Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Have You Seen the Little People?

You might be surprised to learn how many people around the world believe in faeries, elves, and little people. (Particularly in Iceland.) I'm not sure I'd place myself in the believers' camp, but after watching this video, my mind is more open to the possibility than it once was. What do you think?

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Mysterious Flying Creatures of Texas

For centuries, many of the Native American tribes who live in the western half of the US have told stories of creatures known as thunderbirds. Big (and fierce) enough to feed on full-grown bison, with wings so powerful that they could produce thunderclaps, the birds hold a special place in tribal lore.

But could thunderbird legends be based on animals still living in remote parts of America?

In 1890, two Arizona cowboys claimed to have killed a gigantic, featherless bird. Photographs (which disappeared long ago) are said to have shown a strange creature with an alligator-like head and a wingspan longer than the length of a barn. Some believe that the bird's description matches that of the extinct Pteranodon (see above).

In the years since, sightings of similar flying “monsters” have been surprisingly common, particularly in South Texas. According to one terrified San Antonio eyewitness, an enormous, black creature with “stooped-up shoulders” flew over his car less than ten years ago. In 1976, three schoolteachers reported that their car had been similarly “buzzed.”

Yet another reputable witness claims he once saw two of the birds perched on a hillside. “These creatures were so huge they looked like the size of small planes,” he said. “All of the sudden one of them jumped off dropped off the top of the mountain, came down the front of the mountain and all the sudden these huge wings just spread out. I would say the wings were at least a 20-foot wingspan.”

What have people been seeing? Are they condors? Optical illusions? Living dinosaurs? Or maybe a mothman?

Read more here and here.

(Below: Is this one of the missing "thunderbird" photos?)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pay Your Respects to the Dead

Late one day a few years back, while I was out for a bike ride through Paris, I turned a corner and found myself outside the walls of one of the most famous graveyards in the world. I was alone. The sun was sinking, and the air reeked of rain. But I decided to stop and take a tour. What followed was one of the most unnerving experiences of my life.

Many of France's most famous citizens have been laid to rest in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, which opened in 1804. Seventy years later, the sprawling city of the dead was the site of a brutal massacre that claimed 147 lives and haunts the country to this day.

The terrible history of Pere Lachaise, along with its narrow, winding paths and macabre tombs make it a place best explored with a friend or a bodyguard. Fortunately, you can now take this amazing virtual tour from safety of your own bedroom. For the full experience, I recommend visiting the site late at night with the lights turned off.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pass the Spicy Bug Paste, Please

I just came across a remarkable site. Thailand Unique offers a full range of Thai delicacies that are usually unavailable in the United States. If you've ever felt the desire to sample BBQ-flavor bamboo worms, dried buffalo dung beetles, green curry crocodile, or preserved giant water scorpions, this is the grocery store of your dreams! (Those over 21 can wash it all down with king cobra whisky and scorpion liquor.)

Bon Appetit!

(Above: Vine Snake Wine. Below: Mixed Roasted Bugs)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Oh No, He's Looking Right At You!

Say hello to Oscar. He lives in a Providence, Rhode Island nursing home. In most respects, he's an ordinary cat. Except for one thing . . . Oscar knows when people are about to die.

In the two years since Oscar was adopted by the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, he has inexplicably appeared at the deathbeds of more than 25 patients. He seems to know--even when the doctors don't--that a person is standing at death's door.

Read more about Oscar in the Boston Globe. But be forewarned: The story is seriously creepy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Adios, Bat Boy

This is a tragic day for journalism. It's been reported that "The World's Only Reliable Newspaper" will soon be closing its doors for good.

Over the past three decades, The Weekly World News has been the only American newspaper with the guts to print the shocking truth . . . that Abraham Lincoln was a woman, Dick Cheney is a robot, Elvis is alive, and mermaids are periodically captured off the coast of Florida. But these days, the paper is perhaps best known for introducing the world to a remarkable young man known as Bat Boy (alias Guy Fledermaus).

Discovered in a cave fifteen years ago, the half-bat, half-human Bat Boy has long been hunted by both scientists and the US government. But being constantly on the run hasn't prevented him from enjoying a full and satisfying life. Since 1992, Bat Boy has engaged in grand theft auto, viciously attacked an Orlando fifth-grader (see what I mean about Florida?), run for governor of California, lived in New York's subway tunnels, bitten Santa Claus, received an art degree, captured Saddam Hussein, and endorsed Al Gore for president.

Now that The Weekly World News is folding, who will chronicle Bat Boy's adventures? Will we be forced to follow Lindsey Lohan's pathetic misadventures instead? Where will we turn for inspiration and guidance?

Fortunately, the WWN hasn't left us completely in the dark. It's website offers a useful guide to future events--all the way to 2022. Here's just a glimpse of what lays in store for us . . .

2008 BUCHAREST, Romania — Vampires realize that the blood of tuna fish suits their macabre nutritional requirements as effectively as human blood. The undead begin lurking near the shores of the Black Sea, sucking fish dry and discreetly throwing their bodies into the water.

2009 BUCHAREST, Romania — An unexpected side effect of the new vampiric diet occurs when the discarded fish themselves return to life as vampires. The fishing industry comes to an abrupt halt while authorities try to capture and kill the thousands of bloodthirsty ‘nosferatuna.’

Monday, July 23, 2007

Put Your Sleuthing Skills to the Test!

You've studied Kiki Strike. You're a first-class master of disguise, you know how to tail a suspicious subject, and you never leave your duct tape at home. But do you have what it takes to be a detective?

Here are four handy quizzes to help you find out . . .

#1 Can you tell the difference between a real mystery and a Scooby Doo plot? (It's harder than you think!) Take the quiz here.

#2 Could you solve the perfect murder? Take this test provided by the BBC.

#3 Would you know what to do at the scene of a crime? Find out here before it's too late!

#4 Ready for the big time? If you can ace this exam, you probably deserve your own TV show.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I Give In

This afternoon, I'm going to purchase the latest Harry Potter book. Once it's in my hands, I shall read it cover to cover without stopping for food, water, or social companionship. So if you don't hear from me for a little while, don't alert the authorities.

Just one last bit of weirdness before I leave for the bookstore. Last Sunday, Brooklyn residents woke to see a beautiful, barefoot young woman sleeping on a ledge ABOVE the door of brownstone. According to this report (with pictures), she was wearing a bridal gown and clutching a bag shaped like a teddy bear. Inside the bag was a diamond ring in a Tiffany box.

The woman didn't utter a single word as police officers helped her down. No one knows why she was in Brooklyn--or how she climbed up to the ledge in an ankle-length wedding dress.

If anyone's looking for a good way to start a story, this is it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

It's Superhero Friday!

I thought I should probably add a more cheerful post after the last one. So here's a fabulous list of 9 superhuman powers made possible by modern technology, which include flying, being invisible, and scaling walls Spiderman-style!

I'll even add a few of my own . . .

#10 The power to leap from airplanes without a parachute (and survive, of course).

#11 The power to ride the subway bat-style (and freak out your fellow passengers).

#12 The power to control objects with your mind.

Interested in saving the world? Read more about real-life superheroes here.

What Lies Beneath Your Feet

New York may be the greatest city on Earth, but living here does have its downsides. Many of you may have heard about the disaster in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday. According to news reports, a steam pipe beneath Lexington Avenue exploded after cool water from a rainstorm trickled down from the street above. The destruction was unbelievable. For over an hour, a geyser of mud and searing-hot steam shot past the upper floors of nearby skyscrapers. When it was finally stopped, workers discovered a giant crater in the middle of the street, which had swallowed an entire tow-truck. (See above.)

It wasn't long ago that I worked in one of the buildings across from the explosion, and I'm happy to report that none of my former co-workers were injured. More than forty other people weren't quite as lucky.

How could this happen? As anyone who's read Kiki Strike knows, New York City is hollow. And many of the tunnels, pipes, and power lines that lie underneath the asphalt are old and decaying. This wasn't the first time something like this has happened, and unfortunately it probably won't be the last.

So what exactly is down there? Take the National Geographic tour of the city's subterranean world. (No, they don't let you visit the Shadow City, which lies deeper than the subway tracks. But it's interesting nonetheless.) For those who'd like to learn more about what goes on in the city's underground, check out Kate Ascher's The Works, one of my favorite books of all time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Strange Creature Snapped in Seattle

This photo was taken a few days ago outside a Seattle office building. Since then, it's popped up on innumerable websites. Everyone wants to know . . . what the heck IS it? The experts over at Cryptomundo seem to think it's a naked mole rat, but I beg to differ. (Just look at the ears.) Other than that, I have no clue what it might be. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Britain Will Be Invaded This Summer

That's right. By an army of rubber duckies.

Fifteen years ago, a shipment of plastic bathtub toys made in China and destined for the United States was washed overboard during a violent storm in the Pacific Ocean. Since then, almost 30,000 rubber ducks, turtles, and frogs have been touring the world on the ocean's currents. First they washed ashore in Hawaii, Australia, and South America. Then, several thousand turned north and spent years frozen in the Arctic ice before they finally broke free.

Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking the ducks (and studying the planet's oceans and climate) since 1992. He says they've already been spotted on America's eastern shores, and it's now clear that they're headed for Britain. Be sure to look for them on the beaches of south-west England. Anyone lucky to find a yellow duck, blue turtle, or green frog labeled "The First Years" is eligible for (the equivalent of) a $100 reward!

Read more here.

(Above: Artist Florentijn Hofman's massive rubber duckie, currently located on the Loire River in France.)

The Golden Compass

I'm a huge fan of the Philip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials. I can't wait for the movie based on the first book to be released this winter. I just came across the fabulous trailer. Enjoy!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Scientists Don't Know Everything

As you might suspect, I spend a great deal of time watching television shows that profile various members of the cryptid community—creatures, such as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and Chupacabra that the scientific community contends are mere myths. To make the reporting seem fair and balanced, there’s always a skeptic or two thrown in for good measure. You don’t even need to hear them speak to know which side they’re on—you can always recognize a skeptic by the self-satisfied smirk on his face.

It’s silly, he’ll say, to think that there might be a large primate species that remains unknown to science. It’s ridiculous to wonder if animals long thought to be extinct might still inhabit remote forests. And anyone who thinks there could be something big lurking in Loch Ness should stop sniffing Wite-out.

That’s why I bring you the following news with a great deal of pleasure. The skeptics have been proven wrong once again. Another creature whose reputed existence was once ridiculed by scientists has been discovered. This time, it’s the giant, lion-eating chimps of the magic forest.

The people who inhabit the dense, virtually inaccessible forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo have long told stories of enormous apes that feed on lions and howl at the moon. Some suggested they were a cross between gorillas and chimpanzees. Others thought they might be a new species of primate. But many in the Western scientific community simply refused to acknowledge their existence.

Now, there’s undeniable proof. A team of scientists from the University of Amsterdam spent months living in a part of the Congo that’s so inaccessible and pristine that it’s known as the magic forest. There, they studied—and photographed—a previously unknown group of extraordinarily large chimps. And while the apes haven’t been heard howling at the moon, they do like to snack on a panther from time to time.

It just goes to show you. There are things out there that we don’t know about yet. And that's just the way I like it.

(Below: The creature that hid from science.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday the 13th is Stupid

Sorry to disappoint you. I thought there might be a fascinating tale behind the superstition. (Yes, I read The DaVinci Code.) But apparently it's due to the pairing of the traditionally sinister number thirteen with Friday, which was once considered the unluckiest day of the week. (Long before the modern work/school week was created, I'm sure.)

So for today's post, I'm turning to an old standby, the wonderful country of Japan. (Where they don't give a hoot about Friday the 13th.) Seems the Japanese aren't just interested in creating the perfect dog (see below), they've also turned their talents to the fruit and vegetable world. Now, thanks to farmers in the "Land of the Rising Sun," all you have to do is hop on a plane to purchase watermelons with human faces or cucumbers shaped like hearts and stars.

Of course these not-so-natural wonders don't come cheap. I couldn't find a price for the melon with a face, but square watermelons cost almost $100 US, and the going rate for a pyramid-shaped fruit is around $650. (And they don't even taste very good!)

For more pictures and information, visit the wonderful PingMag.

I've Gone Crazy for Cuteness

Arrgh. Must stop! One more before I return to the usual "dangerous" subjects. (Like the fact that it's Friday the 13th!)

Say hello to little Heart-kun, product of a Japanese dog breeder's fiddling with the Chihuahua gene-code. He's apparently the first of a 1,000 she plans to market. (Not sure how I feel about that.) Want another picture? Why not. I can't seem to stop myself.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cute Little Bunnies Have Taken Over China

Known as Tuzki, these faceless rabbits are huge overseas. See more here.

Four Good Reasons to Stay Out of the Water

1. Piranah

Earlier this month, a fisherman in North Carolina pulled a one-pound, four-ounce piranah out of the Catawba Riber. Wanna bet he won't be going for a swim any time soon?

2. Giant, Leaping Fish

Imagine you're zipping across Florida's Suwannee River on your Jet Ski when an 8-foot, 200-pound sturgeon leaps out of the water and wallops you. Numerous people have been injured already this summer. No one knows whether the fish are homicidal, suicidal, or just having a laugh.

3. The "New Jersey Mystery Creature"

4. Monsters

It's not just Loch Ness that's rumored to have an unidentified beastie swiming through its waters. Countless lakes around the world are said to be home to a monster (or two). I couldn't possibly list them all, but here are a few of the most intriguing . . .

The Lake Van monster in eastern Turkey.
Champ, which makes its home in Lake Champlain.
The Altamaha-Ha, which is said to inhabit a river in southern Georgia.
Canada's Ogopogo
Selma, from Norway.
Argentina's own Nahuelito.

(Oddly enough, sturgeon and giant eels are often key suspects in lake monster sightings.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gruesome Crafts and Home Decor

Hand soap anyone?

What about an eyeball pincushion?

And my personal favorite, the blood puddle head cushion

What Goes Well With Giant Squid?

How about a 44lb (20kg) mushroom? This one was found in southern Mexico, not far from the Guatemalan border.

How About A Beach BBQ?

Yesterday a beach-goer discovered a giant squid washed up on the western coast of Tasmania. Because the carcass was badly decayed, the squid's true size could not be measured. However, it's believed to have been a "whopper" as one scientist put it. Read more here. (Below: The latest discovery.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pink, Man-Eating Dolphin Terrorizes Louisiana

Kidding. A pink dolphin with blazing red eyes was recently spotted in a lake in southwest Louisiana. Scientists believe it may be an albino. Kind of cute.

Are You Worth More Dead Than Alive?

Ever wonder how much you could get for your own corpse if you could sell it piece by piece? Now you can find out with this handy Cadaver Calculator!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Prehistoric Mammoth Found Frozen in Siberia

Not long ago, in a place far, far away (Siberia), a reindeer herder stumbled upon a frozen carcass. Embedded in the permafrost was a 4-foot, 110-pound woolly mammoth. (An extinct species related to the African elephant, mammoths lived in frigid climates. They were covered in dense, reddish-brown hair, stood up to 12 feet at the shoulder, and could weigh up to 8 tons.) It wasn’t the first time one of the species has been found trapped in the ice, but this discovery was still remarkable. Most frozen mammoths are little more than a pair of tusks and a few tufts of hair. Though estimated to be more than 10,000 years old, the female calf the herder had uncovered was perfectly preserved—it still had its eyes, trunk, and some of its fur.

The baby is now being shipped to Japan for study. It’s one of the few times a complete mammoth body will be analyzed by science.

In related news, some Japanese scientists have already announced their intentions of extracting DNA from woolly mammoth carcasses. They want to use it to bring the species back to life. In fact, they’ve already chosen a home for their creations in northern Siberia (also known as Pleistocene Park). Though it’s unlikely that the same scientists will get their hands on the latest arrival, one has to wonder if this latest discovery might be the beginning of something really, really big.

For more on other wooly mammoth discoveries, click here.

UPDATE 7/11: See video footage of the baby mammoth here. Unfortunately, sounds like the audio is in Russian. Anyone care to translate?

(Below: An adult mammoth)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Smelly, Homicidal, and REAL?

(Above: The Mapinguary. Photo by Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times)

Travel to any remote part of the globe, and you may begin to hear stories of a large, hairy ape-man roaming the wilderness. Sightings of Bigfoot-like creatures cross many different cultures and terrains. The following is merely a short, incomplete list . . .

US – Sasquatch (Bigfoot)
Himalayan Mountains – Yeti (Abominable Snowman)
Australia – Yowie
Florida – Skunk Ape
Southeast Asia – Nguoi Rung
Afghanistan & Pakistan– Barmanou
Malaysia – Mande Burung
Appalachian Mountains – The Gray Man

According to a story in the New York Times, it’s time to add another name to the list. The mapinguary (which means “roaring animal” or “fetid beast” depending on the translation) is an unbearably smelly seven-foot monster that’s said to lurk in the Amazon rainforest. It shares much in common with the American Bigfoot—notably it’s size, abundant body hair, and lack of personal hygiene. However, while Bigfoot is known for his shyness, the mapinguary is a ferocious killer. Locals claim it will hunt down anyone who trespasses on its territory. (Some also say it can make people dizzy, turn day into night, and consume humans through a gaping hole in its belly.)

So many mapinguary sightings have been reported in recent years that a few scientists have started to take them seriously. One, Dr. David Oren, thinks he has determined the creature’s true identity. He believes that Amazon tribes have been encountering the last of the Megatherium—a species of giant ground sloths (shown below) that most textbooks say became extinct around 10,000 years ago.

While Dr. Oren’s suggestion may seem only slightly less crazy than the existence of a homicidal, forest-dwelling ape-man, it deserves careful consideration. After all, the enormous bones that many people once believed belonged to dragons turned out to be the remains of dinosaurs. The mermaids sailors reported seeing were actually an unknown species—manatees. And it was only recently that giant squid made the leap from fiction to fact.

Is it really that surprising that the Amazon rainforest—which covers an area larger than Western Europe—might be concealing an unknown or “extinct” species? The National Geographic Society may scoff, but I think it's worth an investigation.

(By the way, if you've heard of other Bigfoot-like creatures, be sure to send me a note!)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Who's Stealing New York's Pigeons?

Something strange is happening in Greenwich Village. The skies are unusually empty. The park benches in Washington Square Park are splatter-free. And should you happen to drop your giant pretzel, there might not be a pigeon around to snap it up.

According to the New Yorker, my neighborhood in downtown Manhattan has recently been the site of numerous bird-nappings. Neighbors claim to have seen a sinister SUV with tinted windows cruising the narrow streets. Suddenly, the car stops and a man in a hat jumps from the driver’s seat, with a big, black net in hand. He tosses a handful of birdseed onto the sidewalk, waits for the pigeons to gather, and scoops them up in the net. Some witnesses report being warned to keep their distance.

Even residents who hold no love for New York’s “flying rats” are starting to worry. There are countless theories about the abductions, and none of them end happily for the animals. Many people suspect the birds wind up fried, roasted, or fricasseed. But according to a secretive group called Bird Operations Busted, the pigeons are probably being transported across state lines and sold to gun clubs for bird shoots. (Don't they have their own darn birds?)

As you might imagine, this practice is illegal. Pigeons are considered the property of New York City—and no one is allowed to hurt (or nibble on) them. But groups like B.O.B. have been fighting the bird-nappers for years with little success. So I call on all New Yorkers (and visitors) to keep a camera at the ready. If you see someone scooping up pigeons, take a photo of the person, his car, and the license plate—then contact the ASPCA.

Pigeons may be flying rats, but they’re OUR flying rats.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Make Your Computer Vanish

This is one of those tricks that's incredibly simple yet totally brilliant. All you have to do is take a photo of whatever is behind your computer. Then choose the photo as your desktop wallpaper. It may take a couple of tries to get it perfect, but once it's finished, it's guaranteed to freak out your visitors.

It's Octosquid!

Last week, a creature unknown to science was discovered caught in a filter of the deep-sea water pipeline that runs off the coast of Hawaii's Big Island. The scientists who examined the animal noted that it possessed the head and legs of an octopus--but the mantle of a squid. (Unimpressed? Imagine coming across a lizard with a snake's body or a dog with a cat's head. This is just as weird.) No one knows how this strange hybrid came about. But I'm willing to devote my entire life to finding the answer! (OK, maybe not.)

Read more here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Houston's Tunnel House

Artists Dan Havel and Dean Ruck know an opportunity when they see one. When they heard this house in Houston was slated for demolition, they decided to create a temporary art installment. Even those who don't share my love of tunnels have to agree that the result is fantastic!

The Bravest Kindergartener in the USA

Tons of crazy things have gone down in the past few days, and even though I intended to take a little break from blogging, I couldn't resist sharing some of the news.

Let's start with the heartwarming story of a five-year-old boy and a rabid fox. Rayshun McDowell was enjoying a Fourth of July cookout with his family and friends when a wild animal attacked. (Anyone who's read Kiki Strike should be well prepared for such encounters.) Fearing for the six other children at the party, including his baby brother, the kindergartener wrestled the fox to the ground and held it until his stepfather could put the beast out of its misery. Tests later showed that the animal was suffering from the dreaded disease, rabies.

Unfortunately, Rayshun was bitten in the line of duty. But given the bravery he displayed yesterday, a dozen or more rabies shots probably won't even faze him.

Read more here.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Zombies' Secret Desires Revealed!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Happy Fourth of July!

I've been trying to come up with a good Independence Day-themed post. (Maybe some juicy gossip about the Founding Fathers or instructions for making your own fireworks.) But I'm afraid it's a pretty dull holiday. (Unlike Thanksgiving--I've got some great dirt on that day.)

Don't believe me? Check out these so-called "fascinating facts" about the fourth. Yawn.

So instead of dropping some science on you, I've decided to offer a few recommendations for spending your holiday:

Play a game of Alka Seltzer tag. Why didn't I think of that?

Eat an Octodog. What do you do with the bun?

Avoid severe stomach discomfort. Check the expiration date on the mayonnaise.

Practice putting chickens to sleep. (See below.)

How To Put A Chicken To Sleep - More amazing videos are a click away

I'll be back to the blog this weekend!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Panda Prison Break