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10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (2/9/19)

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Let’s start the weekend with a look at some of the strangest things that have occurred over the last few days. We can also help you catch up on the important goings-on in the world by clicking here.

This week is a blast from the past as we explore several mysteries that were considered dead and buried. They include the infamous Dyatlov Pass incident and the suspicious circumstances surrounding James Brown’s death. We also appreciate the efforts of the British Library to bring historical erotica to the masses.

There are also a few criminal capers to talk about: a successful diamond heist in Belgium and a not-so-successful robbery attempt in Canada which was foiled by bananas.

10 Beware Of Dragon

Photo credit: BBC

North Wales Police are warning motorists traveling on the A5 motorway near Tregarth, Gwynedd, to pay attention to the road and not the dragon sitting beside it.

Okay, so the dragon is not real but rather a 7.6-meter-long (25 ft) carving called Y Ddraig Derw (“the Oak Dragon”). Using a chainsaw, Simon O’Rourke sculpted the dragon from a fallen oak tree. The carving sits on private property facing the road.

As you might expect, the impressive dragon is something of an eye-grabber which isn’t ideal for road safety. Drivers keep slowing down suddenly to look at it. The sculpture has been in place for about a month and has led to one accident and numerous near misses.[1]

Although Welsh police say they “love the oak dragon,” they urge drivers to keep their full concentration on the road and to park somewhere safely if they want to take a good look at it. So far, the owner of the carving hasn’t announced any plans to move it somewhere out of view.

9 Super Bowl Scandal

Super Bowl LIII is in the history books. There was one juicy bit of controversy to come out of it, but it had nothing to do with the actual game. Gamblers are arguing over the exact duration of Gladys Knight’s rendition of the national anthem.

Americans wagered around $6 billion on the match. However, not all the bets were placed on the outcome or the score. So-called “prop bets” are getting increasingly popular, and they can be placed on all kinds of things—from the half-time show to the color of the Gatorade that will be poured on the winning coach.

One prop bet concerned the duration of the anthem. This year, the “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight did the honors and most betting sites had the over/under line at 1 minute and 50 seconds.

This meant that people could bet on the song lasting for more or less than 1:50. It sounded like Knight finished singing “home of the brave” at 1:49, meaning that under won. However, she then repeated the words “the brave,” thus clocking in at around two minutes and giving the bet to over.

This is the controversy: Does the anthem end when the official lyrics end or when the performer stops singing altogether? There was a lot of debate given that the decision determined who gets paid and who does not. One sportsbook avoided unhappy customers by paying out on both sides of the line, while most others concluded that the clock stops after the original “brave.”[2]

8 Banana Attack Makes Robber Split

Seungae Kim shares video of banana incident during attempted robbery in Mississauga

A 69-year-old store owner was able to fend off a would-be robber by hitting him repeatedly with a bunch of bananas.

Seungae Kim operates a convenience store with her husband in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. On Saturday night, she was at the till eating a banana when a masked man walked inside and demanded that she open the cash register. When she refused, the robber tried to jump over the counter.[3]

That’s when Seungae started to fight back. She grabbed the first thing she could get her hands on and started hitting the thief in the face. Her weapon of choice was a bunch of bananas, but it did the trick. After a few smacks, the masked criminal turned around and walked toward the exit. As the security footage showed, Seungae wasn’t finished and threw the bananas after him.

In a later interview, the store owner said that she was more concerned with protecting her husband than she was with the money in the till.

7 It’s Not Smutty If It’s Historical

Photo credit: The Guardian

If you’ve ever had an interest in historical erotica, your day is about to get a lot better. The British Library has digitized and will soon publish online its “Private Case”—a collection of 2,500 erotic and pornographic volumes from the 17th century onward.

Included in the collection is the Merryland series. First published in the mid-18th century, it is a group of erotic books which metaphorically refer to the study of the female body as new land that needs to be explored and “ploughed.” They have been written by multiple authors, many anonymous, and feature a narrator named Roger Pheuquewell.

Also in the collection are the works of the Marquis de Sade and dozens of copies of Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Written in 1748 by John Cleland, it is considered to be the first original pornographic novel in the English language. The oldest volume in the “Private Case” is a book called Rare Verities: the Cabinet of Venus Unlocked and Her Secrets Laid Open from 1658.

Some volumes are more practical than others. For example, Harris’s Lists of Covent-Garden Ladies is an 18th-century directory of female prostitutes in London. Entries contain names, addresses, and small descriptions. Miss Spencer from No. 35, Newman Street, for example, “is never so good a companion as when a little enlivened with the juice of the grape.”[4]

6 USB Drive Sealed Away

Photo credit:

Scientists from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in New Zealand have been studying seal poop to monitor the health and diet of seal populations. They made an interesting discovery inside one scat sample—a USB stick full of holiday photos.

The sample in question had been collected from a leopard seal on Oreti Beach, Invercargill, by a vet and sent to the research facility over a year ago. It had been frozen and stored for most of that time before being thawed out to be analyzed.

Researchers let the USB stick dry out for a few weeks but then discovered that it was still in pretty good condition “considering where it had come from.”[5] On it they found pictures of seals, sea lions, and a video of a mother playing with her baby.

Scientists are very keen to know the movements of these animals in New Zealand waters and even have a dedicated hotline where people can call to report sightings. Some volunteers even patrol the beaches on the lookout for more seal poop.

NIWA posted a video from the USB stick in an effort to identify its owner. She was later identified as Amanda Nally, a local who already volunteered with the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust.

5 Was James Brown Murdered?

Photo credit: Rolling Stone

A new CNN investigation has brought into question the circumstances surrounding the death of James Brown over 12 years ago. Although the official cause of death was natural causes, this inquiry suggests that he could have been murdered. It calls for a criminal investigation and an autopsy.

Brown died on Christmas Day 2006 following a short illness. One of the people most surprised by his passing was Marvin Crawford, the doctor who signed his death certificate. The singer’s condition was initially improving before taking a sudden turn for the worse. Crawford always found this deterioration suspicious. Later, he said that a nurse had told him that she found drug residue inside the tube which was helping Brown breathe.[6]

Over a dozen people have called for a new look into Brown’s death, including relatives, his former manager Frank Copsidas, and Reverend Al Sharpton. The bulk of the evidence from the CNN report was gathered by Jacqueline Hollander, a former friend of Brown’s third wife, Adrienne Rodriguez. Hollander had once accused Brown of raping her.

Besides investigating the singer’s death, Hollander also alleges that Adrienne was murdered by a doctor. Officially, Adrienne Rodriguez died of an accidental overdose of painkillers following plastic surgery. But the police officer who handled her case did have an informant who also claimed that she was murdered. It remains to be seen if authorities will launch an inquiry into the numerous sordid accusations that surrounded the “godfather of soul.”

4 Toilet Trouble In Space

Photo credit:

The International Space Station suffered a toilet leak after astronauts tried to install a new double stall which caused almost 10 liters (2.6 gal) of water to pour out.

The previous toilet had been aboard the ISS since 2008, so it was due for an upgrade. The new Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) comes with a host of improvements. Crucially, it includes a double stall which will separate the toilet from the rest of the hygiene department.[7]

Astronauts experienced a leak while de-mating a Quick Disconnect for the potable water bus. Around 9.5 liters (2.5 gal) of water discharged before the ISS crew was able to isolate and fix the drip. They had to use towels to soak up all the excess liquid, but no serious damage was reported. The UWMS has been installed in anticipation of brand-new toilets which will be arriving in 2020.

3 Diamond Heist In Belgium

Photo credit:

Last week, we talked about an attempted Hollywood-style heist when an unidentified person or persons dug a tunnel leading underneath a Chase Bank in Florida. The sequel comes this week except that the thieves were actually successful.

The caper took place last Sunday in Antwerp, the Belgian city famed for its diamond sector. The robbers set up shop in a house 400 meters (1,310 ft) away from the BNP Paribas Fortis branch.

They dug a tunnel several meters long to connect to the sewer system, and then they crawled through the sewers. When they were underneath the bank, they dug another few meters and were inside the vault. When bank employees checked the vault on Monday, they discovered that the thieves had cracked open 30 or so safes and absconded with their contents.

At the moment, both the bank and the police are keeping quiet about the stolen goods or their estimated value. Considering that the branch’s clientele consists of many diamond traders, it is fair to say that the criminals made off with an impressive haul.[8]

A 27-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the heist, but details are still scarce regarding his role in the caper or possible accomplices.

2 Beer Or Wine First?

Beer before wine, and you’ll feel fine. Wine before beer, and you’ll feel queer.”

That’s the old saying which implies that the order in which you consume your beverages will have an effect on the hangover you experience after a night of heavy drinking. British and German researchers decided to put the aphorism to the test to see if there is any validity to it.

Ninety volunteers between 19 and 40 made the ultimate sacrifice of getting sloshed for science. They were given a standardized meal and then split into three groups.

The first drank 1.2 liters (2.5 pints) of lager followed by four large glasses of white wine. The second group had the same drinks but in reverse order. The third only drank beer or wine of equivalent alcohol concentration. Everyone stopped drinking when they had a 0.11 percent alcohol level.[9]

All the participants were quizzed throughout the night and were given a glass of water before bed. But the real testing started the next morning. They had to rate their hangovers on a scale which included factors such as nausea, dizziness, headache, thirst, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

The test subjects returned the next week and repeated the experiment but switched places. Their hangovers the next day showed negligible differences compared to the first ones. The study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that drink order had no impact on the intensity of the hangover.

1 A New Look At Dyatlov Pass

Photo credit:

Russian authorities have launched a new investigation into the notorious Dyatlov Pass incident which mysteriously claimed the lives of nine hikers 60 years ago.

On January 23, 1959, seven men and two women led by Igor Dyatlov set out to cross the northern Ural Mountains. One night, the hikers fled their tent dressed only in their underwear. Predictably, they froze to death.

A rescue team found their tent sliced open and gradually located the bodies, which featured broken bones and some head wounds. The Soviets blamed their deaths on the “spontaneous power of nature.” But this didn’t really explain what had driven nine experienced adventurers to leave their tent without clothes. Surely, they had realized that this would kill them.

Over the years, dozens of hypotheses were put forward. They include a secret KGB plot, escaped convicts, violence from the local Mansi tribe, a Yeti, and, of course, aliens.

Russian prosecutors have dismissed any idea which is criminal in nature. Instead, they announced plans to investigate three scenarios which they consider most likely. All involve natural phenomena. They are an avalanche, a snow slab, or a hurricane. Authorities are hopeful that modern technology will yield new clues. Investigators are due to fly to the remote site next month.[10]


Read more offbeat stories you might have missed from February 2, 2019, and January 26, 2019.

fact checked by Jamie Frater