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10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (8/11/18)

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

In case you didn’t find time during the week to pay attention to all the news stories, we’ve got you covered. Click here to find out about all the major events, and read this list to learn about the unusual happenings that made the headlines.

We examine quite a few mysteries this week. Some involve priceless art, others involve animatronic sharks, and some are extraterrestrial in nature. We also look at some of the quirky ways people spend their free time, such as setting domino records, attending concerts, or lifting really, really heavy things.

10 The Art Heist Mystery

In 2017, 81-year-old Rita Alter passed away at her ranch in the small community of Cliff, New Mexico. Her husband Jerry died five years prior. According to their neighbors, they were a nice couple who kept to themselves. However, they had one particularly interesting item in their collection—a stolen Willem de Kooning painting worth over $100 million.

The Alters’ nephew and executor of their estate, Ron Roseman, sold their possession to an antique shop for $2,000. People there recognized the painting was an original and contacted the FBI. As it turned out, Woman-Ochre disappeared from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson in 1985, the day after Thanksgiving.

Since the painting has been recovered, the biggest question was how the Alters obtained it. Did they buy it, did they somehow find it during their many exotic adventures, or were they the ones who stole it originally?

People who knew them were reticent to believe that a quiet, friendly couple consisting of a former teacher and a speech therapist could pull off an audacious art heist. However, a newly revealed clue suggests that was, indeed, the case. It’s an old photo of Jerry and Rita Alter having Thanksgiving dinner in 1985 with their relatives in Tucson.[1] Moreover, they resemble the sketches of the disguised thieves based off the museum guard’s description. To top it off, the thieves were seen speeding away in a red car . . . just like the one the Alters drove.

9 Never Too Old To Rock

Who says that sneaking out to go to concerts is reserved for teenagers? Wacken Open Air took place last week in Germany, and tens of thousands of people came from all over the world to attend the biggest heavy metal festival on the planet. Among them were two elderly metalheads who escaped from their nursing home to rock out among fellow headbangers.

Staff from the care center noticed the two men had disappeared last Friday. They alerted German police, who tracked them down at the music festival at around 3:00 AM. The intrepid duo traveled around 40 kilometers (25 mi) on foot and using public transport. They were described as “disoriented and dazed” when they were found by authorities but also “intrigued with the metal festival.”[2]The nursing home arranged for transport for the men, who were reluctant to go back but did so voluntarily.

8 Vandalism Via Octopus

Japanese police are investigating a bizarre crime that occurred in the city of Sapporo. A person disturbed the peace by throwing an octopus against a building’s wall for over an hour.

The unidentified victim of the crime was in his home in Chuo Ward, trying to get some sleep. However, he kept hearing thumping on the other side of his condominium wall. Eventually, he called the police. When they arrived, authorities found no suspicious people around, but they did discover a dead octopus, which had been thrown against a wall repeatedly.[3]

At the moment, the suspect is still at large, and police are struggling to find a motive for his actions. If he just wanted to be noisy, a ball would have produced much better results. If vandalism is what he was after, then eggs would have been more convenient and infinitely less slimy.

7 Rogue Planet Puts Aurora Borealis To Shame

Astronomers are stunned by a newly discovered rogue planetlike object with an incredibly powerful magnetic field, roughly 200 times stronger than that of Jupiter. Furthermore, it is capable of generating spectacular auroras which have been observed using radio telescopes. Scientists are hopeful that this could potentially be a new method of spotting undetected planets.

First discovered in 2016, the object is known as SIMP J01365663+0933473 and has somewhat defied classification. Originally, astronomers believed it was a giant, old brown dwarf. Also referred to as “failed stars,” brown dwarfs are larger than planets but not big enough to begin fusing hydrogen. However, this rogue planet is only 200 million years old, which is relatively young, and at roughly 12.7 times the mass of Jupiter, it’s not that gigantic, either.

The most common convention states that a brown dwarf should be at least 13 times the mass of Jupiter. Because of this, the celestial object has been described as being at the boundary between planet and brown dwarf.[4] Scientists believe this could actually be advantageous, as it could provide insight into the magnetic processes of both stars and planets.

6 Do We Feel Empathy For Machines?

Photo credit: Aike Horstmann et al

A new study published in PLOS One looks at the relationship between humans and robots, specifically the empathy that we can feel for inanimate objects. The experiment showed that people will hesitate, even refuse, to shut off a robot when it is pleading for its life.

German researchers took 89 volunteers and had them complete a series of tasks with the help of Nao, a small humanoid robot. They mostly involved answering simple questions and were done, as far as the test subjects believed, in order to improve Nao’s learning algorithms. However, the real experiment started after the tasks were finished, and the volunteers were asked to turn off the robot. In roughly half the cases, Nao started begging not to be switched off, saying things like it was afraid of the dark or scared it will never wake up again.

Out of 43 people, 30 took, on average, twice as long to turn off Nao compared to the subjects who served as control and didn’t hear any pleas. The other 13 refused altogether.[5] The reasons given for their actions were varied and included compassion, surprise at its behavior, fear of doing it wrong, and wanting to continue the interaction.

The study is one of several that build upon “the media equation,” a communications theory formed in 1996 by two professors from Stanford University. They posited that people tend to treat computers and other media as if they were real people.

5 Fire Reveals Lost Landmark

Photo credit: Irish Air Corps

A gorse fire prompted by the heat wave in Ireland uncovered a World War II-era sign that had been lost for decades.[6]

The sign, located at Bray Head, County Wicklow, consists of whitewashed letters carved into the headlands and spells out “EIRE” (Ireland). It was part of dozens placed on the Irish coast during the war to warn bombers that they were flying over neutral territory.

Other, similar signs are still in plain view and have even been restored as landmarks. This one, however, had been covered in thick shrubs and mostly forgotten about for years until the recent wildfire scorched the ground. Members of the Garda Air Support Unit spotted it as they were flying over the blaze to survey the damage.

Although Ireland remained neutral during World War II, it practiced “benevolent neutrality” toward the Allies, enacting policies in their favor. The Eire signs were given lookout post numbers, and a list was supplied to Allied airmen so that they could use them as navigational aids.

4 Can Jaws Solve A Classic Murder Mystery?

In 1974, the almost decapitated, naked body of a young woman was found at the Race Point dunes near Provincetown, Massachusetts. She became known as the Lady of the Dunes. Her killer removed her teeth and hands to hinder identification. Over four decades later, we still have no idea who she was. However, we might have a bizarre lead, courtesy of horror author (and Stephen King’s son) Joe Hill. He believes the woman could have appeared as an extra in the movie Jaws.

Hill readily admits that his idea is “out there,” but he does provide a few intriguing clues. The Lady of the Dunes was found on July 26, while most of the city scenes were filmed in June, and Provincetown is relatively close to Martha’s Vineyard, where the shooting took place. Furthermore, the extra in question does resemble a composite sketch of the murder victim made in 2010, and she was wearing a blue bandana similar to one found with the body.[7]

Hill first mentioned the notion in 2015, but it recently gained attention after it was talked about on a podcast on the making of the movie. Records of the extras are “iffy,” but the added notoriety could prompt the woman or someone who knew her to come forward.

3 Fly Ruins Domino Record Attempt

A pesky fly ruined an attempt at breaking a domino world record in Germany by landing on a tile and setting off the chain reaction prematurely.

A team of 20 people had two weeks, an empty gym in Nidda (near Frankfurt), and over 600,000 tiles to break as many domino records as possible. They managed to set four new records for longest domino wall, largest spiral, largest cube, and longest domino chain reaction. However, their attempt at the record for most mini-dominoes falling in one go went awry thanks to interference from a fly.[8]

The insect landed on the tiny tile, no bigger than a fingernail, and triggered the chain reaction that ruined most of the course before it was finished. There wasn’t enough time to reset, so the participants had to abandon that particular record.

2 Lifting The Dinnie Stones

Photo credit:

Australian nurse Leigh Holland-Keen became the second woman to ever lift Scotland’s famous “Dinnie Stones,” which have a combined weight of 332.5 kilograms (733 lb).

The giant boulders are named in honor of one of the country’s most famous competitors, strongman Donald Dinnie. He was an all-around athlete who won medals every year at the Scottish Highland Games between 1856 and 1876. However, it was his feats of strength that earned him his greatest fame. In 1860, he carried the two stones across the Potarch Bridge in Aberdeenshire. Afterward, the rocks were forgotten about for almost 100 years. Since their rediscovery in 1953, many strongmen have taken up the challenge of lifting the Dinnie Stones.

In 1979, American powerlifter Jan Todd became the first woman to perform the feat. She remained the only one to do so for almost four decades. At this year’s Donald Dinnie Day, The Gathering II, Leigh Holland-Keen managed to lift the massive boulders.[9]

She first tried last year, when she attended the event with her mother and stepfather. Her stepfather, Lance, is one of the 90 men who have hoisted the rocks. Of course, none carried them over a bridge like Dinnie did. In fact, the record for the longest time holding the Dinnie Stones was also set earlier this year by Englishman Mark Haydock, who lifted them for 38.6 seconds.

1 A Mysterious Signal From Space

Astronomers from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) announced the detection of a mysterious and unusual fast radio burst (FRB) that hit our planet from an unknown source.

FRBs are among the most puzzling phenomena in cosmology. They are incidents of extremely high energy that we pick up as transient radio pulses which only last for a few milliseconds. We observed the first one back in 2007. Since then, scientists have concluded that FRBs are not an uncommon occurrence, estimating that thousands happen every day.

That being said, we haven’t actually detected that many due to their random and extremely short-lived nature. It wasn’t until 2016 that we discerned a repeating series of FRBs, which allowed us to pinpoint the source and show that these radio signals are coming from far outside our galaxy.

This latest signal, called FRB 180725A, poses a conundrum. It is the first transmission of its kind picked up at a frequency below 700 megahertz, reaching 580 megahertz.[10] It is expected that CHIME will detect hundreds of radio signals in the future as a secondary objective, so we might have a better explanation for this bizarre phenomenon in the years to come.

So let’s get to the big question: Is it aliens? Probably not, but maybe. Leading hypotheses suggest that the origins of the signals are supernovae explosions, black holes “coughing up” material, or certain kinds of neutron stars called magnetars. The thinking is that these are the only cosmic events powerful enough to generate the energy seen in FRBs.

Some astrophysicists have proposed the idea that these radio signals are alien in nature. Specifically, they posit that FRBs could come from beams used by extragalactic civilizations to power lightsails. Lightsails are a potentially revolutionary concept still in its infancy stages (for us) that uses “photonic propulsion” to power a spacecraft.


Read more offbeat stories you might have missed from August 4, 2018 and July 28, 2018.

fact checked by Jamie Frater