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Spanish King Shoots Drunk Bear
When the Spanish King visited Russia recently he was taken on a bear hunt. But apparently "hunt organizers, keen to make the King of Spain's chances of killing a bear easier, provided a tame one drunk on vodka." Sad. But the last paragraph of the story is even more pathetic: "Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had trouble with his aim in his later years. Some of the animals he liked to stalk were either tied to trees or plied with booze." (Thanks, Big Gary)
Here's an urban legend I'd never heard before: "German immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were asked their names, and might respond 'Ich vergessen,' meaning 'I forgot,' if they couldn't understand English. The officials would then mark down that the name was 'Ferguson.'" This doesn't make any sense to me at all. The German and English words for 'name' are almost identical, so I think German immigrants in particular would be able to understand a request for their name. But even if they didn't, why would they respond 'I forget'?
Top 10 Best Ghost Photographs Ever
The Brown Lady of Raynham comes in at #10. (Thanks, Kathy)
The well-known and much maligned Wizard of Oz urban legend – that of a scene in the film where one can ‘see’ one of the munchkins hanging himself at the back of the set – is the centre theme of a show opening in Dublin this week. Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh has focused the play, depicting the lives of the actors who portrayed the munchkins, around the premise that the legend is true.
The BBC quotes him as saying:
The BBC quotes him as saying:
The Xenna Corporation has issued a press release in which they detail a number of widely circulated myths about feet. These include:
• If a person's second toe is longer than the others, they are dependable, conservative and keep their emotions in check.
• If a person's third toe is bigger than the others, they're hot-headed and have a temper.
• If a person has long toes, they're among the thinkers of the world.
• If a person's feet are wide, they're a hard worker and have strong family values.
• If a person's feet are narrow, they're shy and quiet.
• If a person has webbed feet (a hereditary trait), they're the life of the party and would make a good salesperson or entertainer.
I have incredibly wide feet (size quadruple E), which makes it very hard for me to find shoes that fit. For instance, New Balance are the only brand of sneakers I can wear. None of the other sports-shoe manufacturers, such as Nike, make shoes that will fit mutant feet like mine. According to the myths, this would make me hard working, which I'm reluctant to say is false, though I do have a strong tendency to procrastinate. This entire website is the product of my procrastination.
Of course, Xenna coyly omits the greatest foot myth of all: that there's a relationship between foot size and penile length. This myth was actually investigated by Canadian researchers Jerald Bain and Kerry Siminoski, who published their results in the Annals of Sex Research (vol. 6, no.3, 1993. p.231-5). Using a sample size of 63 men, they determined that there was only a very weak relationship between foot size and penis length. They concluded "there is no practical utility in predicting penis size from foot size or height." Their research won them a 1998 IgNoble prize in the field of Statistics.
Status: HoaxThe following quotation is widely attributed to Albert Einstein: Did he ever say it? No. Nor did he ever work in the Customs Office. (He worked in the Patent Office.) In an article in the Toronto Star, Sharon Burnside traces how the quotation became attributed to Einstein in the first place. Apparently it was actually written by Duane Marble, a faculty member at New York State University, who, a few decades ago, posted the quotation on his office door as a joke directed at the Physics faculty who worked in the same building with him. From there it spread until it became an official Einstein quote. It was finally debunked in 1997 in a series of columns in GIS World written by Jerry Dobson.
I found the Toronto Star article via Craig Silverman's Regret The Error. Craig says that he's thinking of creating a master list of erroneous attributions. If so, he should definitely add to his list the famous P.T. Barnum quotation "There's a sucker born every minute." Barnum always swore he never said it. No one is sure exactly who did say it, but a leading theory is that it was said by the owners of the Cardiff Giant who were annoyed that Barnum's fake Cardiff Giant was getting more attention than their 'real' one.
Another erroneous quotation is "It's not who votes that counts; it's who counts the votes." Often attributed to Joseph Stalin, although there's no evidence he ever said it. It's not known who did say it.
Status: Urban LegendA recent ad for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes shows a blond-haired kid dancing around singing "They're going to taste great!" I think this is a British ad. At least, I've never seen it here in America. And all the references to it I've found occur in the British press. For instance, David Whitehouse writes in the Guardian: Evidently this is the kind of ad that people love to hate. And this dislike has inspired a rumor that the kid in the ad is dead. (Google 'Frosties Kid' and you pull up page after page of rumors of his death.) There are two versions of the rumor:
1) That the kid committed suicide on account of the bullying he received since the ad aired.
2) That the kid was a cancer patient whose dying wish was to star in a Frosties ad.
I don't know who the Frosties Kid is in real life. So I can't prove that he's alive. But there's absolutely no evidence to support the claim that he's dead. Plus, the 'Frosties Kid Is Dead' rumor seems to be a new variation of the 'Death of Little Mikey' rumor (which alleged that Mikey, of the Life Cereal commercials, died after eating Pop Rocks). So I think it's safe to assume that the Frosties Kid is still alive. (Thanks to Dave Tolomy for telling me about the rumor.)
Update: As Dead-Eric noted in the comments, Scott Mills of BBC Radio 1 recently discussed the 'Frosties Kid Is Dead' rumor on his show. Mills received the following official statement from Kelloggs about the rumor: You can listen to an mp3 clip of this portion of the Scott Mills show here.
Status: PhotoshoppedA Brazilian ad agency (FCB Brasil) has created some pictures as part of a campaign for a diving magazine, one of which illustrates the firediving urban legend (in which a diver gets scooped up by a helicopter bucket and dumped onto a forest fire). The second picture shows a diver getting shot out of a dam. The tagline is "Read Before Diving." Cute. (via Coolzor)
Status: Urban LegendDwayne Day has an interesting article in Space Review about the urban legend of the Million Dollar Space Pen. I'm sure you've heard the legend before. It's the one in which NASA pays a million dollars to develop a pen that will write in space. The Russians, meanwhile, being a bit more practical and budget-conscious, just use a pencil for their space missions.
The truth is that the space pen was independently developed in the mid-1960s by Paul Fisher of the Fisher Pen Company. He did it completely on his own, without prompting by NASA and without NASA money. It turned out to be a good pen, and NASA later started to use it. But they paid around $2 a piece for them. Not $1 million. Day notes that:
"The Million Dollar Space Pen Myth is just that, a myth. The pens never cost a lot of money and were not developed by wasteful bureaucrats or overactive NASA engineers. The real story of the Space Pen is less interesting than the myth, but in many ways more inspiring. It is not a story of NASA bureaucrats versus simplistic Russians, but a story of a clever capitalist who built a superior product and conducted some innovative marketing. That story, however, is a little harder to sell to a public that believes what it wants to believe."
I know that you can still buy space pens. I saw them for sale a few months ago at Restoration Hardware.
Status: Probably an urban legend mistaken as newsThis could be the next big thing: Soylent Green Human-Flavored Rum. Reuters reports: You could prepare a dinner starting with human-flavored tofu, seasoned with some human-hair soy sauce (and a little bit of bread made from human hair as a sidedish), and then wash it all down with this human-flavored rum. Yum! (Thanks to Big Gary for the link.)
Update: As Joe points out in the comments, this story sounds an awful lot like the tapping the admiral legend, which involves Admiral Nelson's body being preserved in a cask of rum while at sea, and the cask slowly being drained by sailors on the voyage home. World Wide Words points out that: "Jan Harald Brunvand, the American academic who has made a lifelong study of such legends, has told versions in one of his books, including a related one dating back six hundred years about some tomb robbers in Egypt. Other tales tell of containers holding similarly preserved bodies of monkeys or apes that spring a leak on their way from Africa to museums; the leaking spirits are consumed with a gusto that turns to horror when the truth of the situation emerges." So given the relatively flaky source on the Reuters story (a Hungarian website), it's probable that whoever runs the Hungarian website got taken in by an urban legend, and then Reuters in turn was taken in by it.
Status: Urban LegendThe Oroville Mercury Register has an interesting article about the lost art of saving— how people don't save stuff the way they used to. A lot of people, myself included, save rubber bands and plastic bags in order to reuse them, but back in the old days it was common to religiously save string and tinfoil. The tinfoil, in particular, was a bit of a mystery since it never seemed to be reused. It would just accumulate, the ball of it growing larger and larger over the years. The author of the article (I can't find a byline) also notes the strange, urban-legend-inspired custom of saving lids and other bits of junk:
Curtis MacDougall, in his 1940 book about hoaxes, notes the case of Earl Baker (pictured): "A stranger told Earl Baker, 11, of Coatesville, Pa., that he could obtain an artificial leg by collecting 50,000 match box covers. Later Earl, who lost his leg when he took a dare to hop a moving freight train, learned it was a hoax. Sympathetic neighbors took up a collection to buy him an artificial substitute." So this urban legend has been around for a while, but it's still going strong, as evidenced by the thread in the old hoax forum about Collecting Plastic Bottle Tops. Lots of people are still out there diligently saving empty bags of potato chips or bottle tops to get someone a wheelchair. If you hear about such a campaign, it's almost always going to be a hoax. I suppose this urban legend appeals to people because it makes them feel like they're doing something worthwhile, and it also plays to the fantasy of taking junk and transforming it into something of value.
Status: Urban LegendHere's an odd urban legend that I just stumbled across. Supposedly if you smear chapstick down the side of a scantron sheet (the kind used for standardized tests such as the SAT), the grading machine will mark all your answers correct. The theory is that the chapstick will interfere with the scanning light, confusing it into thinking that your answers are correct. Needless to say, this doesn't work.
Some guy named Richard Mangahas has written a short article detailing all kinds of theories about ways to cheat on scantron tests, including: marking or deleting the black lines along the side of the page, filling in the bubbles with cross-hatches, or placing tape along the side of the page. I don't think any of these methods would work either. (Though Mangahas claims some of them work 25-30% of the time... which is about the same percentage you would expect from guessing at the right answer.)
Maybe it was kids armed with chapstick that caused all those SAT-test score errors recently.
Status: Urban LegendOne of the many catalogs I receive is the Wine Enthusiast. On the inside cover of the catalog I received last week is a description of Symphony Stemware wine glasses which are supposedly "designed and shaped to enhance the best characteristics of every wine." Accompanying this claim is a map of the tongue with the following caption:
"The specially designed shape of each glass directs the flow of wine to the proper areas of your palate, emphasizing a wine's best qualities and creating a balanced taste for maximum enjoyment."
Symphony isn't the only company to use a tongue map to promote their glasses. Riedel uses the same gimmick in their marketing. The thing is, from what I understand, the tongue map is a completely bogus idea. The tongue is not divided into taste regions. And even if it were, no glass is going to be able to direct flavors to one specific area of the tongue.
An article from the August 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine ("Shattered Myths" by Daniel Zwerdling... I can't find a link to it), tackled the tongue-map myth at some length and thoroughly debunked it:
"The tongue map? That old saw?" scoffs Linda Bartoshuk when I reach her at her laboratory at the Yale Univerity School of Medicine. Bartoshuk has done landmark studies on how people taste. "No, no. There isn't any 'tongue map.'"
Wait a minute: When you sip Pinot Noir from the correct Riedel glass, won't it maximize the fruit flavors by rushing the wine to the "sweet" zone on the tip of your tongue? When you serve a Chardonnay with too much fruit, won't the correct glass balance the flavors by directing the wine to the "acid" spots near the middle? "Nope," Bartoshuk laughs. "It's wrong." She and other scientists have proved that you can taste salty, sweet, and bitter everywhere on the tongue where there are taste buds. "Your brain doesn't care where taste is coming from in your mouth," Bartoshuk says. "And researchers have known this for thirty years."
The Wikipedia article on taste buds also debunks the idea of the tongue map: "Contrary to popular understanding, taste is not experienced on different parts of the tongue. The 'tongue map myth' was based on a mistranslation of a German paper that was written in 1901 by a Harvard psychologist. Though there are small differences in sensation, which can be measured with highly specific instruments, all taste buds can respond to all types of taste."
Status: urban legendsAn article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer records some Philippine urban legends: the "White Lady" of Balete Drive, Robina Gokongwei's "snake twin" lurking in department store dressing rooms, the elusive "kapre" that lives in an ancient mango tree near the Emilio Aguinaldo house in Kawit town, and Andres Bonifacio's love child from a place aptly named Libog (now Santo Domingo) in Albay province. None of those mean much to me. But most of the article is devoted to discussing two other Philippine legends that are of more general interest. The first one is that Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, "was the father of Adolf Hitler, the result of an indiscretion with a prostitute in Vienna." The second one is that Jose Rizal was also Jack the Ripper:
Rizal was in London from May 1888 to January 1889, in the British Library copying "Sucesos de las islas Filipinas" by hand because there were no photocopying machines at the time. Jack the Ripper was active around this time, and since we do not know what Rizal did at night or on the days he was not
in the library, some people would like to believe Rizal is suspect. They argue that when Rizal left London, the Ripper murders stopped. They say that Jack the Ripper must have had some medical training, based on the way his victims were mutilated. Rizal, of course, was a doctor. Jack the Ripper liked women, and so did our own Rizal. And -- this is so obvious that many overlooked it -- Jose Rizal's initials match those of Jack the Ripper!
If Jack the Ripper did turn out to be Filipino, that would throw a wrench in his status as the Most Evil Brit of all time.
Nov 9, 2005: Japanese Urban Legends
Oct 14, 2004: Iraqi Urban Legends