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In 2004, the researchers Jacqueline Woolley, Elizabeth Boerger, and Arthur Markman conducted a study at the University of Texas at Austin in which they told young children (ages 3 to 5) at a childcare center about the "Candy Witch." This was the script they used:

'Let me tell you about the Candy Witch. I have never seen the Candy Witch so I don't have a real picture of her. But somebody made a doll that looks like her, and I have a picture of that. Here it is. This is what she looks like. (Speaker shows picture of a Candy Witch doll and passes the picture around.) She's a really nice witch. And do you know what she loves best of all? Candy! She eats candy for breakfast, and candy for lunch, and candy for dinner. She has to brush her teeth a lot!

Do you know where she gets all that candy? Well, I'll tell you. Every Halloween night, after the kids are all asleep she leaves her house and flies around. And she carries with her a big bag of toys – brand-new toys. And do you know what she does with those toys? I'll tell you. Some children don't want all that candy they collected. They'd rather have a toy instead. So, their mom and dad call the Candy Witch on the phone and tell her to come. Then they leave their candy for the Candy Witch to take, and she gives them a new toy in its place. This way, she gets all the candy she wants, and the kids get new toys!

(She always leaves a few pieces of candy though; she doesn't take it all.).
Now, some kids don't want the Candy Witch to take their candy and leave a brand-new toy. So she won't come to their house. But other kids really do want the Candy Witch to come to their house and leave a toy for them. She only goes to the houses of kids who want her to come.'

In the write-up of the study [PDF], published in the journal Developmental Science, the researchers said their goal was to find out how easily the children could be made to believe in a "novel fantastical being." Would they totally accept the Candy Witch, because an adult had told them about her? Or would they, at even such a young age, be skeptical? They found that the majority of the kids did express belief in the Candy Witch after Halloween. However, "not all children accepted the Candy Witch, and that those who did exhibited a range of belief levels."

Since 2004, the experiment has become somewhat famous, and it's been taken to mean that children aren't quite as credulous as once thought. They can be fooled pretty easily, but they're not entirely passive sponges soaking up whatever they're told.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the experiment left one question unanswered: How many kids believed that line about the Candy Witch being "a really nice witch"? She sounds a little malevolent to me, swooping into people's houses and stealing their candy. Are we seriously supposed to accept that she isn't up to something? Perhaps that was the real test of credulity, and all the kids flunked it!

In fact, maybe these "researchers" were part of a covert PR team hired by the Candy Witch to convince everyone that she's "really nice." And then, when we all have our guard down — that's when she'll strike!

So this Halloween, watch out for the Candy Witch!
Categories: Paranormal, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 31, 2013
Comments (0)
A bizarre love triangle. Wang Pai and Lili struck up a romance online, but when they first met in real life, they realized that, oops!, they were father-in-law/daughter-in-law. Even worse, Wang's son, Wang Jai, had tailed his wife to her rendezvous. The whole mess ended in a brawl, leaving Lili with missing teeth and Wang Pai with a serious head injury.

This story was first reported recently by the Heilongjiang Morning Post, and then by ChinaSMACK, the Daily Mail, and a whole bunch of other news outlets.

But the Heilongjiang Morning Post, realizing the entire tale was a hoax invented by Wei Hongji, a reporter with Muleng Television, has posted an apology.

It isn't the first time we've seen one of these tales of online (or penpal) lovers who meet and realize they not only know each other, but are family.

It's the premise of Rupert Holmes's Pina Colada song from 1979.

And back in 2005, a story circulated about two cyber lovers in Jordan (Bakr Melhem and Jamila) who used the online aliases 'Adnan' and 'Sanaa'. Upon meeting, they realized they were husband and wife. In 2007, the exact same story recirculated in the news, but with Adnan and Sana relocated to Bosnia.

I'm pretty sure there have been other examples of this story reported as news. I just can't remember them right now.
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 31, 2013
Comments (0)
In 1985, Joel Best published an article in the sociology journal Social Problems analyzing reports of children receiving dangerous treats on Halloween (razor blades in apples, poisoned candy, etc.).


After doing an extensive review of newspaper databases for all cases between 1959 and 1984, he couldn't find a single instance of a child being killed by a Halloween treat, although there were a handful of cases (18) of minor injuries, and a larger number of reports of the discovery of contaminated treats without injury. Although he suspected that most if not all of these discovery reports were hoaxes.

So he concluded that the idea of "Halloween Sadism" was an urban legend that emerged into national prominence during the early 1970s because of fears about the safety of children:

The Halloween sadist has become an annual reminder of the fragility of the social bond — an expression of growing doubts about the safety of children, the trustworthiness of strangers, and the strength of the modern urban community.

In an article recently posted on the website of the University of Delaware (where he teaches) Best looks back on that article and notes that ever since its publication he's been the go-to guy for reporters writing about Halloween safety:

Every October since 1985, I've continued to get calls from reporters. Usually, it's a young person working for a newspaper who's been assigned to write a piece about Halloween safety. There's a pretty good chance that a reporter who goes online to review last year's stories about the topic will see me quoted, so I get called and re-interviewed.

Because of the ongoing interest in this mostly non-existent problem, Best has continued to scan newspapers for reports of Halloween injuries, and he says that "I still haven't found a documented case of a child who was seriously harmed by a contaminated treat."

Though he notes that this shouldn't be taken to mean that Halloween isn't a potentially dangerous holiday. It is. But for another reason altogether. On Halloween the risk of a child being struck by a car is four times higher than on other nights.
Categories: Celebrations, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sat Oct 26, 2013
Comments (2)
Two years ago the Brooklyn Public Library uploaded a video to YouTube detailing the presence of a ghost in the library:
On October 28, 1977 Agatha Ann Cunningham went missing during her kindergarten call trip to the Brooklyn Public Library. She was never found. The legend says that her ghost haunts the lower level decks of the Central Library.



But even though the entire library administration insists that Agatha's ghost is real, the Brooklyn Daily has some questions. For instance, they wonder why the news clipping about Agatha's disappearance that's briefly shown on screen seems to be a doctored version of a 1979 New York Times article about the disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz from the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan.




Perhaps this is a case of a hoax within a hoax. The library might be planting fake pieces of information to make it seem as if Agatha's ghost is a hoax, to hide the fact that the ghost is actually quite real!
Categories: Paranormal
Posted by Alex on Sat Oct 26, 2013
Comments (1)

The story here is that this video supposedly comes from security camera footage of a Sep. 14, 2003 paranormal event at a Wingate Hotel in Illinois. Though it wasn't until Sep 2012 that it was posted on YouTube.

Screaming was heard coming from room 209. But no one was checked into that room. So some guy named John (a security guard?) is sent to investigate. He enters the room and reports that the carpet has been ripped up, the shower is on, and all the furniture is turned upside down. But the room is empty! Also, as John enters the room, a ghostly figure can be seen exiting it.

Of course, we actually see very little of anything in the video, except for the ghostly image, which could be easily faked. We also hear the audio track. But again, that could easily be faked.

The biggest problem, however, is that it's apparently impossible for anyone to identify exactly which Wingate Hotel in Illinois this occurred at. The poster of the video explains that, "Due to legal matters, I am not allowed to say any more information regarding the exact location of this hotel. Please stop asking. Thank you!"

Following the rule that information is only as good as its source, this video has no identifiable source at all. So that suggests...

However, by googling "Room 209 Wingate Hotel" I found this recent negative review posted by someone who stayed in Room 209:

Carpet in room (209) was wet, foot stool was left on top of the cair, empty shampoo bottle from previous guest was still in the shower, a Coors Lite beer from the previous guest was found in the fridge.

It was Room 209 in a Wingate in Saskatchewan. But maybe the ghost is on the move!
Categories: Paranormal, Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Oct 26, 2013
Comments (8)
Mental Floss has an interesting, brief article on "6 Absurd Alcohol Myths People Believed During Prohibition". The myths were:
  1. Alcohol turns blood into water
  2. Merely smelling alcohol could deform unborn children
  3. Some bootleg wines were made with cockroaches
  4. Most beer drinkers die of dropsy
  5. Alcohol can give you a 25-pound liver
  6. Drunkards' brains can be used as torches
The cockroach wine myth reminds me of the Army Worm Wine that I posted about back in 2005, except that Army Worm Wine was apparently real.

Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 25, 2013
Comments (0)
[Since Halloween is fast approaching, I thought I'd do some ghost-themed posts.]

Back in 1935, the town of Landeshut (which at the time, I believe, was in Germany, but now is in Poland) had a bit of a problem. A ghost was scaring the residents. The specter had often been seen walking in a dark outer street near the hospital.

People were getting so frightened that the town decided to take the unusual step of offering a 50 marks reward for anyone who could capture the ghost. Fifty marks was about $20. According to the Inflation Calculator website, that would be $330 in today's money.

That doesn't seem terribly generous for such a difficult task. Though perhaps the meagerness of the reward wasn't an issue since I'm not sure how anyone was supposed to capture the ghost. Also, what would the town do with the ghost once it was captured?

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any follow-up to this story. So the fate of the Landeshut Ghost remains a mystery.


The New York Times - Jan 6, 1935


(above and below) Views of Landeshut




The San Antonio Light used the Landeshut Ghost to try to sell classified ads
Categories: Paranormal
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 25, 2013
Comments (0)
As Chris Tarrant departs from the UK version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, The Express takes the opportunity to review the history of the quiz show, including some of the hoaxes and frauds associated with it.

For example, the show spawned an internet meme of screenshots of contestants getting absurdly simple questions wrong. Many of these are hoaxes, such as the most famous one which seems to show contestant Fiona Wheeler (not Kathy Evans as some email captions claim) deciding that an elephant is larger than the moon.


In reality, Wheeler was asked "What is the everyday name for the trachea?" (Breastbone, Windpipe, Kneecap, or Heelbone). And she got the answer right, going on to win £32,000. A screenshot of her answering this question was posted on ukgameshows.com, and someone altered it to create the elephant version.


But sometimes contestants really have gotten absurdly easy questions wrong. Such as the French contestant who asked the audience for help on figuring out which celestial body orbited the earth: the sun, moon, Mars or Venus. The audience chose "sun," so that's what he answered. Laughter from the audience suggests some of them may have been pranking him.


Who Wants To Be A Millionaire also has a history of allegations of cheating and game rigging. For instance, £1million prize winner Charles Ingram was convicted of cheating by having an accomplice cough whenever the correct answer was read.

And many accused the producers of the show of feeding contestant Judith Keppel easy questions, so that they could have a big winner (and thus big ratings), thereby overshadowing the final episode of the BBC sitcom One Foot In The Grave.
Categories: Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 24, 2013
Comments (0)
In February 1959, Bob Percy, rush chairman of the Psi Omega professional dental fraternity at the University of Southern California, was kidnapped by his own pledges and dressed in a "space helmet, toe-less tennis shoes, sweat pants and shirt with chained hands and feet." He was then taken to the airport and put on a plane, with no idea of where he was going and no money.

The picture below was taken as he was boarding the plane.


Halfway through the flight he figured out he was en route to Las Vegas, by overhearing a passenger.

Once in Vegas, he called the Las Vegas Sun, told them his story, and they put him in touch with the publicity agent at the El Rancho Vegas hotel, who gave him some money for his return trip. The airline made out his ticket to "Spaceman First-Class Bob Percy."

The pledges who did all this to Percy were said to be in store for "some sort of punishment." But I haven't been able to find out what that punishment was.

I was never a member of a fraternity, but I always thought it was the pledges who went through hazing rituals like this, not the rush chairman.


Daily Trojan - Feb 25, 1959
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 23, 2013
Comments (1)
Writing in Sweden's Metro newspaper, Jack Werner describes his effort to track down the identity of someone using a set of online aliases — TheIneffableSwede and Veronika Larsson. It started with him simply wanting to interview this person, because back in July they had left a provocative comment on a Guardian article. But as his search progressed, Werner realized that this person, over the course of the past six years, had created an elaborate fake online persona, with photos showing herself as an attractive young blond woman, and claiming to be a graduate of UC Berkeley and the London School of Economics, and fluent in five languages.

None of her story checked out upon investigation, and the photos were actually those of an unwitting Orange County woman. But Werner never was able to identify who the real person behind the persona is.

The story has shades of the Kaycee Nicole Swenson case from 2001, except that the motives of the Kaycee Nicole Swenson hoaxer were fairly clear. She wanted to get sympathy and attention by pretending to be a cancer victim. But the motives of whoever created TheIneffableSwede/Veronika Larsson remain much more murky.

Who is Veronika?
metro.se

For six years, the young Swede Veronika Larsson used social media to get into political discussions, books, respected newspapers and casual chitchat. But there was always something off about her. Today, Metro tells the strange story about Veronika.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 21, 2013
Comments (3)
Red Lobster Waitress Toni Christina Jenkins shot to internet fame back in September after posting on her facebook page a picture of a receipt she claimed one of her customers left her, with a racist remark ("None N**ger") scrawled on it in place of a tip. The story received even more attention when, a few weeks later, a stranger who was moved by her story gave her a check for $10,759.


But meanwhile, the guy who left the receipt insisted he didn't write that phrase. He admits he wrote the word "None" on the tip line, because he ordered his food to-go. But that other word, he says, wasn't his doing. And now he's hired a forensic handwriting expert to back up his claim when he lawyers up and files a lawsuit against both Jenkins and Red Lobster.

So this creates a he said/she said situation. Either the customer is lying, the waitress is lying, or there was a third person involved. If it ever does make it to trial, it might be a case of dueling handwriting experts. But in the meantime, a lot of self-professed handwriting analysis experts have now popped up online (see Reddit) insisting that they know exactly what happened.
Categories: Hate Crimes/Terror
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 21, 2013
Comments (1)
In March 2012, TacoCopter.com appeared online, claiming to represent a SF-area startup that planned to use drones to deliver tacos. That turned out to be a hoax.


And earlier this year, the French postal service claimed it was experimenting with using drones to deliver mail. That was an April Fool's Day hoax.


So the idea of drone delivery has been a popular idea with hoaxers. But now, perhaps, it's going to become a reality. The emphasis is on perhaps. Australian textbook rental service Zookal claims that next year it will begin to use drones to deliver textbooks in Sydney. This will allow it to deliver the textbooks in mere minutes, as opposed to the 2 or 3 days it would take by the mail. The drone company Flirtey will supply the flying robots.


But Australian tech blog Delimiter cautions that while Zookal's announcement doesn't appear to be a hoax — the company appears to genuinely want to do this — it is also far from becoming an actual service. The idea is still very much in the "research and development phase," and has to clear a lot of regulatory and technological hurdles before it could become a reality. So the anticipated 2014 rollout of the service looks to be very optimistic.
Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 21, 2013
Comments (0)
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