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November 2013
The "Surgeon's Photo" taken on April 19, 1934 was one of the earliest (and remains the most famous) Nessie photo hoax. But three weeks before the Surgeon's Photo was taken, the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung came out with a photo-feature declaring that Nessie had been captured ("Das Untier vom Loch Ness gefangen!"). It was an April Fool's Day hoax.

I recently acquired a copy of the article, so I've added it to the April Fool archive. You can see why this Nessie hoax never became as famous as the Surgeon's Photo, because I doubt it fooled anyone. Still, it's an interesting piece of Nessie history. Read the full thing here.

"The moment that the zoologists of the world have eagerly anticipated: The capture of the sea serpent of Loch Ness!"
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 19, 2013
Comments (0)

This unusual photo ran in numerous papers in September 1963. I can't find a linkable example in the Google News Archive, but here it is in the Binghamton Press [PDF]. (A lot of examples of it come up in a search on, but that's a paid archive, so I can't link to any of the results.)

The caption read:
All the animals are pretty tame at the Percy Pangborn Ranch above Lake Wenatchee in the foothills of Washington State's Cascade Mountains, Sept 14. 1963. A golden mantled ground squirrel chomps away on a nut as it rides around on the neck of a fawn.

The photo looks a little suspect to me. However, none of the papers it ran in raised any doubts about its veracity.

Back in the 60s, photo editors would often darken the outlines of figures in photos so that you could see them better when they ran in newspapers. To modern eyes, this can make "real" photos look manipulated. That might be the case with this photo. Perhaps the outline of the squirrel was darkened, which makes the squirrel look like it was pasted into the shot. But given the subject matter — a squirrel riding a fawn while eating a nut — I'm still suspicious.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Nov 16, 2013
Comments (0)
I recently received an "Uncommon Goods" catalog in the mail and noticed an item they call the "Imagination Paperweight." It displays an inspiring Albert Einstein quotation: "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere."

Knowing how many fake Einstein quotations there are floating around, my suspicion was aroused. So I checked and sure enough, this Einstein quotation has been called into question by the few people who have bothered to investigate it (as opposed to mindlessly parroting it).

The Skeptica Esoterica blog notes that it's listed in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (2010) by Alice Calaprice, but it's in the "Probably Not By Einstein" section.

The quotation appears to have become very popular in the last 10 years. But I can't find any earlier references to it. Nor do any of the people who repeat the quotation mention where or when Einstein said it. So I'll conclude that it must be fake.

However, Einstein did say something very similar. According to, in an interview published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1929 Einstein was asked, "Then you trust more to your imagination than to your knowledge?" And he responded:

I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

"Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." That's a good quotation — and real! Uncommon Goods should have put that on their paperweight.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 15, 2013
Comments (1)
UK police are warning drivers of a new scam in which fraudsters pose as stranded motorists in lay-bys, beseeching the aid of good samaritans with pleas such as, "Help me, I'm German!"

The fraudsters claim that they're out of gas and have lost their wallet. But they offer gold jewelry in return for money. The scam is that the gold jewelry is fake. [cambridge-news]

When I first saw the headline I thought it was going to be about people who wake up, realize they've become German, and cry out for help. Kind of like a Germanified version of Gregor Samsa. That would have been better.
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 15, 2013
Comments (3)
Doriana Silva says she was hired by Ashley Madison (that matchmaking service that caters to people who want to have extramarital affairs) in order to type up 1000 fake female profiles for the company's new Portuguese-language website. Doing this, she claims, led to severe wrist and forearm pain, and she now wants compensation, to the tune of $20 million.

Ashley Madison admits it hired Silva, but dismisses her claims as frivolous. It points out that one of Silva's recent facebook photos shows her jet skiing during a vacation, apparently unhampered by severe wrist pain. [When will people learn that if it's on facebook, everyone can potentially see it?]

As for the idea that their website includes fake female profiles? Why, the very notion shocks and appals them! "Our service is 100% authentic, as described in our terms and conditions, and we resent any implication otherwise."

However, the company hasn't explained exactly what Silva was doing during her brief period of employment with them. [links: Toronto Sun, Ashley Madison]
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 13, 2013
Comments (0)
Dave Wilson insists he didn't get elected to the Houston Community College System Board of Trustees by "pretending to be black," though many people are now accusing him of doing exactly that. He says he merely ran a smart campaign and used "targeted marketing" to appeal to voters in the majority black neighborhood where he was running.

Yes, he avoided putting a photo of his own white face in his campaign literature, but included lots of stock photos of smiling black people. But there's nothing illegal in that.

And yes, he did prominently claim to be endorsed by Ron Wilson. People might have assumed that was the well-known black Houston politician called Ron Wilson. But if they did so, that was their own fault, because it was made clear somewhere (in the fine print at the bottom of the campaign flyer) that the Ron Wilson in question was Dave's (white) cousin in Iowa. [That brings to mind the "Subways Are For Sleeping" hoax from 1962 in which the newspaper ad for the Broadway play trumpeted the rave reviews it received from people who happened to have the same name as famous theater critics.]

Anyway, Dave Wilson is in office now, and will be for the next six years. And there's not much anyone can do to change that. []
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Politics
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 13, 2013
Comments (0)
In the first months of 1945, the Allied forces began advancing rapidly on Berlin. But to the press correspondents tagging along behind the military, it seemed as if the going was actually quite slow. They had thought they would be in Berlin in a few days, but instead officers kept telling them that Berlin would be reached soon, but there was just one more stream, one more creek, one more canal, one more small river that had to be taken first.

So Bill Heinz of the New York Sun joked that the path to Berlin would be clear as soon as Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis was taken — the joke being that there was no such town or river. Soon Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis had become a symbol for the press corps of all the obstacles that remained in the way of the Army before Berlin could be reached.

And the story goes that one day the following scene took place. I'll quote directly from the 1945 AP story for the rest:

Once a group of war correspondent was being briefed at the division command post by the commanding general himself. He outlined the battle situation and the progress of his men and then looked around for questions.

"That's great, general," said Johnny Florea of Life Magazine, "but when will your troops take Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis?"

"What town was that?" asked the general, peering uncertainly at his map.

"Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis," repeated Johnny. "We can't get into Berlin before we take Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis."

"Oh," said the general confidently, with a wave of his hand toward the map, "my men will take it in a couple of days at most."

After he left, his public relations officer came over to the grinning correspondents and said with a puzzled expression:

"Say fellows, just why are you so interested in this Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis place?"

"There is an eight-story subterranean hotel there," answered Florea gravely. "Seven stories and big underground penthouse on the bottom. It's absolutely bombproof and shellproof. We want to use it for our press headquarters."

The public relations officer relaxed and smiled.

"Don't worry boys," he said. "We will take care of you. I will grab off that hotel for you myself just as soon as we take the town."

But so far — although many days have passed — no American troops have entered that last German stronghold of the war — historic, quaint, picturesque, cobblestoned old Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis.

[Deseret News - May 16, 1945]
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 12, 2013
Comments (0)
The surprise guest at this year's Andy Kaufman Awards, which took place in NYC over the long weekend, was Andy Kaufman's 24-year-old daughter. The surprise is that Kaufman died 29 years ago. And Andy didn't store his sperm, or anything like that, in order to facilitate post-mortem conception.

Andy's brother Michael explained that Andy faked his death because "Andy wanted to go into hiding and live a normal life, that he'd met and fallen in love with a woman and had a daughter, and that he didn't want Michael or anyone to say anything while their own father was still alive. Andy's and Michael's father died this summer. " [via The Comics Comic]
Categories: Death, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 12, 2013
Comments (2)
A photo has been circulating recently that shows Paris Hilton at a party wearing a tank top that bears the message: "Stop Being Poor."

Paris Hilton has hardly carved out a reputation for herself as a champion of social justice. Nor is she known for her keen intelligence. So it's not hard to believe that she might have worn something like this.

The photo also plays to ancient stereotypes of the insensitive rich. The old "Let them eat cake" attitude (a phrase that's commonly, but mistakenly, attributed to Marie Antoinette). And this stereotype certainly has some basis in reality.

But in this case, Paris Hilton isn't quite as insensitive as the photo suggests because, yes, the image is photoshopped.

In the original photo, taken by photographer Vince Flores at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas on April 15, 2005, the message on her shirt reads: "Stop Being Desperate." There's quite a few shots of her at the party wearing this tank-top.

A similar fake image in this vein (i.e. the insensitive rich) was that one from last year that showed the Romney family lining up so that their t-shirts spelled "MONEY".

Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Nov 09, 2013
Comments (0)
Warning: if you find a message in a bottle requesting your help with transferring £4,500,000 out of Nigeria, it may be a scam.

Tom Fenton recently found such a message in a bottle while cycling along the Thames. It was written by Barrister Umsloppogas Adinga:

Dear Friend, I am pleased that this letter has reached you safely. I was given your name as an honourable and upright person to do business with.

Let me introduce myself; I am Umsloppogas Adinga a barrister working in the Nigerian inheritance court and have been assigned to the estate of a Mr Bates who has left an unclaimed estate totalling £4,500,000.

If left, the money would revert to the government and I want to get the money safely to a western bank account. If you will allow me to use your bank account for this purpose, I would be happy to render 10 per cent of the estate to you as a fee for helping me with this transaction.

If you are happy to help me with this, please email me at with your details so that we can progress this and once you have paid any fees necessary the money can be transferred to your account. May the lord bless our business arrangements.

Yours faithfully, Barrister Adinga (aka Impro)

Fenton says the message "must be a joke." But a police spokeswoman reminded the public to: "Be wary of who you give your personal details to in the street (eg charities, products, competitions etc). Do not sign up for anything until you have researched the company or charity. Never send money to anyone you don't know." []
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 07, 2013
Comments (4)
Here's a case of a fake "viral" image that made its way into the scientific literature back in 1925, demonstrating that the phenomenon of strange, doctored images circulating around existed long before the internet, although the internet certainly boosted the phenomenon to new levels.

The 1925 case:

In the fourth edition of his book I Believe in God and in Evolution, published in 1925, William Keen included a short account of "Human Beings With Tails":

Human Beings With Tails
The literature as to tails in human beings is extensive. Cases have been reported from every continent, and, including the United States, from almost every important nation in the world.

Virchow and Sir Arthur Keith, the distinguished Curator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, London, than whom there can be no better authorities, and other well known writers, refer to cases of genuine tails. Some of them contain no bones, but others have rudimentary vertebrae, with complete joints between them. The microscope also shows in some cases sufficient muscular fibers to have made the tails capable of movement.

These tails are continuations of the lowest vertebrae. The 'coccyx,' the usual termination of the spine, is the representative in man of these occasionally well developed tails. All of us have potential tails. In early embryonic life of man there is a well developed tail which, however, soon shrivels, leaving only the coccyx.

It is a very significant fact that the anthropoid apes, gorilla, chimpanzee, etc., like man, have also lost their tails. The monkeys, much more distant from man have retained their tails.

Keen then provided a photograph that showed a person with a tail.

A caption offered this explanation:

Photograph of an Igorot in the Bontoc Province of the Philippine Islands. It was taken early in 1925 by Mr. John Freeman, (Dr. Keen's grandson), whose guide and interpreter persuaded the man to be photographed. The tail is about five inches long. It also shows in the shadow.

But soon after publication, Keen sent a rather embarrassed "Correction" to the Journal Science (Apr 2, 1926). After noting that he still believed there were cases of humans with tails, he wrote:

The correction I wish to make is as follows: In my book "I Believe in God and in Evolution," I have included in the fourth edition a photograph of an Igorot with a tail, which I vouched for as I understood that it had been photographed by my own grandson, Mr. John Freeman.

A few days ago within a few hours of each other, I received letters from Dr. Ales Hrdlieka, of the division of physical anthropology of the National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, and Mrs. Ella F. Grove, who a year ago had been doing some work in the Philippines for the National Research Council. Both of these correspondents stated that the Bureau of Science in Manila had shown them the original of this photograph which showed that it was a fake photograph, the tail having been added to the original by a photographer, I suppose as a joke.

On communicating with my grandson I find that I misinterpreted his letter and that he did not photograph this Igorot.

My argument that human tails (of which I have shown there are very many undoubted instances) prove our animal ancestry is not in the least disproved by my having unfortunately used a photograph which further investigation has shown to be a fraud, for there are plenty of genuine tails.

My whole object is to state the truth, and when any statement I have made is proved to be wrong, I wish to be the very first person to disclose the error.

Dr. Hrdlieka adds "As to the occurrence of tails of course I am with you in every particular."

Apparently the Igorot people have long suffered from discrimination in the Philippines, which has included the claim that Igorots have tails. This photograph must have been one photographer's attempt to forge some evidence to back up this popular racist belief.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 05, 2013
Comments (2)
From the most recent issue of the International Journal of Lexicography:

one can find highly interesting cases of the 'Eskimo hoax' type in accounts of the history of Polish vocabulary, the one most often found being the statement that there are 30,000 'new words' (and one million technical terms) in Polish that appeared after 1945. This claim is not based on adequate empirical data. Piotr Wierzchon discusses the hoax on pages 178-183 of the book under review [Depozytorium leksykalne jezyka polskiego. Nowe fotomaterialy z lat 1901-2010.]

Unfortunately I don't have access to the book being reviewed. Nor do I know Polish, so I couldn't read it even if I did. So that's all I can find out about this Polish vocabulary hoax. (Though it sounds more like an urban legend than a hoax.) Googling '30,000 new words in Polish since 1945' doesn't turn up anything helpful either.

However, a January 2013 article in The Independent notes that Polish is now the second most widely spoken language in England and Wales, after English itself. And that this Polish-English contact is having a large influence on the Polish language, especially Polish business speak, which is adopting numerous English terms:

Polish translator Anna Lycett, 25, from Leeds said that English office terminology is being adopted. "Mostly English is incorporated into Polish in business speak, so terminology used in the office would be English rather than Polish: for example you would go to a 'briefing' rather than use the Polish word for it," she told the Huffington Post.

She added: "Marketing is often referred to as 'marketing' and you would also say 'IT' rather than the 'technologia informacyjna' or 'TI' either. People tend to use these English words whether they fully understand what they mean in English or not. PR is also Polonised so it is pronounced like the English 'PR' but spelt in Polish to reflect the pronunciation 'piar'.

Based on this, I would imagine that it must be true that there have been many new words added to Polish since 1945. But apparently not 30,000 new words (and 1 million technical terms).
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 05, 2013
Comments (2)

The city government of Ningguo in eastern China's Anhui province has admitted that, yes, this photo, which was recently posted to its website, was digitally manipulated. It's supposed to show four officials paying a friendly visit to 103-year-old Cheng Yanchun. But now it's become the subject of widespread mockery, once people noticed the unusual size mismatch between the woman and the officials. (That small object in the lower left right of the photo is the woman.) Also, one of the officials appears to have lost his legs. The official explanation is that there was no room in the woman's apartment for everyone to pose together. So a staffer created this photo oddity. [Want China Times]
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Nov 02, 2013
Comments (2)
Soylent describes itself as "food without the hassle." It's basically a protein shake. But unlike most protein shakes that bear notices warning that they're not intended as a food substitute (merely a diet supplement), Soylent claims that it is a food substitute. You can live on this stuff.

According to Fox News, the makers of Soylent chose the name as a playful reference to Soylent Green, the well-known 70s sci-fi movie about human cannibalism. However, Soylent doesn't contain human meat.

Which is to say that Soylent is NOT a hoax or a joke. Even though it may sound like one. (I, for one, was confused for a while.) It's just a product with a weird name.

Whether Soylent will sell well, or end up going the way of other cannibalism-themed food products such as Hufu (human-flavored tofu) remains to be seen.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 01, 2013
Comments (1)
I've been spending a lot of time recently adding to the April Fool archive, and in doing so I've noticed that a lot of April 1st jokes get repeated again and again over the years. One joke in particular caught my eye. In the past 20 years, prescription windshields (or windscreens, as the British say) have been the theme of corporate April Fool campaigns at least 4 separate times — and possibly more, for all I know.

This made me wonder: how old is the 'prescription windshield' joke?

It's probably as old as automobile windshields. But one of the earliest references to it I found was in a Gracie Allen joke from 1950:

School authorities warn that "television has produced a new classroom problem, called telesnooze, due to weary children falling asleep in classes after watching TV the night before."
It can hurt their eyes too. My mother wrote me about a family of nine kids who all need glasses because of television. Their poor parents couldn't afford to get glasses for that many kids so they bought a 1950 Cadillac with a prescription windshield. In order to study their lessons, the mother drives the kids around town and their father sits on the hood and holds the schoolbook and turns the pages for them.
If there's ever a "gas" shortage, their homework will certainly suffer.

It continued to circulate as a joke in stand-up routines. In some versions of the joke, the prescription windshields are an extravagant luxury of the extremely rich. And there's another version in which they're an anti-theft device, because only the owner can drive the car.

From the 1950s to the 70s, prescription windshields became a fairly popular theme in comic strips:

Bringing Up Father - June 10, 1954

Beetle Bailey - Sep 21, 1958

Wayout - Aug 14, 1967

Dooley's World - Sep 13, 1974

It was in 1995 that prescription windshields first appeared in an April Fool ad campaign, when BMW UK introducted "Optiglass" — a new optical technology that eliminated the need for BMW drivers to wear glasses. The tagline for the campaign was, "You don't need glasses. You need a BMW."

In 2006, the Dutch car-window company GarageGlas introduced prescription windshields supposedly "developed in collaboration with Russian researchers of the Lebedev Physics Institute in Samara." They said there was a button on the dashboard that allowed drivers to set the window to strengths of -5 to +5. And there was another button that allowed zooming in and out. The company made this announcement a week before April 1st, which meant that quite a few people didn't realize it was a joke. GarageGlas received over a hundred serious inquiries about the new windshields, including from one person who wanted to know how the prescription windshields worked with the rearview mirror.

In 2010, the UK company Auto Windscreens came out with prescription windscreens, and even put together a video about them.

Finally, on April 1st of this year the Dutch branch of the SpecSavers eyewear chain announced they were diversifying into prescription windshields. They even ran a special. Buy a prescription windshield for your front window and get the rear window free!

Would it even be possible to make a prescription windshield? I have no idea. But it turns out that people on a Straight Dope message board have actually thought through some of the problems such a windshield would pose, and the problems are significant. They include:
  • Only one person could drive the car
  • If you moved your head too much, everything would go out of focus
  • Such a huge lens would be incredibly expensive to grind and polish
  • And finally, such a huge lens would be incredibly thick at the edges. One person notes, "The edge thickness of a lens the size of a windshield would be measured in feet, even if you could get a 1.5mm center thickness."
Categories: April Fools Day, Technology
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 01, 2013
Comments (2)
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