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Urban Legends
Status: Debunking an urban legend
Last year there was some discussion on the site about the gender of Santa's reindeer. The theory (as stated in an email that was doing the rounds) is that Santa's reindeer all have to be female because male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, whereas female reindeer retain their antlers until the spring. Big Gary, who's wintering in Alaska, has sent along this photo of "a bull reindeer in Fairbanks, Alaska, this Wednesday, December 21, 2005," which pretty much settles the question of whether male reindeers can have their antlers in late December, around Christmas time. They obviously can. So Santa's reindeer could be male or female. Thanks, Gary.
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Categories: Animals, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 26, 2005
Comments (10)
Status: Urban Legend
image This has already been posted in the hoax forum, but it's too good to ignore. Reuters has reported on a Mexican urban legend concerning a mannequin in the window of a bridal gown store in the city of Chihuahua. Local rumor has it that the mannequin is really the embalmed body of the former store owner's daughter. The former store owner was called Pascuala Esparza. La Pascualita means 'Little Pascuala' (i.e. her daughter). According to the legend her daughter died from the bite of a Black Widow spider on her wedding day, so Pascuala embalmed her and stood her up in the window of the store. It definitely is an urban legend because it would be impossible to embalm someone and have their flesh be preserved that perfectly. For some reason, people tend to think that it's easier to preserve a body than it actually is. For instance, there's also the urban legend about a dead wife used as a coffee table, in which a guy seals his dead wife inside an airtight glass coffin which he uses as a coffee table. In real life, it's not that easy to preserve a corpse.
Categories: Death, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 21, 2005
Comments (46)
Status: Urban legends
The blog of Mari Kanazawa has an interesting post about Japanese urban legends. Here are some of the highlights:

Turbo Gramma: When you drive on the highway at a blistering speed gramma knocks on the car window. If you see her, you will have a car accident. Someone made a turbo gramma game.

Touch the Red G-String: The delivery company trade mark of Sagawa is "Hikyaku", a traditional Japanese postman. Hikyaku wore a traditional red Japanese g-string Fundoshi! The legend was 'if you touch a red g-string on a sagawa truck, you will have good fortune, if you could touch it on a moving truck, the fortune would be bigger, and faster was better.' As far as I checked this story on the internet, many people wrote that they had tried touching it. I heard sagawa had to change their trade mark red g-string to red pants. ha ha ha

The Skylark Bellybutton: Skylark is a chain restaurant that we can find anywhere in Japan. The trade mark of the restaurant is a bird that has a bellybutton. The legend is if you can find one without a bellybutton, you can eat food free in the restaurant.

Hanako san in Toilet: There were many variation of the story but the basic one is very simple. It happens in a toilet at school: You knock three times on the toilet door, and say "Hanako san?" and you can hear someone reply "ha----i" quietly somewhere from empty toilet room. Because of this Hanako san boom, many kids could not go to toilet alone in those days. This Hanako san story was arranged and made into 4 movies.
Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 09, 2005
Comments (7)
Status: Urban Legend
I know a lot of people who swear by the notion that you have to sear meat "to seal in its juices." But I've always thought the idea was a bit far-fetched (though I agree that meat is best cooked hot and fast), so it pleased me to read, in a review of Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food, that most food experts agree that it is indeed an urban legend that searing meat will seal in its juices. About.com's barbeque expert agrees:

By definition, searing is to cook something hot and fast to brown the surface and to seal in the juices. Yet many of the leading cooking experts agree that searing does not seal in juices. Frankly the idea that you can somehow melt the surface of the meat into a material that holds in all the juices seems a little strange to me. But whether you believe searing seals in juices or not, a great cut of meat needs hot, dry heat to caramelize or brown the surface to give it that great flavor.

The same review of Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food lists a number of other food myths. For instance:

MSG Causes Headaches (aka Chinese Restaurant Syndrome): "Jeffery Steingarten, food editor of the Vogue in New York, debunked this myth pretty comprehensively. Given the widespread use of MSG in China, he asked why weren’t there a billion Chinese people with headaches? He then went around relentlessly researching the theory in his characteristically thorough way, and came to the conclusion that MSG, taken in normal quantities, was perfectly safe." (I know many people who swear they get headaches after eating MSG, so I'm reluctant to accept this as an urban legend. But some quick research reveals that a controlled study at Harvard University also concluded that MSG in food doesn't cause headaches.)

Croissants were invented during the 1529 Siege of Vienna, when a baker who foiled a Turkish plan to breach the city's walls was rewarded by being given a royal licence to produce crescent-shaped pastries: "Davidson debunks this romantic legend and informs us that in fact, the first reference to croissants did not appear until 1891, more than two centuries after the siege of Vienna."

In the Middle Ages spices were used to mask the flavor of spoiled meat: "Davison cites Gillian Riley to rubbish the notion... Indeed, in pre-refrigeration days, we had assumed that the role of spices and heavy sauces was to conceal the fact that meat had spoiled. Riley makes the valid point that in those days, spices were far too expensive to be used for this purpose."

Chop Suey was invented by a Chinese restaurant in California which threw together odds and ends ('chop suey' in Chinese) as a meal for drunken miners: "according to Anderson, quoted by Davidson, chop suey is a local dish from Toisan, a rural district south of Canton. In Cantonese, its name is tsap seui, meaning 'miscellaneous scraps'."
Categories: Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 26, 2005
Comments (36)
The recent publication of a novel for teenagers titled RAINBOW PARTY has revived debate about whether or not such 'rainbow parties' are real. As a recent NY Times article explained, "rainbow parties are group oral sex parties in which each girl wears a different shade of lipstick, and each guy tries to emerge sporting every one of the various colors." Such parties are supposedly all the rage with teenagers (kids these days!... what will they think of next?). In the book, a teenage girl has to decide whether or not to go to such a party, but the party ends up never taking place.

The concept of rainbow parties first gained widespread attention back in 2003 when a guest on the Oprah show claimed that all kinds of teenagers were going to these things. But the thing is, tales about rainbow parties always seem to be third-hand: coming from adults who are trying to raise alarms about teenage sexuality. The same NY Times article notes that "Many say rainbow parties are just a new urban legend -- suburban, actually -- not much more trustworthy than the old stories about alligators in the sewer."

I'd have to agree that the rainbow party concept is probably more urban legend than reality. It reminds me of the Jelly Bracelet tale (that teenagers supposedly wear color-coded jelly bracelets to indicate to other kids what kind of sexual acts they're willing to perform). But as always with such things, it may have started out fake, but give it enough time and someone, somewhere, is probably going to be inspired to make it real.
Categories: Sex/Romance, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 11, 2005
Comments (73)
This month, as I'm sure everyone is aware, is the 75th anniversary of the creation of Hostess Twinkies. To mark that anniversary it's worth linking to this article in which a Hostess marketing person tries to debunk that urban legend about how Twinkies last forever. He claims they only last 25 days. Yeah, right:

"We hear that they can survive a nuclear winter. Of course, it’s all urban legend," says Hostess marketing manager Kevin Kaul. But in fact, Interstate Brands Co., Hostess’ parent company, designates a 25-day shelf life for its most famous product. Interstate has 17 bakeries nationwide; they crank out 500 million Twinkies a year.
Categories: Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 27, 2005
Comments (30)
image Was the Nike Swoosh (which is perhaps one of the most famous corporate logos in the world, second only to McDonald's golden arches) really designed by a graphic design student who got paid only $35 for it? It sounds like an urban legend playing off of Nike's use of cheap Asian sweatshop labor. But apparently the story is true. At least, the Nike website confirms it. The swoosh was designed in 1971 by design student Carolyn Davidson, and she did only receive $35 for it. However, in 1983 the company gave her a gift of stock as a token of their appreciation.
Categories: Business/Finance, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 06, 2005
Comments (7)
Here's an old news story (from Dec. 2003), but it's still interesting from an urban legend perspective. An 18-year-old youth in South Africa claims that three women forced him at gunpoint to have sex with them. "The youth claims that after this the women said welcome to the world of Aids." It seems like the police didn't believe his story. They just laughed at him, which isn't surprising considering that his story is exactly like that urban legend about someone who wakes up after a one-night stand to find the person they slept with has disappeared and written 'Welcome to the world of AIDS' on the bathroom mirror. But just imagine if the kid is telling the truth. No one will ever believe him.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 17, 2005
Comments (11)
A Connecticut senator, Andrea Stillman, has introduced a bill into the state legislature to impose a $250 fine on anyone who uses a cell phone while pumping gas. She sees it as a public health issue. Here's her reasoning:

Stillman said there are already warnings pasted on gas pumps informing people that a cell phone in the proximity of a gas pump could cause an electrical charge that might ignite the pump. However, she said, there are no penalties.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought that whole thing about cell phones making gas pumps blow up was just an urban legend. Engadget agrees, pointing out that "there’s no evidence that a cellphone has ever sparked a fire at a gas station."
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 10, 2005
Comments (44)
I came across this story posted on LiveJournal. This may be an urban legend that's been around for a while, but I haven't heard it before:

Subject: The most disgusting thing I've ever heard. Ever.
So I know this girl. She has all these weird white things in the back of her throat, so she goes to the doctor thinkings she got some nasty STD of the mouth. Turns out its not an STD at all. She has f*****ng maggots growing in her throat. (I know this girl, this is not an urban legend) So the doctor asks how many people shes having sex with and she tells him only her boyfriend. She is told by the doctor that her boyfriend is either having sex with animals or with dead people. Her boyfriend works in a morgue.


Update: David Emery at About.com has a lengthy write-up about earlier versions of this story. So yes, it is an old urban legend.
Categories: Death, Sex/Romance, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 10, 2005
Comments (30)
Here's an unusual urban legend that I haven't heard before. It involves a group of students at Texas A&M University who are sharing a house together. It's in the genre of 'roommate horror stories'. According to the story, one of the students is an entomology major and keeps a collection of giant Africanized cockroaches in a terrarium. But during a party the terrarium breaks and the roaches escape, only to start breeding like crazy in the house. To solve this roach problem the students set loose some baby armadillos (since armadillos eat roaches). But soon the armadillos start breeding, without making much of a dent in the roach population, until eventually the house is full of a lot of roaches and a lot of armadillos. At this point the roommates decide to get some shotguns and shoot all the roaches and armadillos, but only succeed in busting up the house. And to make a long story short, the armadillos eventually start tunneling beneath the house, creating a sink hole that causes the entire building to collapse and fall into the ground. So in other words, the animals win in the end. The students are left with a bill for $25,000 in damages, courtesy of the landlord.
Categories: Animals, Folklore/Tall Tales, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 09, 2005
Comments (15)
The Guardian offers their selection of the 10 greatest rock 'n' roll myths ever. Top of the list is the one about Mama Cass choking to death on a ham sandwich. It was also news to me to find out that Michael Jackson doesn't own the Elephant Man skeleton. I always thought he did.
Categories: Entertainment, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 23, 2005
Comments (9)
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