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Urban Legends
Status: Urban Legend
image A 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:
Pity the poor Kellogg's marketing department... all they wanted to do was make an advert in which a chirpy young scamp would skip his way through the streets of a suburban town attracting other children like a Pied Piper with a silly ditty about his breakfast. So, they set out to hire an angelic young choirboy with a voice so beautiful it could shatter the beaks of songbirds. Then disaster struck. It appears that, on the way to the shoot, this choirboy's balls dropped with quite monstrous results. They wanted Aled Jones, but they got Mick Jones. And what we're left with is a jingle being sung by a boy at the exact moment his voice breaks, in a tone so monotonous it appears to be operating at a frequency which toys with people's bowels. It is, quite simply, the worst soundtrack to an advertisement ever. His voice is so oppressively dull that prolonged listening is like having every orifice systematically packed full of wet bread by a politician with no facial features.
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:
"The current advertisement has been well received by the vast majority of our customers. We would also like to take this opportunity to confirm that the lead boy within the advertisement is well and continues to live in his native South Africa."
You can listen to an mp3 clip of this portion of the Scott Mills show here.
Categories: Advertising, Death, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 07, 2006
Comments (102)
Status: Photoshopped
A 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)

image image
Categories: Photos/Videos, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue May 30, 2006
Comments (3)
Status: Urban Legend
Dwayne 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.
Categories: Technology, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon May 08, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Probably an urban legend mistaken as news
This could be the next big thing: Soylent Green Human-Flavored Rum. Reuters reports:
Hungarian builders who drank their way to the bottom of a huge barrel of rum while renovating a house got a nasty surprise when a pickled corpse tumbled out of the empty barrel, a police magazine website reported... the body of the man had been shipped back from Jamaica 20 years ago by his wife in the barrel of rum in order to avoid the cost and paperwork of an official return. According to the website, workers said the rum in the 300-liter barrel had a "special taste" so they even decanted a few bottles of the liquor to take home.
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.
Categories: Death, Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu May 04, 2006
Comments (15)
Status: Urban Legend
image The 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:

ANOTHER STRANGE form of saving stemmed from a kind of misguided philanthropy. I have no idea how the myth got started, but a lot of people believed that if you saved enough cigarette packs, cigar wrappers or coffee can lids, you could obtain a variety of devices needed by handicapped people. Fifty thousand empty cigarette packs would fetch a hospital bed; 10,000 cigar wrappers would get you a wheelchair.

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.
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu May 04, 2006
Comments (24)
Status: Urban Legend
Here'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.
Categories: Technology, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 11, 2006
Comments (37)
Status: Urban Legend
image One 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."
Categories: Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sun Feb 26, 2006
Comments (30)
Status: urban legends
An 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.

Related Posts:
Nov 9, 2005: Japanese Urban Legends
Oct 14, 2004: Iraqi Urban Legends
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 22, 2006
Comments (190)
Status: Urban Legends has a list of the 20 Most Popular Myths in Science. Included in the list are classics such as these:

It takes seven years to digest gum.
Hair and fingernails continue growing after death.
A penny dropped from the top of a tall building could kill a pedestrian.
Humans use only 10 percent of their brains.
You get less wet by running in the rain.
Eating a poppy seed bagel mimics opium use.

Oddly enough, they also throw a few strange-but-true items into this list of myths, such as these:

Chickens can live without a head.
Yawning is "contagious".
Categories: Science, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sat Feb 18, 2006
Comments (17)
The Comics Should Be Good blog is creating a database of comic book urban legends. I don't recognize all the names and characters referred to, but it makes for interesting reading anyway. Here's a few samples (full explanations for all of these at Comics Should Be Good):

Wolverine's costume was patterned in part on the uniforms of the Michigan Wolverines football team. (False)

Joker was originally killed off in his SECOND appearance! (True)

Wolverine was initially intended to be a genetically mutated wolverine. (True)

Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston invented the polygraph test! (False)

Marvel Comics licenses the use of the name "Hulk" to Hulk Hogan. (False, now... but it used to be true)

Marvel HAS to publish a Captain Marvel comic book. (For all intents and purposes, True)

DC had a Superman storyline set during the Holocaust that did not mention the word "Jew" or "Jewish." (True)

Nicolas Cage took his last name from Luke Cage, Hero For Hire. (True, depending on when you talk to Nicolas Cage)
Categories: Literature/Language, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 13, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: Undetermined
There's an old urban legend that states that the makers of lip balm (Carmex, specifically), add ground-up fiberglass to their product. The glass irritates people's lips, causing them to feel like they need to apply the balm again and again. There's another urban legend that states that lip balm interferes with the moisture sensors in the lips, causing lips to become dry and requiring more lip balm to be applied. Neither of these urban legends is true. Carmex debunks the fiberglass myth on their website, and the moisture sensor one is false because there are no such thing as moisture sensors in the lips. (At least, not ones that regulate the moisture levels of the lips.)

However, an Associated Press article points out that many lip balms contain salicylic acid or other irritants, and that these additives could encourage repeated use, thereby lending some substance to the charge that lip balm is physically addictive:

Dr. Monte Meltzer is the chief of dermatology at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. He says lip balm often includes ingredients that cause a tingling, such as salicylic acid, phenol and menthol. Some of these are exfoliants that cause lips to peel. In turn, the lips become thinner and less able to protect against the elements. So people need to apply again, and the vicious cycle continues.

Carmex, in its defense, tries to make out as if salicylic acid is a mild, non-irritating chemical, pointing out that it's "closely related to aspirin." However, I don't see why its relationship to aspirin is relevant since salicylic acid obviously does dry out your skin (which is why it's used in acne medicine).

However, even if lip balm isn't physically addictive, I know that it's definitely psychologically addictive, because my wife is totally addicted to the stuff. (I try to tell her that if her lips feel dry, she should drink more water, but she doesn't listen.) For those who are hooked on the stuff, Lip Balm Anonymous can offer some help.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 24, 2006
Comments (21)
Status: urban legends
The Auburn Plainsman (student paper of Auburn University) has a short article about campus urban legends. The ones they list are:

Endowment from old lady bans sorority houses: This UL seems to exist on every college campus that doesn't have sorority houses. It states that some rich old woman left a large sum of money to the college on the condition that they ban sorority houses, because she considered them to be brothels. The more likely reality, among those schools that have sororities but no sorority houses, is that women used to be required to live on campus. Once that rule was lifted, it was cheaper for sorority members to live on campus in dorms, so the houses were never built.

If you get hit by a campus bus the school will give you free tuition: Unlikely, but if you're lucky, maybe an insurance payout would cover the cost of tuition.

Students whose roommates commit suicide receive automatic straight A’s: A guy in my college class committed suicide. His roommate didn't get automatic straight A's. I don't think anyone ever has.

"Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, in the clear": Repeated at every campus party, though it has no basis in fact. The corollary to this UL is that if you sip beer through a straw, you'll get drunk quicker. This one I'm not sure about.

And a few that they left out:

The Sinking library: every campus has a library that's supposedly sinking, because the engineer who designed it forgot to include the weight of the books.

The ten-minute rule: If the professor hasn't shown up in the classroom within ten minutes of the start of the class, everyone gets to leave. I don't think this is official policy anywhere.
Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 19, 2006
Comments (33)
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