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10 Groups That Provide Incredibly Unusual Services
Perhaps you’re stuck on a mountain, you need someone to perform at your funeral, or maybe you need help getting your adrenaline fix. Never fear. The 10 groups on this list are here to save the day with their incredibly unusual services. We’ve already read about individuals who help people out in odd ways, but today, we’re looking at the companies, charities, and crazy organizations that are willing to lend a helping hand in the weirdest ways possible.
When Hurricane Katrina barreled into New Orleans in 2005, the storm claimed over 1,800 lives and caused $108 billion in damage. While a lot of that destruction involved private homes and businesses, the floodwaters also wiped out museums and libraries, damaging books, historical documents, and works of art. Hoping to preserve these priceless artifacts, the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) organized a team of volunteers to save as many records, paintings, and encyclopedias as possible.
Inspired by the team’s success, the AIC formed a group dedicated to preserving works of art around the world. Dubbed AIC-CERT (since “the American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team” is a mouthful), the team is made up of architects, art experts, furniture aficionados, and all sorts of specialists. Basically, they’re the Avengers with liberal arts degrees, and when a natural disaster rolls into town, these guys are on the scene ASAP.
When Hurricane Ike hit Galveston, Texas, the group rushed to the aid of organizations like the Lone Star Flight Museum, the University of Texas Medical Branch, and Moody Mansion. When Superstorm Sandy crashed into New York, AIC-CERT opened a “cultural recovery center” in Brooklyn, where they helped artists to restore over 3,000 works of art. They even flew to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to help preserve the country’s heritage sites and cultural works.
AIC-CERT works for free (they’re funded by donations), but they aren’t only concerned with big disasters. They’re also worried about the little things, and that’s why AIC-CERT helps institutions across the world prepare for all sorts of contingencies, be it an insect infestation or a broken water pipe.
By offering disaster response workshops, AIC-CERT can teach museums all sorts of handy tricks to stave off disaster, like how to freeze waterlogged books to prevent further damage or how to properly clean mold off a contaminated canvas. So the next time you’re admiring a beautiful building or brilliant painting, remember that AIC-CERT is just one phone call away, ready to save the day if disaster should ever strike.
Coming up with a name for your child, novel, or Listverse list can be difficult. Now, imagine naming a product that will wind up in stores around the globe. Before that item hits the market, it’s crucial to pick a catchy name that draws in customers and explains everything they need to know about your product. Coming up with a clever title is a pretty tricky task, and that’s why companies in need of a name often turn to Catchword. This Oakland-based organization has some big-name clients, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Wells Fargo, and Time Warner Cable.
First, they ask their clients what they want their name to say, i.e., what concepts or emotions they want the name to express. (Approachability? Innovation? Folksiness?) Once Catchword gets a feeling for what the client wants, employees start poring over dictionaries, reference books, and software that analyzes foreign phrases. After compiling a list of possible words, they might add a whole host of prefixes and suffixes, trying to find a combination with that certain special sound. Usually, the Catchword people end up with 2,000 possibilities, but after a tough culling process, they present the client with 30 to 60 choices.
The process is more difficult than creating a quirky-sounding name. First, the word needs to be easily pronounceable. It needs to look and sound appealing. It also has to be available. If someone else has trademarked their name, it obviously won’t work. They also need a name that evokes certain ideas and certain feelings. And perhaps most importantly, they need to find out if their new word possibly means something offensive or inappropriate in another language. It wouldn’t do to have your new product mean “worthless” or “stupid” in Chinese.
So, have you ever used a Catchword product? Have you ever enjoyed a Starbucks Refresher or eaten a cup of Chobani Flip yogurt, a Chipotle Sofrita, a bowl of Dreyer’s Dreamery ice cream, or a McDonald’s McBistro sandwich? Do you pay for AllState “GoodforLife” or “House and Home” insurance? Have you ever used a Canon Maxify or watched the movie Idiocracy? If so, then you can thank the hardworking folks at Catchword.
8 Global Rescue
When a tsunami or earthquake ruins your day, who are you going to call? Sure, the Red Cross will show up eventually, but if you’re stuck on a mountain or trapped in a war zone, then you don’t have the time to wait for charity. You need results, and you need them now, and that’s why you need Global Rescue. These guys are the Navy SEALS of rescue workers, and they’ll show up anywhere at any time . . . for the right amount of money.
Founded in 2004 by Dan Richards, Global Rescue responds to emergencies across the globe. The group has offices in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pakistan, and Thailand, and they keep a close eye on weather reports and current events. During the Arab Spring, they pulled 60 people out of Egypt. When the 2011 tsunami slammed into Japan and the 2015 earthquake shook Nepal, Global Rescue saved the day. In fact, these guys perform about 1,000 rescue missions each year, and they’re the best in their field. Global Rescue employs around 200 people who specialize in everything from first aid to wilderness survival. Quite a few Global Rescue employees are ex–Special Forces.
Of course, Global Rescue is in this for the money. If you want to know they’ve got your back, you need to fork over some cash. The organization services some rather important clients like Uber, Conde Nast, and NASA. They also work for individuals, such as journalists and adventurers. If you’re interested, options range from $329 to $655, and if you plan to hike up Everest or explore the Amazon, it might be a smart investment.
However, Global Rescue has drawn a lot of controversy, namely because they provide rescue services in exchange for cash. Sure, if they have extra room on a helicopter, they’ll give non-members a lift, but clients take priority. As founder Dan Richards explained to Wired, “We are not the Red Cross. We don’t have the ability to just deploy our services to people who haven’t paid a membership fee.” In other words, they rescue the people who can afford their services, the people with deep pockets. Is that wrong, or is it simply business?
7 Unified Weapons Master
Despite its sudden rise in popularity thanks to UFC stars like Ronda Rousey, there’s still one big issue with MMA. No, we aren’t talking about steroids; we’re talking about the ban on weapons. Sure, you can use your feet and fists, but there are no swords or bo staffs allowed inside the Octagon.
The reasons behind the ban are painfully obvious. You can’t go around slicing up opponents with a katana. However, this poses a problem for athletes who train in martial arts like escrima and sayoc kali. If they can’t bring their tools into the ring, how will they ever find out who’s the best of the best?
That’s where Unified Weapons Master (UWM) comes in. Founded by David Pysden and Justin Forsell, this Sydney-based company hopes to launch its own MMA organization, complete with sais and nunchaku. So, how will athletes whack each other with weapons? Thanks to a team of engineers and armorers (one of whom worked on the Lord of the Rings series), the UWM has developed a full-body suit that’s perfect for weaponized combat.
Called the Lorica, this armored suit is made of carbon fiber and impact-resistant foam. Beneath the outer plates, there are pressure sensors that detect a weapon’s impact and then relay that info to an external computer. The computer then gauges the force of the strike, and with the help of special software that analyzes medical data, factors in the location of the blow. After a certain number of whacks (or one good shot to the vitals), the computer declares a fighter “unconscious” or “dead.” It’s essentially a real-life video game.
If everything works out, the UWM hopes to stage its first tournament in 2016. Watching a modern-day samurai fight a Shaolin staff master would be pretty awesome, but the UWM is also about preserving history. According to cofounder Justin Forsell, there are 96 weapons-based martial arts, and with the help of this new robo-suit, Unified Weapons Master will keep these ancient practices from fading away.
6 Accion Ortografica Quito
Everybody knows at least one grammar Nazi, but none compare to the guys behind Accion Ortografica Quito. Based in Quito, Ecuador, the three members of Accion Ortografica Quito are mild-mannered citizens by day, but at night, they take to the streets armed with stencils and spray cans. However, they’re not graffiti artists . . . not like you’re thinking, anyway. Instead, the members of Accion Ortografica Quito are graffiti vigilantes, determined to rid their city of grammatical errors.
The group (which borrows its name from a Mexican poetry movement) started their mission when one member of the team spotted a wall tagged with some truly appalling graffiti. He wasn’t objecting to the content but rather the typos. There were at least 10 errors in two sentences, and this could not stand. Later that night, he and a friend corrected all the mistakes, slashing through spelling errors and adding punctuation.
Inspired, the two vigilantes—code named “Dieresis” and “Tilde”—declared war on graffiti across the city, adding appropriate question marks and capitalizing letters wherever needed. After all, grammar is incredibly important. “Many times,” one member explained to Colors magazine, “someone does not realize how a comma or an oversight can completely change the meaning of a sentence. It can change your life.”
Their mission is a tad tongue-in-cheek. Really, they hope to bring cheer to the people of Quito. Hoping to get others to play along, they’re considering opening a hotline so people can report any spelling error emergencies. They’ve also added a third team member named “Coma” (“comma”), who runs their social media sites and conducts guerrilla warfare on Twitter, correcting Tweets by national and city politicians.
As fun as this sounds, getting caught tagging a wall can earn you a hefty fine and several days in jail, but the members of Accion Ortografica Quito aren’t afraid. As one member of the group boldly declared, “We will not break, we will not give up until my city is free of spelling mistakes on walls.”
5 The Green Street Mortuary Band
Funerals are always an interesting affair in San Francisco’s Chinatown. When a member of the Chinese-American community passes on, it’s believed that the spirit will remain near the body. However, there’s a danger that the spirit might wander off, get lost, and morph into a malicious ghost. In order to lay the spirit to rest, Chinatown’s citizens take part in a very elaborate parade.
Before things get started, someone places candy in the deceased’s mouth to wipe away the nasty taste of death. Then, at the head of the funeral procession, there’s an open-top convertible displaying a giant portrait of the deceased, one of many ways the spirit is encouraged to stay close to the body. As the parade winds its way down the street, mourners toss “spirit money” into the air, paying for the soul’s passage into the afterlife.
The most fascinating part of this ritual is the music. Chinese-Americans often hire bands to lead the funeral procession, believing that songs keep the spirit nearby. And when someone in Chinatown wants first-rate musicians, they turn to the Green Street Mortuary Band. Only, there’s something odd about this group. First, none of the members are Chinese. Second, they only play Christian hymns.
Led by saxophonist Lisa Pollard, the band marches through the streets while playing songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The musicians are armed with an assortment of instruments, from trumpets to trombones to drums, and things get pretty noisy when local Buddhists march alongside the band, joining in with their own songs.
While their clients don’t usually attend church services, the Green Street Mortuary Band is incredibly popular, working over 300 jobs each year. They’re arguably the most beloved musical group in the city, and local musicians are constantly vying for a spot in the band. Regardless of your religious views, it’s hard to deny that the Green Street Mortuary Band and their Chinatown funeral gigs are a perfect picture of the United States as the great melting pot of ideas, beliefs, and cultures.
4 Scotland Yard’s Super-Recognizers
Everybody loves a good superhero group. We’ve got the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Incredibles . . . and the “super-recognizers.” Led by Detective Chief Inspector Mike Neville, the super-recognizers are a real-life group of superheroes who work for Scotland Yard. Using their incredible mind powers, these crazy cops are taking down bad guys one photograph at a time.
Famous for their amazing memories, the super-recognizers watch hours of CCTV footage, trying to put names to the grainy, blurry faces caught on film. After all, if you video a crime but can’t identify the perpetrator, what’s the point? When there’s an assault or a robbery, and the cops are having a hard time identifying the suspect, that’s when Scotland Yard calls in their super team.
During their normal lives, the super-recognizers are jailers, detectives, and patrolmen. But thanks to some strange mental quirk (which might possibly be genetic), these officers have an amazing knack for recognizing faces. All they need is to look at the CCTV footage for a few seconds, and they’ll remember a thug they ran into a few years ago, a mug shot they once glimpsed, or perhaps someone they hauled into jail back in the day.
That’s right; the super-recognizers aren’t comparing the video footage to actual photos. Instead, these guys rely on mental photo albums to indentify criminals, and they’re phenomenally good at what they do. During the 2011 England riots, computer facial recognition software went through 4,000 images and picked only one single suspect. On the other hand, a super-recognizer and police constable named Gary Collins (known around the office as “Rain Man”) identified 180 perpetrators, some of whom were masked behind hats and bandannas.
At the moment, there are 152 super-recognizers employed by Scotland Yard, and they’re doing some truly impressive work. In 2011, they watched over 200,000 hours of footage and spotted 600 suspects. Two-thirds of these suspects were charged with crimes, and 90 percent of them wound up behind bars.
If you’re wondering if you might secretly be a super-recognizer, then check out this test engineered by researchers at the University of Greenwich. If you answer over 10 questions correctly, then perhaps one day, Scotland Yard might call on you to rid the world of evil using your freakishly amazing memory.
3 The Shadow Wolves
At first, the service provided by the Shadow Wolves doesn’t seem particularly unique. The Shadow Wolves are law enforcement officers who spend their time busting drug smugglers. Sure, that’s important, but it happens every day in every country around the world. What makes the Shadow Wolves unique isn’t the “what.” It’s the “who” and the “how.” You see, the Shadow Wolves are made up entirely of Native Americans who specialize in tracking smugglers the old fashioned way, by “cutting for sign,” just like their ancestors once did.
Founded in 1972, the Wolves patrol the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation, which comprises 2.8 million acres along the Arizona-Mexico border. The 15-man team is comprised of members who are all at least one-quarter Native American. Equally important, they all know a thing or two about tracking.
While the Shadow Wolves use modern-day technology, they’re famous for their ability to follow footprints and look for hidden clues in the brush. These guys pay attention to overturned rocks, snapped branches, and torn threads. By analyzing tracks, they can determine if the smuggler was moving at night (he won’t bother to cover his footprints), if he’s carrying large amounts of drugs (deeper tracks), or even how old the footprints are (if they’re covered by fresher animal tracks).
While they’re up against stiff competition (the smugglers rely on lookouts armed with radios and night-vision goggles), the Shadow Wolves are incredibly efficient. According to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Wolves confiscate about 30 tons of drugs each year. Naturally, plenty of people are impressed with their skills, and the team has taught classes to law enforcement officers in countries like Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Estonia.
Even if you’re a drug dealer with the fanciest tech in the world, it won’t help you get through the Tohono O’odham Nation. All these special agents need is a broken twig or a scrap of cloth, and before you know it, they’re moving in on their prey like a pack of . . . well, you know.
2 The Love Commandos
Falling in love in India can be risky business, and we’re not just talking about broken hearts. In a country where arranged marriages are still accepted as normal, potential suitors have to meet some pretty strict criteria. Most importantly, young people are strongly discouraged from marrying outside their religion or caste. In fact, if you fall in love with someone outside your religious or social circle, things can get really bloody really fast.
Marry against your family’s wishes, and there’s a chance they might try to murder you. These so-called “honor killings” are especially bad in northern India, where towns are run by councils known as khap panchayats. Comprised of elders with very old-fashioned ideas, these councils often give parents permission to butcher their children if they try to marry outside their caste. So what’s a young Brahman to do when he or she falls in love with someone from a lower caste?
Enter the Love Commandos. Founded in 2010 by Sanjoy Sachdev, the Love Commandos run a modern-day underground railroad for star-crossed lovers. While they’re based in Delhi, the group has outposts across the country. The Commandos work with 300 couples who use their homes as hiding places, temporary rest stops for couples making their way to Love Commandos HQ. When the lovers finally reach the home base, they’re provided with food, shelter, and presents. Often, the Commandos help the lovers get married.
This line of work is incredibly dangerous. Furious families often send professional kidnappers after the couples, and khap panchayats have collectively offered a $40,000 bounty to anyone who kills the Commandos. However, these heroes aren’t backing down. They’ve helped over 40,000 couples so far, and they’re not showing any signs of stopping.
So why are they so concerned with protecting young lovers? Sachdev thinks inter-caste and inter-religious marriages can turn India into a better, more understanding country, a nation free from outdated ideas and violent ideologies. In other words, the Commandos truly believe that love can conquer all.
1 Extreme Kidnapping
People do crazy things for an adrenaline fix. For the adrenaline junkie who’s done it all, maybe it’s time to call Extreme Kidnapping. Based in New Orleans, this group provides one of the weirdest services imaginable. They’re kidnappers for hire, but not in a criminal sort of way. Instead, they run a real-life version of David Fincher’s The Game.
If you’ve seen this 1997 thriller, you know that the film is about a mysterious organization that throws their customers into insane situations, complete with abductions and shoot-outs. After watching the film, Adam Thick was inspired to start his own company that specialized in kidnapping paying customers. For $500, Adam and his cronies will toss you into the back of a van, take you to a secret location, and tie you up for hours. For $1,000, you get six additional hours of terror.
Before you’re kidnapped, you first have to fill out a form that helps Extreme Kidnapping create a unique experience made especially for you. Is it okay if they beat you? How do you feel about waterboarding or being zapped with a stun gun? Are there any phobias you want to share? You’re also encouraged to pick a story line to give the experience a realistic feel. Perhaps you’re a secret agent who’s been snatched by the enemy, or maybe this is all a bad case of mistaken identity. You can also pick your kidnapping team. There’s the standard thug option, and then there’s the “Elite Girls” package, complete with women in platform shoes and miniskirts. (If you’re going for realism, this obviosuly isn’t your best bet.)
Things can get pretty real. According to GQ writer Drew Magary, who was “abducted” in 2013, the folks at Extreme Kidnapping will tape your mouth shut, slap you in the face, and force you to urinate in Gatorade bottles while your hands are tied.
So if you’re bored of your old, humdrum life, give Extreme Kidnapping a call. Or if you’d love to own a business like this, Extreme Kidnapping is for sale. If you’re interested, you can check them out on eBay.