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10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (4/22/18)

Radu Alexander


Another week has passed, so it is time for another quick retrospective of the newsworthy events you might have missed. Click here if you want to learn about the serious, important stuff.

But otherwise, read on for a dose of unique, quirky, or just plain weird. Whether it’s a story of animal antics, “flashy” artwork, or the seemingly stupidest criminal who has ever lived, you’re sure to get a chuckle.

10 The Badger In The Castle

Photo credit: BBC

Back in the early 16th century, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart was appointed Master of Works to James V, king of Scotland, thus becoming responsible for the construction and maintenance of castles and other crown property. Eager to showcase his skills, Hamilton built Craignethan Castle in 1530, a structure noted for its strong defenses. Nowadays, the castle is run by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and is open to visitors. However, over the weekend, parts of the ruins had to be closed off due to an invasion by a “very angry badger.”

Staff members saw some dug-out earth in the cellar tunnel and, upon closer inspection, spotted the irate mammal. They tried to lure the animal out with cat food and honey, but as the critter wouldn’t cooperate, the HES had to close the tunnel. They warned potential visitors of the development in a subsequent tweet.[1]

A spokesman for the HES speculated that the badger had come from the surrounding woodland but did not elaborate on why it was so angry.

9 The Stoned Raccoon

Firefighters in Wayne Township, Indiana, were met with an unusual request this week. A woman brought in her pet raccoon, worried that it might be sick after consuming too much marijuana.

According to the frantic owner, the raccoon got into “someone else’s” weed stash and was exposed to large quantities of the drug. Concerned that it might overdose, she brought it to the fire station for help.

There was some initial confusion over radio chatter regarding the kind of substance the animal had consumed. Some reported it was marijuana, but others claimed it was meth or heroin. Wayne Township Fire Captain Mike Pruitt later said the raccoon was lethargic and had all the telltale signs of a stoner.[2]

However, neither he nor anyone else in the department could provide any help to improve the animal’s condition. In the end, the owner took the raccoon back home to sleep off the high and, hopefully, make a full recovery.


8 The Giant Penis Mural

Photo credit: standard.co.uk

Residents of Stockholm have protested against the latest artwork featured in the Swedish capital—a giant mural of a blue penis titled “F—k the World!”

The five-story-high painting appeared on the side of an apartment building last Wednesday and immediately drew the ire of neighbors who deemed it obscene. A few days later, it was defaced with banners that said: “Keep your penis inside.” In a clever bit of marketing, they were followed by another banner with the name of Swedish underwear brand Petters Underwear, making it seem as if the whole thing was a giant advertisement.

The mural was painted on a building wall which has been used by artists since 2008. Most artwork stays up for six months, as was the plan for the phallic image. However, the building’s managers have decided to cover up the painting this week following backlash from the locals.[3]

The mural belongs to Swedish artist Caroline Falkholt. She often explores human sexuality in her art and was hopeful that “F—k the World!” would encourage a debate about sexual freedom.

Instead, she encountered the same experience she had in December 2017 when her first penis mural appeared on the side of a Manhattan building. It was also removed after a few days.

7 The Robot At The Pub

Photo credit: The Independent

Patrons who visited The Prince Alfred Pub in London’s affluent Maida Vale district over the last few days experienced a unique encounter with Fred—an ultra-realistic robot.

Fred was built by the Engineered Arts robotics company over a 12-week period in anticipation of the release of the second season of Westworld, a sci-fi TV show about a Western-themed amusement park populated by androids that are indistinguishable from humans. He was then placed in the pub to freak out customers as part of a stunt set up by streaming service NOW TV to promote the show. Their interactions were captured by hidden cameras.

Fred was modeled after 55-year-old London actor Tedroy Newell. His body parts were 3-D scanned and then recreated using a metal skeleton, silicone skin, and real hair. Hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code ensured that the android had full speech and motor functions.

The robot’s interactions with pubgoers were meant to captivate but also to unsettle. Fred started casual conversations about the weather or Westworld and peppered them with disconcerting questions such as: “What are your thoughts on the impending humanoid robot invasion?” and “Do you want to meet your maker?”[4]

6 The 100-Year-Old Meme

Photo credit: thisisinsider.com

In 1976, Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” in his book The Selfish Gene as an idea which spreads from person to person within a society. Over the last decade or so, the term has been adopted by the Internet culture to refer to catchphrases or gags that are shared online and go viral, often in the form of an image or video. However, a recent discovery suggests that the first meme might actually be almost 100 years old.

The illustration comes from the July 1921 issue of a satirical magazine called Judge, which became defunct in 1947. It is a black-and-white, two-panel comic strip credited to the “Wisconsin Octopus.”[5] The first panel features a dapper gentleman and the caption, “How you think you look when a flashlight is taken.” The second one shows a distorted, cartoonish drawing and the caption, “How you really look.”

The image is almost identical to a popular modern meme which has the catchy title, “What you think you look like vs. What you actually look like.” Like the 1921 illustration, the meme works by displaying two images—first a cool or sexy one and then a goofy, unflattering one—to show the discrepancy between expectations and reality.


5 The Escaped Baboons

A research facility in Texas had a strange problem on its hands when four of its baboons worked together to escape their enclosure.

The breakout happened at the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio. The monkeys used a 208-liter (55 gal) blue barrel which was added to their compound for “enrichment,” a term referring to objects provided to captive animals to stimulate them physically or mentally. Together, the simians rolled it and placed it upright against the wall. Afterward, it was tall enough for each baboon to jump over the fence.

The animals got a brief taste of freedom, but three of them were recaptured within 30 minutes. Even so, that was enough time for them to cause a bit of a panic as several San Antonio residents filmed and posted online clips of the baboons and their monkey business.[6]

Upon further inspection, the fourth baboon never made it past the research institute’s outer fence and returned to the enclosure of its own volition. A quick vet inspection confirmed that all the animals were okay.

Given their newfound online fame, people have lobbied to retire the intrepid baboons to a sanctuary instead of keeping them at the institute for biomedical research.

4 The Snail Ballet

Photo credit: The Guardian

People who attend Cryptic’s Sonica Festival in London will be able to experience a performance unlike any other—a snail ballet. The show, titled Slow Pixel, will feature 176 gastropod entertainers with tiny LEDs strapped to their shells. They will crawl on the floor of a darkened room, all set to a soothing soundtrack.

The show is the brainchild of French couple Elizabeth Saint-Jalmes and Cyril Leclerc. The duo has been using snails in their performances for eight years, likely saving the animals from a date with garlic butter in a saute pan. Their first mollusk-based production involved feeding colored paper to snails so that they would create multicolored patterns while defecating.

Leclerc and Saint-Jalmes hope that attendees will be able to escape their fast-paced, technology-driven lives and revert to a childhood state when things moved much slower and you could spend hours on end just staring at a snail or an insect crawling along a path.

They will certainly get the chance while watching Slow Pixel as the show lasts for six hours.[7] Of course, anyone is free to leave at any time. The only restriction is a ban on cell phones. Saint-Jalmes and Leclerc prefer their audience to live in the moment instead of taking selfies for posterity.

3 The Criminal Mastermind

Photo credit: abcactionnews.com

The “Criminal of the Week” award goes to an as-yet-unidentified man from St. Marys, Georgia, who broke into a Gamestop retailer by kicking out the bottom glass panel of the front door. His vast experience of delinquency told him that he should hide his identity, but his choice of disguise was odd, to say the least. The burglar wore the wrapper from a package of bottled water on his head—and it was transparent.[8]

The plastic bag had some writing and graphics on it. However, the robber turned it so that the opaque parts were on the sides, presumably so he could see. Of course, this meant that the section in front of his face was almost entirely clear and provided a “scintillating” image for the cameras that captured him in action.

Not that any of it would have mattered anyway. Cameras from a different store filmed the suspect without any disguise as he did a bit of browsing while wearing the same clothes before breaking into Gamestop.

Credit where it’s due, though. As of this writing, the man still has not been apprehended. Police released images of the “craftily disguised gent” on their Facebook page, asking the public for help in identifying the robber as soon as they “can stop laughing.”

2 The Social Physician

A war seems to be brewing in Belgium between doctors and fitness centers over the former’s ability to withdraw their patients from long, expensive gym memberships.

Many countries have problems with gyms that try to lock their customers into multiyear, inflexible contracts with stiff penalties, knowing that a lot of their clientele give up after a few months or even a few weeks. However, the issue seems to be exacerbated in Belgium. Only last year, the government decreed a new code of conduct which eliminated minimum one-year contracts and gave people the power to cancel their contracts without penalty if so advised by their doctors.

Recently, a physician did just that. He wrote a medical note for one of his patients, freeing her from a €70-a-month contract which still had 18 months to run. The doctor reasoned that the woman was unlikely to use and could not afford her gym membership and “acted out of social concern.”

This caused an uproar from Belgium’s association of gyms who accused the medical professional of malpractice. Spokesman Eric Vandenabeele labeled it “unacceptable,” saying a doctor has no more business judging such a contract than he does a contract with an energy supplier or an Internet provider.

Despite the association’s outcry, the country’s Order of Physicians ruled in the doctor’s favor this week. They concluded that his “social role” was justified but that there was also a medical problem as the woman couldn’t go to the gym due to neck pain and an ear infection.[9]

1 The Exploding Ant

Photo credit: Live Science

Scientists exploring the jungles of Borneo announced the discovery of a new species of ant. This alone isn’t very noteworthy, but the insect has a remarkable defense mechanism to fight off enemies—it explodes.

The ant, appropriately dubbed Colobopsis explodens, has long glands filled with a toxic yellow substance. When trying to fight off an invader, the insect will bite down and latch onto it, angle its backside to face the attacker, and flex its abdomen until it rips apart, showering the enemy with its yellow goo. According to one of its discoverers, entomologist Alice Laciny, the yellow liquid has “a distinct and not unpleasant smell that’s strangely reminiscent of curry.”[10]

Obviously, this also kills the ant. The process of destroying oneself as a defense mechanism is called autothysis and can be relatively common among superorganisms like ant colonies where individuals work together as a collective.

In fact, this isn’t even the first exploding ant we’ve discovered, but it is the first one we’ve found in almost a century. Like other colonies, members have well-defined roles and not all of them explode. This behavior is reserved for the minor workers who are all sterile females.

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