he disappeared in the afternoon. They searched for him everywhere and later found him in a room in the office bleeding and added that he had lost consciousness.

But wait, there's more:
An official of the company said the Indian office boy, who was not named, will be deported and his visa cancelled once he is discharged.

So first they scare this poor kid so much that he tries to commit suicide, and now they're going to deport him! I hope they at least pay him whatever salary he's owed.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 31, 2007
Comments (4)
Hungarian plastic surgeon Dr. Lajos Nagy offers all the usual services at his clinic. You can get a breast enlargement, a nose job, liposuction, etc. But he also offers a rather unusual service: music faun surgery. He'll make your ears pointed so that you look like a music faun. His website, modernplasztika.co.hu, states:
A newfangled extravagance is spreading amongst the music-lover youngsters of New York, which, after invading America, is sure to conquer the whole world. Ears becoming pointed as a result of plastic surgery not only enhance the attractiveness of the face, but also improve the experience of listening to music. A sign of the popularity of this operation is that in big cities so-called Faun-Clubs are founded one after another, where entrance is only allowed with pointed ears. The reverberating success of this new look is supported by more and more celebrities with pointed ears, amongst whom we can find not only musicians, but, for example, models, as well.

Here's the description of what the procedure involves:
The procedure itself means a very careful dissection of the structures at the upper pole of the earlobe. The required reshaping is achieved by modellation of a specially designed chondro-cutaneous flap (a flap containing the own cartilage and skin of the patient). The new shape is fixed by means of absorbable sutures, skin closure is made with unabsorbable uninterrupted sutures.

I think the post-operative pictures on Nagy's site look like people wearing fake ears, so my hunch is that music-faun surgery is a joke. However, I wouldn't be willing to state this definitively. After all, there definitely are people who get surgery to make their ears pointed.

However, Dr. Nagy's site is registered to smartworks.hu, a Hungarian graphics studio, which makes me feel pretty sure that neither Dr. Nagy, nor his music-faun surgery, are real. The site is probably some kind of art project.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 30, 2007
Comments (19)
As fires rage across southern California, FEMA has demonstrated that they're willing to step up to the plate and help everyone out. In fact, should reporters be unable to attend a press conference, FEMA is even willing to have its own staffers pose as reporters and lob softball questions at the FEMA deputy administrator.

The Washington Post reports that FEMA held a press conference on Thursday, but only gave the media 15 minutes advance notice. But from what was broadcast on TV, it looked like quite a few reporters had managed to show up:

Something didn't seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. No one asked about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. And the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA's greatness.
Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. We're told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and by "Mike" Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John "Pat" Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin.
Asked about this, Widomski said: "We had been getting mobbed with phone calls from reporters, and this was thrown together at the last minute."
But the staff did not make up the questions, he said, and Johnson did not know what was going to be asked. "We pulled questions from those we had been getting from reporters earlier in the day." Despite the very short notice, "we were expecting the press to come," he said, but they didn't. So the staff played reporters for what on TV looked just like the real thing.
Categories: Politics
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 26, 2007
Comments (9)
The last time the famous Flower portrait of Shakespeare (the one showing him wearing a wide white collar) made news was back in 2005, when experts at the National Portrait Gallery declared it a fraud painted sometime during the 19th century.

Now a German scholar, Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, is arguing that the National Portrait Gallery experts didn't examine the original painting. She believes that sometime in the past ten years someone stole the original Flower portrait and substituted a fake in its place:
Professor Hammerschmidt-Hummel said yesterday that the original had been substituted by a copy. In 2005 it was sent to the laboratories of the National Portrait Gallery and dismissed as a 19th century forgery after it was found to contain chrome yellow, a colour that was commercially available only from 1814 onwards.

“Where is the priceless 400-year-old original Flower portrait?” asked the professor, who lectures in English literature at the University of Mainz.

She said that she was basing her conclusions on tests that she carried out on what she says was the original – which she she last saw in 1996 – and on the version that she claims is a copy, which she saw in January.

The Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Portrait Gallery are disputing her claim:
A spokes-woman for the RSC said that the only time the painting had not been on display under CCTV coverage in the RSC Collection Gallery was when it was in a secure store room. Dr Tarnya Cooper, the portrait gallery’s 16th century curator, said: “The idea that this picture has been substituted for a different portrait between 1996 and 2005 is plainly nonsensical . . . Any perceived differences between photographs are likely to be caused by differences in lighting conditions.”

So, if I'm understanding this controversy correctly, Hammerschmidt-Hummel is saying that the Flower portrait is real because the one we have is a fake. But the RSC and Portrait Gallery are saying that the Flower portrait is fake because the one we have is the real one.
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 26, 2007
Comments (2)
During the 20th century, Padre Pio was one of the most famous and popular Catholic monks. He died in 1968 and was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002. He was recently declared the Patron Saint of New Year Blues.

Pio was particularly famous for the supernatural phenomena associated with him. In particular, stigmata were said to have mysteriously appeared on his hands and feet. But a new book argues that Pio faked his stigmata:
a book called Padre Pio and the Italy of the 19th Century, by historian Sergio Luzzatto says the wounds were self-created using carbolic acid and he claims to have found documentary evidence to prove it in the Vatican's secret archives.

According to Wikipedia, this is hardly the first time charges of fakery have been leveled against Pio:
His accusers included high-ranking archbishops, bishops, theologians and physicians.
They brought several accusations against him, including insanity, immoral attitude towards women - claims that he had intercourse with women in the confessional (However, the same priest who accused Pio of these sexual acts later recanted his story and repented on his death bed.), misuse of funds and deception - claims that the stigmata were induced with acid in order to gain fame—and that the reported odor of sanctity around him being the result of self-administered eau-de-cologne.
The founder of Rome's Catholic university hospital concluded Padre Pio was "an ignorant and self-mutilating psychopath who exploited people's credulity." In short, he was accused of infractions against all three of his monastic vows: poverty, chastity and obedience.
In 1923, he was forbidden to teach teenage boys in the school attached to the monastery because he was considered "a noxious Socrates, capable of perverting the fragile lives and souls of boys."
Categories: Body Manipulation, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 26, 2007
Comments (72)
Joe Littrell forwarded me this strange news story posted at scifidimensions.com. I can't tell if it's real or a joke.

Supposedly a man identifying himself as "Agent Egan," a California "undercover investigator," halted a performance of Ray Bradbury's play Dandelion Wine at the Fremont Center Theatre, half an hour into the performance. Bradbury himself was in the audience.
The play, one of Bradbury’s most autobiographical works, includes performances by several young actors, and when the announcement was made from the stage about the cancellation 30 minutes after the scheduled start time, reference was made to an obscure California law requiring a State of California licensed teacher to be present at all performances with young actors. The company spokesman said, however, that they had never before been advised about such a requirement, and certainly not at show time. The play’s director, Alan Neal Hubbs, later suggested to this reporter that the play’s cancellation might have more to do with Mr. Egan’s finding an excuse to shut down the performance due to his previously having been denied free tickets to the play...

When this reporter approached the official for a photo-interview to explain why he had shut down the performance, he threatened to confiscate this reporter’s camera on the claim that he worked as an undercover police officer; however, when asked by this reporter to produce a badge or other official identification, “Egan” refused.

If this incident really happened, and if it's not some kind of publicity stunt, it seems incredible that a theater would halt a play on the word of some random guy claiming to be an undercover agent who refuses to show any kind of identification.
Categories: Entertainment, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 25, 2007
Comments (6)
This video purports to show an amateur experiment in which someone created a small gravitational field "using a speaker and a generated sound wave." The instructions say that a Bose Companion 2 Series II speaker was used, and a "sine wave at 16 khz" was generated.

Obviously it's fake. Audio speakers will not create a gravity field. But I'm not sure how they created the special effect. (Not that I know much about creating video effects.)

Perhaps they used some kind of fancy editing software. Or perhaps they did it a really low-tech way -- moving the objects one frame at a time to make it appear as if they were sliding towards the speaker. If they did it the latter way, they managed to make the sliding effect look very smooth.

Perhaps it's a viral ad for Bose speakers.

For some reason this video keeps getting removed from Metacafe. Hopefully it'll stay up long enough for you to see it.

Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 24, 2007
Comments (62)
Dehydrated water is an old joke, but I've never actually seen a can of the stuff. Here one is, posted on Flickr by David Reeves. His caption reads, "Spotted on the chemical storage shelf in an adjacent laboratory." The strange thing is that Bernard Food Industries, the company listed as the maker of this product, is a real company. Why were they manufacturing this stuff? I assume it was a joke.



Update: Looks like these cans must have been a gag product that Bernard Foods produced at some time, because someone is selling one on eBay. Perhaps I'll bid on it.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 24, 2007
Comments (47)
San Diego is on fire again. I've been watching the TV most of the day, tracking the progress of the fires. It's amazing how many people have been evacuated and homes have been destroyed. From what I hear, many more people have been affected by this fire than by the fire back in 2003.

I'm lucky that where I am in San Diego (relatively close to downtown), I'm not in any danger. All that I'm dealing with is the smoke. But that's pretty bad. The air smells strongly of it, and if you're outside for any length of time you start to feel it in your lungs.

Here's a photo I took a few minutes ago from my roof (looking west). You can see the layer of smoke hanging over the city. But still, the smoke is not as bad where I am as it was during the 2003 fire. Compare the photo below to the photos I took during the 2003 fire.

Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 23, 2007
Comments (12)
"George" writes: "I would appreciate your opinion about waiora's zeolite "natural cellular defense" for treating cancer (www.waiora.com). do you think there's something to it or is it just a scam?"

I don't actually see where Waiora claims that their "Natural Cellular Defense" product can be used to treat cancer. In fact, their website states, "These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease." However, what they do claim sounds rather dubious to me:
Waiora’s Natural Cellular Defense has been clinically formulated to help support a healthy immune system, remove heavy metals and toxins, and balance your body’s pH levels.

Natural Cellular Defense is 100% natural and non-toxic and is derived from zeolites. For centuries, the powdered forms of specific zeolites have been used as traditional remedies throughout Asia to promote overall health and well being. The story of these “volcanic rocks” has been passed down from generation-to-generation as more and more people have experienced its life-changing benefits.

Zeolites are natural volcanic minerals with an unique, complex crystalline structure. It’s honeycomb framework of cavities and channels (like cages) works at the cellular level attracting heavy metals and harmful toxins. In fact, because it is one of the few negatively charged minerals in nature, zeolites act as magnets drawing toxins to it, capturing them in its cage and removing them from the body.


According to Wikipedia, zeolites are often used in filtration systems, such as water purification systems. In aquariums they're sometimes used to absorb ammonia and other nitrogenous compounds. They're also the active ingredient in QuikClot, an emergency coagulant.

So maybe Waiora is right that zeolites will attract toxins inside the body. What I would worry about, however, is that they would also remove good minerals from the body. I'm not a doctor, so I'm in no position to pass judgement on the therapeutic value of zeolites. But I would want to see a lot more evidence before I accepted Waiora's claims.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 22, 2007
Comments (18)
From Cranky Media Guy, with the comment, "New horizons in pareidolia":
A Houston woman says the face of Jesus is a message sent straight from God and left on a bathroom towel...

She says she used the towel to clean an air conditioner.
"I guess it just got stained," she said.
So Lucille washed it. And bleached it. Twice. And then her granddaughter used the towel.
"It kind of scared me, because I was going to dry my hair," Desiree Ramos recalled. "But then I just threw it. And then I went to go tell my grandma."...

You might not see the face in the towel. If you do, you might not believe it resembles Jesus. Lucille Lopez doesn't care. She does. And she's thankful for the gift she got from God.
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 22, 2007
Comments (12)
The Mumbai Mirror reports that doctors in India removed a three-inch piece of a broken toothbrush from a woman's nose. The woman claims she's not sure how it got there:
So how did it get there? The woman claims she is not sure. She says, “Around two months ago as I was brushing my teeth, my husband accidentally pushed me and the toothbrush in my hand broke. I was left holding the lower portion of the brush but couldn’t locate the rest of it. Soon after, I started bleeding profusely from the nose,” she said. She visited the family doctor to stop the bleeding. “But since that day, I began getting breathless and a foul smelling discharge began to come out of my nose. I used to get restless gasping for breath sometimes,” she said.

Doctors are skeptical about the woman's explanation, saying that it's impossible that the toothbrush could have entered her nasal cavity through her mouth, but the woman isn't saying anything more.

I'm sure she must know how it really got there. After all, how could anyone lose a toothbrush up their nose accidentally? Sadly, the true explanation probably involves spousal abuse.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 22, 2007
Comments (8)
The New York Times reports about a Japanese designer, Aya Tsukioka, who has designed clothes that transform into vending-machine costumes. The idea is that if you're being pursued by a criminal, you can quickly transform yourself into a vending machine, and the criminal will hopefully run right past you.
Ms. Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer, lifted a flap on her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman walking alone could elude pursuers — by disguising herself as a vending machine. The wearer hides behind the sheet, printed with an actual-size photo of a vending machine. Ms. Tsukioka’s clothing is still in development, but she already has several versions, including one that unfolds from a kimono and a deluxe model with four sides for more complete camouflaging.

Tsukioka has also designed a "manhole bag," which is a purse that looks like a manhole cover: "Lay it on the street with your wallet inside, and unwitting thieves are supposed to walk right by."

The disguises don't look very convincing, but maybe if it was dark someone would be fooled... unless they saw the feet poking out from the bottom of the costume. Tsukioka herself admits the disguises might be a bit impractical, "especially when your hands are shaking." Still, she's managed to sell about 20 of them, at around $800 each.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 22, 2007
Comments (10)
Big Gary, Deputy Curator in Charge of Fish, spotted this article about fish who suffer from insomnia:
California scientists studying sleep disorders in humans found that some zebrafish, a common aquarium pet, have a mutant gene that disrupts their sleep patterns in a way similar to insomnia in humans.
Zebrafish with the mutant gene slept 30 percent less than fish without the mutation. When they finally drifted off they remained asleep half as long as the normal fish, the researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine said.

I've heard that watching fish swim around in an aquarium can be very relaxing, but I wonder what effect watching insomniac fish would have.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 22, 2007
Comments (2)
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