Saturday, June 30, 2007

Undercover Sunday

Sybil's Cave

Just across the Hudson River from Manhattan lies Hoboken, New Jersey. Famed for being the birthplace of both Frank Sinatra and baseball (not to mention the home of the Hoboken Monkey Boy), this waterfront town has at least one fascinating feature that (until recently) only its oldest citizens remembered.

Below Hoboken, carved into the cliffs that rise from the banks of the river, is a place known as Sybil's Cave. Though it lies in full view of Manhattan’s skyscrapers, the cave was little more than a legend until it was rediscovered in 2004 by a plucky team of urban adventurers.

In the 19th century, wealthy New Yorkers liked to row across to Hoboken for a scenic stroll along the shore. In 1832, an enterprising businessman figured he could make a fortune by keeping the visitors hydrated. He dug more than thirty feel into the cliffs until he reached a natural spring that lay hidden inside. His man-made cave became a well-known destination, and glasses of spring water were sold to the crowds for a penny a piece. (At the time, the water was said to have healing powers. Later it was discovered to be unfit for human consumption.)

Less than a decade passed before the spot acquired a sinister reputation. In 1841, the body of a lovely young woman named Mary Rogers was found floating in the Hudson, not far from the cave. Her "murder" became a sensation in New York (not unlike the OJ Simpson trial) and inspired Edgar Allan Poe to pen the tale "The Mystery of Marie Roget." (Which he wisely set in Paris, rather than New Jersey.) The story, featuring the incomparable C. Auguste Dupin, is widely regarded as one of the first modern detective stories. I heartily recommend both it and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” to anyone who doesn’t mind a little blood, guts, and scandal.

Unfortunately, adventurers planning a trip to Sybil's Cave this summer will be sorely disappointed. According to this story in the New York Times, the cave has been filled in. Politicians are promising it will one day be restored, but I’m not going to hold my breath. What a shame!

(Below: Mary Rogers)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Where Do I Sign Up?

NPR recently featured an envy-inspiring story about a group of teenagers from around the world who are spending the summer of 2007 at . . . Explosives Camp! That's right, there's a camp in Missouri where kids learn how to handle and detonate dynamite, TNT, and plastic explosives. It was created in order to attract new workers to the field of mine engineering. (Though I'm not sure how this relates to blowing up chickens. And I really hope the chicken mentioned in the story was dead to begin with.)

My favorite quote comes from a young man named Brian Meadows. "Some people like baseball, others like math – I just like to set off bombs." I think I know the perfect girl for him.

Have Thirty Minutes to Spare?

I'm not one for plugging movies, but I just visited the website for the Simpsons movie. The "Create Your Own Avatar" game (if you can call it that) is pretty cool.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The World's Most Unusual Restaurant

From what I can tell this isn't a joke. Check it out. Supposedly, the fear of heights is the third most common phobia. Find a list of the top ten here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Most Dangerous State

If you're the sort of person who enjoys living on the edge, I recommend you move to Florida. That's right, the state that's home to Disney World, Shamu, and probably your grandpa is my pick for the most dangerous state in the USA. It's true that other states have higher crime rates and less hospitable climates. But in Florida, nature attacks. I'm not talking about the hurricanes or lightning strikes. (Florida leads the nation in both.) I'm talking about the kind of nature that jumps out of a pond, grabs you by the arm and drags you underwater. Here's my evidence.

1. Giant grasshoppers have recently taken over at least one Florida community. (Watch the amusing video here. I wouldn't want to tick-off the woman with the bb gun.)

2. On Monday, an eleven-foot, one-eyed gator sprang out of a pond in Venice, Florida, and pulled a golfer underwater. (Find out what happened here.)

3. Enormous pythons (pets that have been set free) now make their home in the Florida everglades. Some grow large enough to feed on alligators, but I'm sure they wouldn't mind snacking on a human from time to time. (See a truly disgusting picture here.)

4. Giant, poisonous cane toads. (Boy, those toads get around.) Bob cats. Six different kinds of venomous snakes. And do I even need to mention the SHARKS?

5. But no other Florida species compares to the Swamp Ape. Though they're not necessarily prone to violence, seeing one would be enough to give you a heart attack. (Not familiar with the Swamp Ape? Watch this fabulous, two-part documentary and check out the photo below.)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Watch Your Head!

Last week, when Indian police arrested a gang of smugglers, they confiscated an unusual cache of ill-gotten goods—hundreds of human skulls and thighbones.

Authorities believe the remains had been gathered in Varanasi, a city in northern India. (See below.) There, Hindus bring their dead to be cremated on the banks of the holy river Ganges. Unfortunately, scavengers are often lurking nearby. Bones pulled from the river and plucked from funeral pyres have been sold for centuries—for use in traditional medicines or medical experiments. This time, however, the bones had another destination.

The smugglers confessed that they were on their way to the remote kingdom of Bhutan, nestled high in the Himalayan Mountains. There, they planned to sell the bones to Buddhist monasteries (like the one shown below). Monks (practitioners of a particular school of Tibetan Buddhism) would transform the femurs into horns used in religious ceremonies. The skulls would be used as drinking chalices in rituals.

Gruesome! (I should point out that Buddhism has many different schools. This practice is would seem as unusual to most Buddhists as snake-handling would seem to most Christians.)

For more on the story, click here

(Below: A Tibetan skull cup and a horn made from a human thighbone.)

Urban Safari

Visiting New York City? Why bother with the crowds at the Statue of Liberty when you could spend your vacation hunting down flying squirrels in Queens!

New York Magazine has just published an excellent field guide to the unexpected animal species that roam the New York area. (Though they fail to offer any advice when it comes to spotting the dreaded sewer alligator or the loathsome wharf rat.) Here's a brief excerpt . . .

Species: Native
City habitat: Queens

Yes, they really do exist, but no, they don’t really fly. These small squirrels use a flap of skin between their front and back legs like a parachute to glide. Rangers have seen them at Alley Pond Park in Bayside; they won’t publicize where, so you’ll have to show up for one of their summer night hikes. Flying squirrels are nocturnal, only visible at dusk, so summer’s later sunsets are more conducive to sightings. Rumor has it that flying squirrels have also been spotted in Forest Park in Forest Hills.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bring On The Flies!

Who knew killing insects could be so darn entertaining? Shaped like a Venus fly trap, the Fly Catcher (available in the UK) is an essential gadget for anyone who lives next to a garbage dump or pig farm. Hidden inside its mouth is a non-toxic bait. When a fly lands for a nibble, the Fly Catcher's jaws snap shut, killing the pest in an instant. Then comes the best part--the device issues a loud burp, indicating it's ready for another meal. Truly technology at its best.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Good News or Bad News?

Studies have shown that the oldest child in a family tends to have the highest IQ. (This passes for news? I could have told you that a long time ago.) Unfortunately the advantage is only a measly three points on average. Don't believe me? Here's the article from the New York Times. Use it to lord over your siblings--or to potty-train your new puppy.

(Above: Typical oldest child. Below: Typical youngest child)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kiki Strike Author Comes Clean

Three new interviews have been posted this week. How much is true? It's anyone's guess.

Jen Robinson's Book Page
Miss Erin's Website
A Fuse 8 Production

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Words Fail Me

I give you . . . dramatic chipmunk.

How to Be Anonymous in 75 Countries

If you're ever on the run from assassins, you'll need to know how to protect your identity. Anyone hiding out in the US may want to give the name "Jane Doe" to any hotel clerks, census workers, or overly friendly strangers she happens to come across. But should you decide to flee across the Atlantic, Pacific, or Rio Grande, you might want to consider a new alias. The following is a short list of "anonymous" names around the world.

Erika Mustermann (Germany)
Juanita dela Cruz (Philippines)
Folana (Lebanon)
Shim Cheong (Korea)
Yamada Hanako (Japan)
Jóna Jónsdóttir (Iceland)
Tade Tadopulou (Greece)
Trần Thị B (Vietnam)
Madamoiselle Unetelle (France)

Not thrilled by the prospect of hiding out in Iceland? (I personally think it's a fabulous idea.) Check here to find the generic name for the country of your choice. (And a somewhat interesting history of the name John Doe.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Beast That Could Conquer New York

No, not the guy. The crab. Kind of reminds me of the Australian cane toad plague. (For those too lazy to click, cane toads are huge, ugy creatures with toxic skin.)

How To Week Continues . . .

Many of life's most important decisions are often made with a quick game of "rock, paper, scissors." Fortunately, you no longer need to allow chance to decide who gets the last piece of pumpkin pie--or who gets to see if the police are still waiting outside.

The genuises at have created a handy list of tips for winning against amateur "rock, paper, scissors" players. (In case you're wondering, there are actually professionals.) A sample of some of their advice:

" . . . males have a tendency to lead with Rock on their opening throw. It has a lot to do with idea that Rock is perceived as 'strong” and forceful', so guys tend to fall back on it. Use this knowledge to take an easy first win by playing Paper."

Great stuff. But if a little insider information isn't enough to ensure victory, less scrupulous players can check out this quick guide to cheating.

On a related note, be sure to read the fabulous story of a multi-million dollar art deal that was decided by a game of "rock, paper, scissors." The winning party borrowed its strategy from eleven-year-old twins Flora and Alice Maclean. The losers? The poor suckers thought it was just a game of chance.

Monday, June 18, 2007

This Week in Crazy

At Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, Virginia, order must be preserved at all costs! That's why Principal Deborah Hernandez has seen fit to ban all forms of physical contact. Aside from the obvious--fistfights, PDA, wedgies--the ban also includes handshakes, hugs, and high fives. One young man, Hal Beaulieu, was recently sent to the school office when he was spotted putting his arm around a girlfriend--even though, by all accounts, the girl was hardly offended. So Hal took his tale of injustice straight to the Washington Post. Click here for the full story.

How to Make Your Messages Glow

I'm thinking of proclaiming this "HOW TO WEEK". Don't hold me to it. Anyway, I just found this great video (below), which offers very simple instructions for making your printer ink glow. Watch it with the proofreading part of your brain switched off.

(Above: Fluorescent green pigs from China. No joke.)

How Make Glowing Printer Ink - Free videos are just a click away

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I've Been Outclassed!

I love this. Thanks, Anonymous.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Adopt a Squid

My kind of charity. All proceeds are sent to the Red Cross to help tsunami victims.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tips for All You Trendsetters

A hot (and strange) Tokyo trend just landed on American shores. The redesigned Shu Uemura cosmetics store in New York's SOHO neighborhood features a "lash bar" where customers can purchase a wide range of false eyelashes in a stunning array of textures and colors. Many (like those shown above and below) are made from feathers and cost around $50. See some of the other options here.

For those of you who prefer your fashion to have a little more edge, there's Sleeves, a company that sells clothing designed to look like tattoos. The shirt shown below could be great if you need to go undercover to a Hell's Angels convention.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fascinating Whale Facts (No, Really!)

A 49-foot bowhead whale that was recently caught off the coast of Alaska revealed an amazing secret. Lodged deep in its blubber was a small metal cylinder. When experts examined the object, they identified it as a fragment of a weapon that had been manufactured in New Bedford, Connecticut and fired from a shoulder gun . . . in 1890. Apparently the whale (estimated to be 115 to 130 years old) had survived at least one other attempt on its life. Had it gotten lucky again, it might have lived to the ripe old age of 200. (Who knew?) For more information, click here.

In other interesting (and slightly old) whale news, check out the story about a New York woman who's the proud owner of a huge hunk of whale vomit (otherwise known as ambergris and "floating gold") that could be worth $18,000. Why so much? Whale vomit, it seems, is a key ingredient in many fine perfumes. (A fact you could have probably lived without, but I couldn't resist.)

(Below: Whale vomit?)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Whatever You Do . . . Don't Drink the Water!

Kyleray Katherman had a problem. The drinking fountain water at his Oregon middle school tasted like sludge, but bottled water was banned on school grounds. The thirteen-year-old figured he had two options. He could run the risk dehydration—or he could take matters into his own hands. Like any unusually named hero, Kyleray chose the latter.

With a box of Q-tips as his only weapon, Kyleray took on the water fountains at Oregon Coast Technology School. He swabbed their spigots and allowed the bacteria he collected to grow in Petri dishes. But the real stroke of genius? He also took a sample from a toilet bowl for comparison. The results were truly nauseating.

The toilet bowl water was clean and potable. The water fountains, on the other hand, were teeming with foul bacteria. With his findings in hand, Kyleray urged school administrators to either rescind the ban on bottle water—or supply water coolers for the kids. Their reaction? They simply cleaned the existing water fountains.

Oh well. You can't win every time. But Kyleray has earned a place in the Irregular's hall of fame.

For the whole story, click here.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Make It Official

Forming a secret organization? Need a stamp of approval from a credible source? Planning to take over the world? Your own official seal is just a few clicks away. This handy site allows you to design and download your own seals or badges. Ahhh . . . the possibilities.

(And if anyone with visual skills greater than mine would like to create a better seal than the one shown above, be my guest!)

This is a Public Service Announcement

I found this series of photos on Each shows a family from a different country, surrounded by the food they consume in an average week. The moral of this story? (Aside from counting your blessings.) EAT YOUR VEGETABLES! The two US families (and the one British family) featured in the essay consume too many foods that come in a box, bag, or can. It's a wonder they don't all have scurvy.

OK, enough of that. Back to the bizarre.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Crystal Skull

I'm back from vacation, speckled with mosquito bites and sporting a few nasty (yet non-life threatening) wounds. Where was I? Swimming through dark rainforest caves with a waterproof flashlight strapped to my forehead. Getting up close and personal with barracudas and sharks. Skimming across crocodile-infested waters in boats old enough to have ferried my great-grandparents across the Volga. Pretty much your average holiday, I suppose.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't bore you with the details. However, as I was hiking through the ancient Mayan city of Lubaantun, (which is now inhabited by hundreds of large iguanas), I was reminded of a mystery that's long piqued my curiousity. Hopefully, you'll find it just as intriguing. (Below: The still unexcavated remains of Lubaantun.)

In the 1920s, sixteen-year-old Anna Mitchell-Hedges accompanied her father, a well-known English adventurer and writer, on an expedition to the country then known as British Honduras. (It's now named Belize.) Back in those days, pretty much anyone could grab a shovel and call himself an archaeologist, and F.A. Mitchell-Hedges (author of books such as Battles With Giant Fish; Danger, My Ally; and Land of Wonder and Fear) was no exception. He set about raiding temples that had long belonged to the jungle—probably destroying far more than he uncovered.

Mitchell-Hedges never found a royal tomb or a cache of priceless artifacts. In fact, the only remarkable discovery made at Lubantuun was made by his daughter. On her seventeenth birthday, (or so the story goes), Anna was watching workers open a temple when she spotted something sparkling in the sun. She scrambled down to investigate and pulled a life-sized crystal skull from the rubble. (Below, two views of the Lubantuun skull.)

Known today as the Skull of Doom, Anna's discovery has been a source of controversy for decades. Perfectly detailed and cut from extremely hard quartz crystal, the skull appears to have been crafted using technology unavailable to the ancient Maya. Yet even with modern tools, the skull would have required a remarkable amount of time and skill to produce. In other words, even if it isn’t ancient, the Skull of Doom is no ordinary fake.

However, the Skull of Doom isn’t the only crystal skull that’s said to have been pulled from the ruins of an ancient Mayan city. London’s Museum of Mankind and the Trocadero Museum in Paris display similar skulls, both reputedly uncovered in Mexico. Some sources even claim that as many as thirteen have been found in the last two centuries. (Others put the number closer to five.)

There are many who say that the beautifully made-skulls are of alien or Atlantean origin and boast supernatural powers. There are others who insist that the skulls can all be traced back to an enigmatic French art dealer named Eugène Boban. But whether the skulls are thousands of years old—or only slighly older than the Eiffel Tower—one thing's for certain. The Maya who still live in the jungle that surrounds Lubantuun want their skull back. For now, it's still decorating the living room of Anna Mitchell-Hedges, who died in April at the age of 100.

(PS: Happy birthday, Theatre.)