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June 2009
Something seems wrong with this girls' story. Eighteen-year-old Kimberley Vlaminck says she asked the tattoo artist for three small star tattoos on her face, but he evidently misunderstood her, and then she fell asleep while he was tattooing her. When she woke up, there were 56 stars on her face.

The tattoo artist says she definitely asked for 56 stars, and that it's simply a case of tattoo regret. The Daily Mail, among others, has the story.

I imagine it would be hard to sleep while someone is tattooing 56 stars on your face, so I'm more inclined to believe the tattoo artist. Though he really should have made her wait a day, and write down specific instructions, before proceeding with a tattoo that extreme.
Categories: Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 17, 2009
Comments (29)
ABC News has a report on the village of Bama, "China's Fountain of youth." People there are said to live unusually long lives. Out of the population of 500, six people are over 100 years old.

The locals attribute this longevity to pure water (which is "a striking blue because of low alkilinity"), simple home-grown food, and a special magnetic field.

Bama has become a big tourist destination in China. Billboards promote its special powers. New hotels are being constructed there. And you can shop at a store that sells products labeled "The 100-year-old Man."

But the key phrase in the report is that "there are no birth certificates to prove age." This immediately makes me think of the Ecuadorian town of Vilcabamba, which in the 1970s was heavily promoted as a village of supercentenarians, until researchers examined the age claims more closely and realized the locals were exaggerating their age.

If the old folks in Bama don't have any birth certificates or documentation to prove their age, then I'd be very doubtful they really are over 100, because age exaggeration among old people is an extremely common phenomenon. It's a way for them to increase their social status by claiming to have done something remarkable (lived a very long time).
Categories: Death, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 15, 2009
Comments (9)
Proof that the art of the student prank hasn't quite died. N.C. State University student Joseph Carnevale has been arrested and is facing misdemeanor charges for damage to property after creating a "barrel monster" that menacingly pointed its finger at motorists on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. The creation of the monster is documented at nopromiseofsafety.com.

I couldn’t get it out of my head. Its that itch, that need to make real an idea that has rolled around in one’s head for days, snowballed itself into a temporary obsession that just has to be satisfied.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 12, 2009
Comments (8)
A telephone caller, posing as a representative of a fire alarm company, convinced employees of a Comfort Suites Hotel to activate the sprinkler system, which resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage. (tricities.com)

This type of prank is definitely a recurring theme (see the rectal exam prank call, strip-search prank call, and satellite medical exam call), but I'm not sure what to call it. Maybe the "manipulative phone call prank," though that's not very catchy.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 12, 2009
Comments (5)
Recently a woman who identified herself only as "April's Mom" started blogging about how her unborn child had been diagnosed as terminally ill. And yet she had decided to go through with the pregnancy anyway. Her blog quickly became popular with the anti-abortion crowd. On Sunday "Little April Rose" was born, but died soon after.

But skeptics noticed something strange about the picture of Little April that April's Mom posted on her site. Little April looked exactly like a reborn doll called Avery manufactured by Bountiful Baby.

Soon after, April's Mom was unmasked as Beccah Beushausen of Mokena, Illinois. Her entire blog had been fiction. The Chicago Tribune has more details.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 12, 2009
Comments (8)
Another case of cut-and-paste diversity. The city of Toronto wanted to feature a racially diverse assortment of people on the cover of its summer Fun Guide. Unable to find a photo that met that criteria, it created one via photoshop. The original is on the left, the altered cover on the right. (That's a really bad photoshop job.) The alteration was noticed by a graphics editor at the National Post.



The most famous case of cut-and-paste diversity was the cover of the 2001-2002 University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate application, mailed out to 50,000 prospective students, in which they inserted the head of a black guy into an all-white crowd scene. There was also the recent case of the asian guy photoshopped into the Homecoming Scotland poster.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 12, 2009
Comments (8)
Another case of a phony veteran. Rick Duncan claimed he survived the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon, that he survived a roadside bomb in Iraq, and that he had a metal plate in his head. None of it was true. Not even his name, which was really Richard Strandlof. He also says that he's not a pathological liar. But then, what else would a pathological liar say? link: CNN
Categories: Military
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 12, 2009
Comments (2)
Cornell grad student Philip Davis describes on Scholarly Kitchen an experiment he designed to test the peer-review process at Bentham Science, a publisher of "open-access" journals. (Open-access journals charge authors for publication, but make the articles available for free.)

He used software to create an article full of computer-generated nonsense, such as, "we discuss existing research into red-black trees, vacuum tubes, and courseware [10]. On a similar note, recent work by Takahashi suggests a methodology for providing robust modalities, but does not offer an implementation [9]."

He told Bentham the manuscript had two co-authors from the Center for Research in Applied Phrenology (CRAP). Four months after submitting it, a Bentham representative told him the manuscript had passed peer-review and would be published in The Open Information Science Journal... assuming he paid the $800 publication fee. He declined the offer. New Scientist has more details.

Four years ago a group of MIT students pioneered the "computer-generated article" hoax when they submitted a nonsense paper that was accepted for presentation at the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics Conference. Though you can go back to 1944's Ern Malley hoax for an example of hoaxers submitting nonsense for publication.
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 11, 2009
Comments (5)
The Lebanon Daily News confesses to coming down with a bad case of the Gullibility Virus. In a recent article they whipped themselves into a state of righteous indignation about a series of frivolous lawsuits. They had read about the lawsuits in an email. (Best part: they titled the article "Sad but true"). A reader later wrote to them:

Austin woman awarded $80,000 for tripping over her own son in store? Fabricated. Los Angeles man trying to steal hubcap gets $74,000 when target vehicle runs over his hand. Never happened. Pennsylvania man gets half a million for being trapped in garage he was trying to burglarize? Bogus. Little Rock man gets $14,500 for being bit by a dog he was shooting with a pellet gun? Hoax. Lancaster woman gets $113,500 for slipping on a soda she threw at her boyfriend? Tell us her name and the lawsuit’s case number. Delaware woman gets $12,500 for injuries while trying to sneak into nightclub? Fiction. Oklahoma lady gets $1.75 million for leaving RV on cruise control while she makes sandwich in back? Balderdash.

The LDN admits to sloppy research, but points out that one of the cases in the email was true, the infamous McDonalds coffee-burn case brought by Stella Liebeck. I'm probably one of the few people who thinks Stella Liebeck had a decent case, because, in my opinion, McDonalds was keeping their coffee too hot. I've had this argument with plenty of people, and no one has ever agreed with me.
Thanks, Joe!
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 11, 2009
Comments (14)
If you're well-versed in hoax lore, you might have heard the story of the South American Reetsa Expedition. It's a hoax attributed to the New York City prankster Brian G. Hughes, who was active as a hoaxer from around 1895 to 1910. (He died in 1924.)

He pulled off quite a few hoaxes. Around 1895 he submitted a cat to the New York cat show, claiming it was a rare breed known as the Dublin Brindle. After it won a prize, he revealed it was just an alley cat. A few years later he tried a similar stunt at a horse show, submitting a horse named Puldeca Orphan. It was really a street-car horse from the railway company. (Puldeca Orphan = Pulled a Car Often)

But the South American Reetsa Expedition was, according to H. Allen Smith, author of The Compleat Practical Joker (1954), one of his "most celebrated gags." Hughes told the media that he had financed an expedition to search for a rare South American creature, the Reetsa. For a year he supplied them with updates about the expedition. Then, finally, he announced that a Reetsa had been caught and would be shipped to New York City. On the day of its arrival, reporters were gathered at the pier as Hughes proudly led a mangy bull down the gangway. Reetsa was "a steer" spelled backwards.

The story of the Reetsa Expedition is told in many anthologies of hoaxes. For instance, it appears The Big Book of Hoaxes (the cartoon anthology of hoaxes). It's also mentioned on the wikipedia page about Hughes.



Since I've been adding a lot of new material to the Hoax Archive recently, I decided it was high time to add the Reetsa Expedition. But instead of just parroting the standard story about the hoax, I tried to track down some original news reports about it. I figured there would have to be something. However, I've been able to find absolutely nothing. There's no mention of it in any newspaper archive, such as newspaperarchive.com, the google news archive, or the proquest archives. I found quite a few obituaries about Hughes. They described many of his pranks and hoaxes, but none mentioned the Reetsa Expedition. That alone contradicts the claim that it was his most celebrated hoax. In fact, the earliest reference to it I can find is in H. Allen Smith's 1954 book, and Smith offered no date or source for the tale. So I'm concluding that it's one of those classic hoaxes that never actually happened. Kind of like the September Morn hoax I debunked a few months ago. Though, of course, I'm willing to change my mind if anyone can unearth any evidence that it did occur.
Categories: Animals, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 10, 2009
Comments (6)
Virgin Mary Air Conditioner
Antonia Ruiz of Texas noticed a stain on her air conditioner that looked to her like the Virgin Mary. Therefore, she built a shrine around the air conditioner.


Cheeto Jesus
A bag of Cheetos bought by Dan Bell at a North Texas gas station yielded this "praying Jesus". The couple have nicknamed it "Cheesus." (Note: there was a similar Cheesus in the news last year.)


Tortilla Jesus
Lloyd Osborne's wife had thrown away the packet of tortillas, but he "resurrected it from the bin" and found a tortilla inside bearing the "almost unmistakable" image of Jesus. (The article notes that one of the most famous examples of food pareidolia was the Jesus Tortilla of 1978).


Cheese Toast Jesus
Linda Lowe's boyfriend prepared her a cheese toast snack, but she didn't eat it because she noticed the face of Jesus "visible in the bubbled and burned cheese." She says, "when I do look at it, it does make me feel tearful. That there is a Jesus and he is real."


God Salami
South Florida resident Nancy Simoes was flipping pieces of salami in a skillet when she saw that one of them had the letter "G" on it. Then she saw an "O" and then a "D". The salami pieces spelled "DOG". or "GOD". One or the other. She says that she realizes people will think she's crazy, but "I can't make this up... it's there in the burn marks."


The Hand of God
Paul Grayhek of Coeur d'Alene had a rock formation in his backyard that looked like a right hand. He called it the "Hand of God." He tried to sell it on eBay. Or rather, he tried to sell the rights to it (including the movie and literary rights), although the formation itself would remain in his backyard. He had no luck (just hoax bids).


Marmite Jesus
The Allen family of Ystrad, Wales noticed the face of Jesus on the underside of the lid of a Marmite jar. Mrs. Allen said, "We've had a tough couple of months; my mum's been really ill and it's comforting to think that if he is there, he's watching over us."


Greasy Griddle Virgin Mary
While cleaning the griddle at the Las Palmas restaurant in Calexico, workers noticed an image of the Virgin Mary. The griddle was promptly retired from service and placed in a shrine in a storage room.
Categories: Pareidolia
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 09, 2009
Comments (13)
Howard Swains recently reported in Wired on the phenomenon of fake online deaths. He writes:

Many online tales of death and suffering are works of complete fiction, "pseuicides" dressed up as real-life catastrophes. Some are contrived to titillate or garner attention, some result from something more serious, and some are the result of a uniquely modern psychiatric disorder known as Munchausen by internet.

And:

In two investigations between 2007 and 2009, I encountered countless examples of fake deaths in all corners of the online world. A contributor to a knitting forum, for instance, faked her death rather than provide patterns she had been commissioned to design. A member of an online art gallery discovered that the 18-year-old, gay, male, lead-singer of a rock band, with whom she had developed a close friendship before he was killed in a car crash, was actually the work of two 14-year-old girls, who had entirely invented his life. A teenage British boy broke up with his real-life girlfriend to marry a 16-year-old online friend, later discovering (on her "death") that his deceased wife-to-be was a 12-year-old fantasist who had been sending photos of her older cousin and inventing graphic details of incest and rape.

No mention of the Kaycee Nicole Swenson case, which I thought was one of the most famous ones. Perhaps it's because Swains focuses a lot on LiveJournal examples. But overall, an interesting article.
Categories: Death, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 09, 2009
Comments (7)
This case sounded so stupid to me that at first I thought it had to be a joke, but here's the actual ruling, Sugawara v. PepsiCo, Inc., so apparently it's true.

Janine Sugawara filed suit against PepsiCo, maker of Cap'n Crunch's CrunchBerries, alleging she had been deceived by their marketing into believing that crunchberries were real fruit, only to learn, to her dismay, that the product contained "no berries of any kind."

The judge threw the case out, noting, "The survival of the instant claim would require this Court to ignore all concepts of personal responsibility and common sense."

Sugawara is a serial litigant (pun intended). She had previously filed suit against the maker of Froot Loops for similar reasons. Link: Lowering the Bar
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 06, 2009
Comments (10)
The Dallas Morning News worries that in many Texas schools the senior prank is a fast disappearing tradition. The reasons for its departure: high-tech security and stricter discipline standards. One senior is quoted as saying, "Maybe we'd do something if there weren't cameras everywhere and punishments weren't so crazy."

Well, it's not disappearing everywhere. This year students at Fort Walton Beach High School slipped the "F word" into the yearbook by spelling it out in red letters spread across several pages. Students at Christian Community School ordered 5100 free priority mail boxes from the post office and stacked them floor to ceiling in the school hallway. And some students at Normal Community West High School released greased pigs into the auditorium.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 05, 2009
Comments (7)
18-year-old Michael Kinsell has a dream of being the next Mr. Rogers. Last year he started telling people at his school that he was filming a show called Michael's Enchanted Neighborhood, and that it was going to be aired on PBS. The show was modeled closely on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. From pointweekly.com:

Each show will begin much as Mr. Rogers' did, with Kinsell singing a song, "It's a Lovely Day Today to Play," as he puts on a sweater and sneakers. Then a "neighbor," such as an artist or plumber, will drop by to discuss his or her profession. Later, Michael tours a factory to discover how "familiar childhood things" are made. He also makes sure to visit the Enchanted Neighborhood to join the puppets and humans there for "whimsical fun and celebrations."

This year he ramped up his story, claiming that he was organizing a star-studded charity event to honor Mr. Rogers, an event that would simultaneously serve as his anointment as the new Mr. Rogers. Celebrities in attendance were supposedly going to include Danny DeVito, Maria Shriver, Bette Midler, Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Barbara Eden and Eddie Murphy. Kinsell and his mother set up a website to promote the event, on which they claimed it "may set a record of the biggest celebrity turnout in the history for San Diego." Tickets were being sold for $500 each.

But it turns out no celebrities were actually planning on attending. As word of this leaked out, the whole scheme collapsed, leading Kinsell to cancel the event. PBS has also demanded that he stop using their name to promote himself. Likewise, Mr. Rogers' production company has demanded that he stop using Mr. Rogers' name. More details at current.org.
Categories: Celebrities, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 05, 2009
Comments (3)
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