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July 2012
Thousands of people in Cambodia are flocking to see a "magic log" that was found at the bottom of a pond earlier this month. It's a big log (42 feet long). But what makes it magical, in the eyes of the people journeying to see it, is that it appears so well preserved for a log that's been underwater for a while. From Sky News:

Battambang province local, Nem Nay, explained to Reuters why he believed the log was magical: 'What I think is, why does this log not rot, even though it stayed underground for over a hundred years? It is still in such good state, unlike some metals, which would have rusted if it stayed underground for that long. I have never seen such a well-preserved log before, so when I heard the news, a group of villagers and I came to see it straight away', he said.

Some of the log's visitors hope it can cure them of their illnesses. But the majority seem to be hoping that the log will reveal winning lottery numbers to them if they rub talcum powder on it.
Categories: Paranormal, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 31, 2012
Comments (7)
Little white lies are part of the lubricant that keeps the cogs of the social machinery running. For instance, if someone tells a bad joke, we usually smile. We don't tell them they're not funny, because that would be rude and might hurt their feelings. The problem (according to Joyce Ehrlinger, a professor of psychology at Florida State University) is that sometimes these little white lies can be dangerous if people take them too seriously and become overconfident in their abilites. In such cases, being less polite would help to deflate the ego of these people and bring them back to reality. Ehrlinger explains:

"There's definitely no harm in some types of overconfidence, and I am not suggesting that we should stop living in a polite society. The worst that might come from someone believing that they are funnier than, in reality, they are is a bit of embarrassment or wasted effort auditioning for 'America's Got Talent.'"
That said, she argues it's important to note when politeness might come at a cost. There are many times when overconfidence carries serious consequences.
"Overconfident doctors and lawyers might offer their patients or clients poor advice," she said. "There are ways in which overconfidence is dangerous, and it might be important to set aside politeness in the service of helping people avoid the perils of overconfidence."

I can see a problem here. If the overconfident person is your boss, or someone with power over you, it wouldn't be a good idea to risk insulting them. In such cases, how do you ever guide the person back to reality?
Categories: Psychology
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 30, 2012
Comments (5)
From the Bad Excuse file: A New Jersey couple was arrested for stealing outdoor table umbrellas from restaurants around Basking Ridge. They didn't deny taking the umbrellas, but they said it was all for a good reason. You see, it was part of a "social experiment." They were doing a documentary on "doing the right thing." They even had a manila folder with them full of notes about the project. But apparently they hadn't thought through what was going to happen when witnesses "did the right thing" and reported them to the police. Link: Baskingridge.patch.com
Categories: Bad Excuses, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Sat Jul 28, 2012
Comments (0)
When a doctor starts injecting bathroom caulk into your buttocks, I think that's a good sign he/she isn't entirely on the up-and-up.

Fake Fix-a-Flat nurse arrested, charged with manslaughter in Fla. client’s death
bradenton.com

BROWARD — Oneal Morris, the transgender woman charged in two counties with injecting people seeking fuller figures with a toxic concoction which included Fix-a-Flat, on Thursday was charged with manslaughter in the death of a Broward County client. Morris, 32, of Hollywood, has been charged in the death of Shatarka Nuby, 31, of Tamarac...
According to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Nuby had paid Morris, known as The Duchess, hundreds of dollars to inject her at her home with the concoction which promised to enhance her buttock, hips, thighs and breasts. Morris would sometimes be dressed in scrubs, giving the impression she was a medical worker — a doctor or a nurse, but detectives say she was a fake...
Following Nuby’s death, Morris was charged in Broward with three counts of practicing medicine without a license. Prosecutors say she injected many patients with a dangerous mixture of products including mineral oil, rubber cement, Fix-a-Flat and caulk. Many of the items were purchased at The Home Depot.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 27, 2012
Comments (1)

When I saw this photo online a few days ago, I thought, "that koala looks pretty vicious." It didn't occur to me that the image might be fake.

But the reality, I now know, is that the image is fake. Koalas don't have wolf-life jaws.

The original photo (below) was taken in January 2009 by Flickr user Oz_drdolittle, who explains that the koala was wet because he had sprayed it with water:

The poor thing was really hot. (We had a long heatwave recently). I had 3 hanging around the house that I watered twice a day while I was watering the garden. They loved it! 
Koalas dont often drink water (they usually get their fluids from the gum leaves), but they certainly lapped it up recently!

I don't know who added the wolf fangs to the picture. Link: NowPublic.com

Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 27, 2012
Comments (1)
Back in June 2011, Richard Heene, of Balloon Boy fame, tried to sell the balloon he had used in his hoax. He hoped to get $1 million for it, but ultimately had to settle for $2500.

But the guy who bought it from Heene resold part of the balloon to the Topps trading card company, which has cut up the balloon into small pieces and glued them on to Balloon Boy trading cards. (link: Yahoo! Sports) It's part of a "used memorabilia" line of cards, but would also make a nice addition to their line of Great Hoaxes Trading Cards, released in 2009.

Since I'm a sucker for any (affordable) hoax-related memorabilia, I'll probably end up buying one of these cards.

Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 26, 2012
Comments (0)
Here's another item that would make a great addition to a real-life Museum of Hoaxes. It's a life-sized replica of Bigfoot. It was up for sale on eBay. The sellers wanted $80,000 for it, and no one came up with that much money, so the auction ended without it being sold.

It's a nice piece. Would have looked great in my living room. But I have no idea how they came up with a value of $80,000 for it. Seems a bit like wishful thinking. From the auction description:

In 1976, after years of study and research, a young man named Clifford LaBrecque undertook a challenge that stunned the Bigfoot world. Mr. LaBrecque built one of the best detailed "museum quality" models of Bigfoot. How he did it is a mystery that will probably never be known. One look and it shouts this is the "real thing"--eyes that follow you, and hands, fingers, and toes, are all in great detail. This fantastic piece of work has been stored for over 30 years. This is the first opportunity you have to own Bigfoot. It can be a tremendous attraction for showing this part of American folklore. 

Categories: Cryptozoology, eBay
Posted by Alex on Thu Jul 26, 2012
Comments (0)
Wikipedia defines a sock puppet as "an online identity used for purposes of deception." And it looks like the fast food restaurant chain Chick-fil-A just got caught red-handed using one.

The sock puppet in question was one "Abby Farle" — whose Facebook profile picture showed her to be a teenage girl. But there were some odd things about Abby. For a start, her Facebook account was only created a day ago, and during her brief time on Facebook her sole activity appeared to be defending Chick-fil-A, vigorously supporting the company's claim that it stopped including toys from the Jim Henson Company in its kids meals because it concluded the toys were dangerous (not that the Henson Company pulled its toys in reaction to anti-gay comments by Chick-fil-A's COO, as has been widely assumed).

Then someone pointed out that Abby's profile picture actually came from the stockphoto company Shutterstock. Soon after that, her account disappeared.

Chick-fil-A insists it wasn't responsible for the Abby Farle account, and that might be true. Abby could easily have been the creation of someone in the company, or associated with it, acting alone.

Links: gizmodo, buzzfeed

Categories: Advertising, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 25, 2012
Comments (4)

Without knowing the context, I would have guessed this picture had been digitally manipulated in some way. But it turns out it wasn't. NPR explains:
it's a single image from a single place and time — the hills of western Hungary, six months after a devastating industrial accident.
In late 2010, the waste reservoir of a Hungarian aluminum oxide plant burst, releasing millions and millions of gallons of caustic red sludge. The meter-high toxic mudslide quickly moved downhill through two nearby villages, burying buildings, poisoning fields and killing 10 people.
Soldiers and volunteers shoveled the muck into trucks and hosed down the streets, but where the sludge had been, every surface was stained red.

The photo was taken by photographer Palindromo Meszaros.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 25, 2012
Comments (3)
Serge Benhayon is the creator of "Esoteric Breast Massage" (EBM). He describes this as a healing technique that offers many benefits, such as possibly preventing cancer.


Serge Benhayon

Despite what you may be thinking, EBM is not just an excuse for him to massage lots of women's breasts. Far from it. In fact, he never does the massaging. He emphasizes that only women can perform EBM on other women. This made it a little awkward for him to teach the technique, back when he was the only person who knew how to do it. From an interview in Spa Australasia magazine (pdf):

I have never performed an EBM on a client nor to any of our practitioners. It is not for men to do. And hence, initially, and deliberately by design, a small group of women were selected to learn the EBM. In keeping with my teachings on Energetic Integrity, the technique was demonstrated on my partner under simulation and no naked bodies were used. Once the techniques were learnt, the group of women set-out to practice on each other, over and over, until they could feel and learn its entire structure and how the energetic science feels in action and in delivery.



EBM Brochure

Being the inventor of Esoteric Breast Massage isn't the only thing that makes Benhayon an interesting character. Turns out he's also the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci. And his daughter is following in his footsteps. She's the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, and a practitioner of "esoteric connective tissue therapy" as well as "craniosacral massage." Plus, she can talk to women's ovaries.

Benhayon and daughter operate from their Universal Medicine center, outside Lismore in New South Wales, Australia. But they're attracting controversy. Their treatments, though lacking much scientific backing, are partially funded by Medicare. And a group of men are complaining that Benhayon has ruined their marriages. Links: hillsnews.com.au, ulladullatimes.com.au.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 23, 2012
Comments (4)
On April 13, 1986, at 5:15 AM, Douglas Arling of Warwick, Rhode Island went out to the chicken coop in his yard and checked on his 9-year-old Araconda chicken. To his astonishment, he found she had laid a massive egg measuring 5x3 inches, and weighing half-a-pound. As he watched, the chicken tumbled to the floor, apparently exhausted by the effort she had just gone through.




Ruth Arling (Douglas's wife) with the giant egg and the chicken she thought laid it

When word of the giant egg reached the press, it made national news. But the egg wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Two weeks later, Arling's neighbor, George Sousa, confessed that the giant egg was his handiwork.

The egg, Sousa explained, was really a hard-boiled goose egg that a co-worker had brought to work. "I had never seen such a big egg," he told a Providence Journal reporter, "and knowing Dougie raises chickens, I thought it would be funny if he went out in the morning and found the giant egg — never realizing he would think it was a production from one of his chickens."


According to worldrecordsacademy.org, the current holder of the title of the World's Biggest Chicken Egg is an egg laid in June 2009 by a chicken owned by Chinese farmer Zhang Yinde. The egg weighed 201 grams (.44 pounds), and measured 9.2cm x 6.3cm (3.6 x 2.4 inches). So the Rhode Island goose egg was a bit bigger.

Categories: Animals, Food
Posted by Alex on Sun Jul 15, 2012
Comments (1)
It's hard to believe this energy-saving feature on the Samsung SA200 monitor is as revolutionary as their marketing team makes it out to be. After all, isn't it just an ON/OFF switch?

Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 11, 2012
Comments (8)
Back in May, a Lancashire couple, Mick and Elaine Bell, found a human skull in a shallow section of the Burnley River while out walking their dogs.

They gave the skull to the police, who initially suspected that rain had washed it down from a nearby cemetery. But as forensic experts examined it, they grew puzzled. The features of the skull indicated the person had been a man who was either an Australian aboriginal or from a South Pacific Island. How had he ended up buried in Lancashire?


Elaine Bell with the skull

Carbon dating the skull produced no results. Initially the scientists thought this was because the bone was fossilized, but after subjecting it to chemical tests, they realized it was a fake, cast from a real skull.

The mystery deepened because it was a really good fake — much better than the kind that are typically commercially available — featuring details such as a fracture, incision marks indicating a pre-death operation, and signs of infection around the nose and mouth.

Currently, the police still don't know what substance the skull is made out of, nor how long it was in the river. Det. Supt. Charlie Haynes offers their best guess about what this thing is: "In the early 1800s skulls from Papau New Guinea were collectable - which ties in with the features of this skull. It may be a very accurate replica of a collectable."

The question is, why would someone have buried a very expensive fake skull? Perhaps it was buried back in the 19th Century by someone trying to perpetrate an archaeological hoax?

Links: Lancashire Telegraph, Burnley Express.
Categories: History, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 11, 2012
Comments (5)
Recently a video began circulating that appeared (despite suspiciously poor production values) to be an advertisement by Coca-Cola announcing a new "Coca-Cola-Bag." The idea was to do away with selling Coke in bottles and switch to biodegradable plastic bags made "in the unique Coca-Cola bottle shape."



The video claimed the idea came from Central America where many consumers supposedly already buy Coke in plastic bags in order to avoid paying the bottle deposit.

Gizmodo, Digital Journal, and WKMG Orlando were among those who posted about the video.

But Just-Drinks.com now says it has received confirmation from the Coca-Cola Co. that the Coke Bag is a hoax — though not one Coca-Cola was responsible for. The company says it has no idea who created the video.

Given the references to Central America, and the idea of Coke bags, I'm guessing the video may be an elaborate drug-themed joke.

Categories: Advertising, Food, Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 10, 2012
Comments (4)
'Quiz' is a relatively new word. It first came into use in the late 1700s, making it a little over 250 years old, and there's a curious story about how it came into being.

The tale goes that it emerged from a wager made in 1791 by Richard Daly, manager of the Theatre Royal in Dublin. Daly bet his friends that within 48 hours he could make a nonsense word be spoken throughout Dublin — specifically, a word having no meaning nor derived from any known language. His friends took him up on the bet. So Daly sent out his employees to write the word "QUIZ" in chalk on doors, windows, and walls throughout Dublin. The appearance of this mysterious word became the talk of the town, allowing Daly to win his bet. And it caused the word 'quiz' to pass into popular usage.

There's a number of reasons to doubt this story. For one, it first appeared in print in 1835, 44 years after the event supposedly took place. The story took the form of one of those small blurbs of trivia that newspapers and magazines used to pad out their columns. It ran in a number of publications, such as the New York Mirror (May 2, 1835), The Mirror (Feb 21, 1835), and The London and Paris Observer (Feb 15, 1835). However, it's authorship wasn't attributed, or attributed only by initials, so we have no way of knowing how the author knew his information. Perhaps a newspaper editor simply made it up. (The most elaborate version of the story is found in Frank Thorpe Porter's Gleanings and Reminiscences, 1875. Porter doubtless embellished it.)


from the New York Mirror, May 2, 1835

Second, it's easy to find examples of the word 'quiz' used before 1791. Here's an example from the London Magazine, Nov 1783.

However, it's possible that Daly (or someone connected with the theater) did write the word "QUIZ" all over Dublin, but that this stunt had nothing to do with the word's origin. Back in the 1790s, Quiz didn't mean what it means today. It was a derogatory term meaning an oddball or eccentric. Or, as the London Magazine put it, "one who thinks, speaks, or acts differently from the rest of the world in general."

An article in the Sporting Magazine (Dec 1794) indicates that to call someone a Quiz could also insultingly imply they were pedantic and rule-bound. It was a bit like calling someone a Nerd or a Square:

Now every young man who wishes to attain that for which he was sent by his friends to the university, namely improvement, is immediately denominated a Quiz, and is subject to the petty insults of every buck (a species of the human kind so called in Cambridge) he meets with. To avoid the stigma of being a Quiz, young men who have but moderate allowances plunge into expences, which make them for many years after miserable. To peruse any book of improvement is called Quizical; in short not to be extremely dissipated and extravagant is to be a Quiz.

When interpreted in this sense, the word seems appropriate as something that rambunctious young theater employees might have written as graffiti all over Dublin, as a way to make fun of the respectable residents of Dublin. But the word wasn't widely known (as indicated by the need for both the London Magazine and the Sporting Magazine to define the term for their readers), so the prank might have caused some confusion and led people to ask what the strange word meant.


Dublin's Theatre Royal

Of course, there's no evidence (such as contemporary newspaper accounts) to confirm that this prank ever occurred. So this is all pure speculation.

But if Richard Daly and his theater employees didn't coin the word Quiz, how did it originate? One theory, offered here by Stephen Fry, is that "it probably derives from the first question in the old grammar school Latin oral: 'Qui es?' or, 'Who are you?'"

The Oxford Dictionaries offers some further information:

'Quiz' was also used as a name for a kind of toy, something like a yo-yo, which was popular around 1790. The word is nevertheless hard to account for, and so is its later meaning of 'to question or interrogate'. This emerged in the mid-19th century and gave rise to the most common use of the term today, for a type of entertainment based on a test of a person's knowledge.

My 1971 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that its current meaning may come from its association with the word 'inquisitive,' which is a very old word, as old as the English language itself, having derived from the latin inquirire (to inquire).
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 10, 2012
Comments (0)
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