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10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (5/12/18)

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Another week has gone by, and now it’s time to take a look at some of the news stories that were met with fits of laughter or incredulous raised eyebrows. Right here, you can catch up on the more pressing matters of the day.

This week’s list features humans pushing the envelope and doing things that have never been done before. Some of them stuck crocodiles into MRI machines, while others brought back centuries-old beer. And, of course, let’s not forget about the largest orgy in the world.

10 Serial Pooper Identified

Photo credit: People

Recently, Holmdel High School in New Jersey had a bizarre problem—every day, someone would defecate on the school’s track and field. Eventually, officials set up surveillance to catch the culprit, and his identity shocked everyone. It wasn’t a student or a vagrant. It was a school superintendent.[1]

His name is Thomas Tramaglini, and he has served as superintendent of Kenilworth Public Schools since 2015, when he was appointed unanimously by the board of education. Holmdel High School doesn’t fall under his purview, but it is located near his home, and he uses its track daily to jog.

At the moment, Tramaglini’s motives for his odd behavior remain a mystery. The “pooperintendent,” as he became known online, has been charged with lewdness, littering, and defecating in public. However, unless indicted, it is unlikely he will face consequences for his actions. Tramaglini’s contract expires in July 2020 and, until then, benefits from tenure protection. He can’t even be suspended without pay.

9 Australian Brewers Revive 200-Year-Old Beer

Photo credit: James Squire

Back in 1977, amateur divers exploring off the edge of Preservation Island discovered the wreck of the Sydney Cove. Almost 200 years earlier, the ship left Calcutta (now Kolkata) and headed for New South Wales. It carried precious cargo consisting of tea, tobacco, rice, and, most important of all, over 31,000 liters (8,200 gal) of alcohol. However, it never reached its destination, sinking in the Bass Strait.

During the 1990s, a rigorous expedition took place to salvage as much as possible from the ship’s contents. Astonishingly, divers discovered that some of the bottles of booze were still perfectly sealed. Lab analysis revealed them to hold beer and port wine. In recent years, scientists had a brainstorm: What if they could culture the yeast and revive a beer that hasn’t been around for over two centuries?

The project attracted international attention, and a group of scientists from Australia, Germany, Belgium, and France collaborated on the initial program in 2016. They found that the yeast obtained from the preserved bottles was a hybrid strain dissimilar to those used in brewing today. They created a batch, but it tasted more like cider.

Afterward, Australian brewery James Squire got involved. They used the yeast to create a porter-style beer called The Wreck Preservation Ale.[2] It is a limited-edition beverage due to go on sale in June. It has been described as “dark, malty, spicy, and stormy” but also “a little bit funky.”

8 A Bear Goes For Ice Cream

Canadian zoo faces charges after taking bear out for ice cream

A Dairy Queen run got staff members from a Canadian zoo in trouble with wildlife officials for failing to notify them of a particular passenger—a one-year-old bear called Berkley.

The zoo in question is the Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, Alberta. One morning, they put Berkley in the truck, secured him in place, and took him out for an ice cream.[3] They filmed the encounter and then posted it online.

Word reached the Fish and Wildlife department, who were supposed to be informed every time an animal left zoo grounds. They have filed two charges against the park, whose owner, Doug Bos, admitted the mistake and announced that they would plead guilty. The first charge actually stems from 2017, when zoo staff members took baby Berkley home every night to bottle-feed him.

7 A Crocodile Brain On Bach

Photo credit: Felix Ströckens

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you stuck a crocodile inside an MRI machine and played it classical music? Probably not, but researchers at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany did. They took five one-year-old Nile crocs, played them Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 by Bach, and monitored their brain activity.[4]

The goal was to see what kind of neurobiological patterns could be observed in an ancient brain that has been around for hundreds of millions of years. The specific orchestral composition was chosen because it features a wide spectrum of frequencies and numerous amplitude changes. It had also been previously used in other experiments, so it provided a more accurate comparison.

The results of the MRI scans surprised scientists, who found them to be similar to those of birds. However, since birds produce their own complex music, it would have been assumed that they possessed parts of the brain specialized in processing sophisticated sounds. This new discovery would actually suggest that these kinds of sensory functions and processes are part of the reptilian brain and have been passed down evolutionarily.

6 John Oliver Helps Treat Koala Chlamydia

Irwins thank Russell Crowe and John Oliver for koala chlamydia clinic

One of the strangest celebrity “feuds” came to a triumphant end this week, after actor Russell Crowe named a koala Chlamydia clinic in honor of comedian John Oliver.

The rivalry started with a segment on the British humorist’s HBO show Last Week Tonight. In an effort to save one of the last remaining Blockbuster video stores in Alaska, Oliver participated in Crowe’s “divorce auction” and purchased several eclectic movie props worth $79,788. The headliner was the jockstrap the Australian actor wore in Cinderella Man. It cost $8,540, and even Oliver admitted that it was “a big price to pay just to find out what Russell Crowe’s balls smelled like in 2005.” All of the items have been donated to the Blockbuster in Anchorage, Alaska.

The actor not only took the joke in stride but found a way to one-up the comedian. Crowe put the money to good use by donating it to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital to treat koala Chlamydia.[5] In a video that has gone viral, Terri, Bindi, and Robert Irwin thanked Oliver for his generous donation by naming the ward after him.

5 One Small Step For Con Men

Photo credit: Delhi Police/AFP

Police in India arrested a father-son con team who successfully scammed a businessman out of over $200,000 by pretending to be NASA scientists.

The duo sold the man a copper plate which they claimed had special properties. According to them, the metal had been struck by lightning and now could pull rice toward it. They convinced their mark that they could sell the magical device to NASA for over $5 billion. All they needed was a “small” investment of $213,000 to properly test it.[6]

Eventually, the businessman realized he had been tricked and alerted authorities, who arrested the father and son. However, this is where the story gets really strange: When the two men were brought in and paraded in front of cameras, they were wearing laughably bad silver “space suits” which looked like they were made out of tin foil.

Indian police officials explained the scam, saying the duo coated a copper plate in liquid magnet and then stuffed rice bags with iron fillings to make them attract. However, they did not specify why the con men were wearing B-movie “space suits” during their perp walk. People speculated they were either wearing the suits when they were arrested or that public humiliation was part of their punishment.

4 Spider Trained To Jump On Command

Scientists train spider to jump on demand

For many people, the sight of a spider moving its many legs is enough to make their skin crawl. Scientists at the University of Manchester, however, are fascinated by arachnid locomotion and think that it can be applied to micro-robots. They want to understand the movements better, so, to that end, they managed to train a spider to jump on command.

Her name is Kim, and she is a regal jumping spider. She is the only one of her group who seemed willing to execute a few leaps in front of the high-speed cameras. Kim jumped from one platform to another, and researchers observed that the spider used varying techniques based on the distance.[7] At close range, Kim preferred a low-trajectory jump, which exerted more energy but was fast and accurate. However, when leaping a longer distance or onto an elevated platform, she used a more energy-efficient method. Furthermore, the spider also attached a “silk safety line” to her jumping platform, which could have served to stabilize her.

Scientists are hoping that the study could perhaps shed light on the role of hydraulics in arachnid locomotion. While we know that spiders use fluid to extend their legs using hydraulic pressure, it is still a matter of debate if they use the same mechanism to enhance muscle power.

3 No Secret Chamber In Tut’s Tomb

Back in 2015, Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves presented a hypothesis saying that there was a secret chamber in the tomb of Tutankhamun which could have contained the final resting place of his stepmother, Queen Nefertiti. However, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities recently announced that a series of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) scans showed with a “very high level of confidence” no signs of hidden doors or chambers.[8]

The idea seemed promising at first. Reeves first conceived it after his laser scan analysis of the walls revealed cracks and fissures which could have indicated the presence of voids or doorways. He then commissioned his own GPR scan, which supported his hypothesis. However, a second analysis funded by the National Geographic Society was unable to replicate the results.

At a conference in Cairo, the Ministry of Antiquities decided to settle the matter conclusively. They commissioned a third GPR analysis, which was performed by three teams who all scanned the tomb independently and then compared results. They reported no hidden chambers or corridors.

2 A Dessert In A Shoe

Photo credit: Segev Moshe

We saw a diplomatic faux pas this week courtesy of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu while hosting his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe. The two of them, accompanied by their wives, were having dinner, which went smoothly until the dessert, which, curiously, was served out of a shoe.

The feast was the work of Israeli celebrity chef Segev Moshe. The last course consisted of chocolate pralines in a shiny leather shoe, which was actually a metal sculpture by Tom Dixon.

Serving food out of a shoe is weird enough on any occasion, but it is particularly offensive to people from Japan. Their culture holds shoes in very low regard, and they’re traditionally kept out of the house and out of the office. Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported that diplomats were “shocked by the idea,” and one unidentified Japanese official called it “a stupid and insensitive decision.”[9]

The news stories came out after Netanyahu complained that Israeli media barely covered Abe’s visit. However, this is probably not what he had in mind. The Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying they were not involved in approving the dishes for the meal.

1 Las Vegas To Host World’s Biggest Orgy

A company that organizes sex-based events called Menage Life is planning to hold the world’s biggest orgy at the Embassy Suites in Las Vegas.

The event, called Sin City 8, will take place on June 2. Tickets are $200 for couples and $25 for single women, while single men aren’t allowed. The company assures interested parties that security officers “who are members of the lifestyle” will be on-hand to enforce safety procedures and that anyone who acts without permission will be immediately removed. Menage Life will also provide free condoms and sex accessories, as well as masquerade-style masks for those who desire discretion.

The current record for world’s biggest orgy was set in 2006, when 500 people got their freak on in Tokyo. Las Vegas organizers are hoping to attract at least 1,000 participants.[10] The whole event will actually be a five-day festival which will include other naughty activities such as sex workshops, toy demos, and themed parties. A representative from Guinness World Records said they will not be there to verify the number of participants, as “world’s biggest orgy” is not a record title they recognize or monitor.


Read more offbeat stories you might have missed from May 5, 2018 and April 28, 2018.

fact checked by Jamie Frater