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10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (2/23/19)

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

With another week in the history books, it’s time to sit back and review some of the stories that made the news over the last few days. Click here if you want to learn all about the major headlines. Otherwise, read on for unexpected and outlandish stories.

This week’s list is a collection of international affairs. There is the Canadian iceberg heist, the German Smurf party, and the French lightsaber duel. We find glow-in-the-dark spider fossils in Korea and striped horses in England. The Japanese get naked to uphold a 500-year-old tradition while an Australian woman dresses up as a gorilla to catch a flasher.

10 Smurf-tastic

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Thousands assembled in the German village of Lauchringen to set the new world record for the largest gathering of Smurfs.

The event was organized by a group called Da Traditionsverein. According to the group’s Facebook page, the occasion drew 2,762 people who donned pointy hats, white pants, and blue paint to resemble the characters from the beloved comic book.

The Record Institute for Germany was there to officially confirm the number of the crowd, although it is still waiting for approval from Guinness World Records. To be eligible for the record, each participant had to have their skin either painted blue or covered by clothing. The white cap was also mandatory, although red was allowed for people dressed up as Papa Smurf.

This was actually the second time that organizers attempted to break the record. They first tried it in 2016 but managed to assemble only 2,149 people. This time, their efforts overshadowed the previous record of 2,510 Smurfs set in 2009 at Swansea University in Wales.[1]

9 Spider Glow

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Scientists found fossils of spiders whose eyes still glowed in the dark even though they died 110 million years ago.

Researchers from the Korea Polar Research Institute and the University of Kansas were exploring a Mesozoic shale deposit in South Korea called the Jinju Formation. They uncovered 10 spider fossils.

This was noteworthy enough on its own. These kinds of finds are exceedingly rare because soft, squishy spiders don’t make very good fossils and are typically found only in amber. However, two of them were even more exciting because their eyes still shone in the dark even after all this time.

Most likely, the source of the glow was the tapetum. This is a reflective layer of tissue in the eye that many animals have. It helps with their night vision but also causes the eyes to shine in the dark. Researchers believe that this could be the first preservation of a spider’s tapetum in the entire fossil record.[2]

Scientists are also curious about the circumstances that led to the arachnids being preserved in shale. Other creatures such as fish and crustaceans were also present in the rocks, so they could have all fallen victim to a disastrous event like an algal bloom.

8 A Cool Heist

Photo credit: BBC

One of the most bizarre heists in recent memory occurred in Newfoundland, Canada, as thieves made off with 30,000 liters (7,925 gal) of iceberg water from a vodka distillery.

The criminals targeted a warehouse in the historic community of Port Union. The victim was Iceberg Vodka. As its name suggests, the company uses real iceberg water in the manufacturing of its product.

CEO David Meyers says the stolen liquid could have been used to make 150,000 bottles of vodka. However, he does not expect the company to suffer too much after its loss. The water was insured, and it was only valued at C$9,000 to C$12,000. That being said, the biggest problem is that the giant ice blocks can only be harvested once a year when the icebergs move closer to the Newfoundland coast.[3]

Meyers does not believe that the crime was one of simple opportunity. The thieves went through “a bit of work” to bypass the locked gate and door and brought along some kind of tanker to load and transport tens of thousands of liters of iceberg water. The original tank which contained the liquid had been drained and left behind.

7 Wickedness In Creswell Crags

Photo credit: The Guardian

There was a time when people were really, really afraid of something in Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, England. That’s the conclusion of heritage experts after they found inside what could be Britain’s largest assemblage of apotropaic signs—which are intended to ward off evil.

The markings include hundreds of symbols, letters, and patterns which were likely carved from the 16th century onward when fear of witchcraft became widespread.

It is truly remarkable how long it took for people to realize the markings were there. This is especially surprising given that ice age art was found inside the cave in 2003 and attracted a lot of attention.

However, it wasn’t until last year that two keen-eyed cavers spotted a couple of symbols and alerted members of the Creswell Heritage Trust as to their meaning. The director of the trust embarrassingly confessed that they had been telling people the markings were Victorian graffiti.

This prompted a closer inspection of the cave. Researchers were shocked to discover that the walls were covered in symbols. So far, they have found a thousand and counting.[4] Most of them are generic, such as PM for Pace Maria or a double V meaning Virgin of Virgins. It might be hard to tell exactly what it was about Creswell Crags that terrified people so much.

6 The Luckiest Men In Japan

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Thousands of Japanese men in Okayama stripped down to their loincloths and crowded together to search for two sticks believed to bring them good luck in the year to come.

The tradition is called Saidaiji Eyo, and it dates back over 500 years to the Muromachi period. Last Saturday, an estimated 10,000 men gathered at the Kinryozan Saidaiji Buddhist temple in Okayama to participate.

First, they took off their clothes and put on white loincloths. Then they all bathed in the cold waters of the Yoshii River as part of a purification ritual.

At around 10:00 PM came the main event. The mass of naked men watched as the temple’s chief priest stood on a balcony. The lights were turned off, and he threw two sticks into the crowd. A mad scramble ensued to find them.[5]

The sticks are called shingi. It is believed that the two participants who located them will be the luckiest men of the year.

5 Cop Kong Gets Her Man

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A determined citizen donned a gorilla cop disguise to stake out a pervert who had been flashing women in a park in Perth, Western Australia.

According to the anonymous woman, she had fallen victim to the sex pest several times. She talked with other women in the park and discovered that they had all suffered similar experiences. Typically, the man rode his bicycle with his shorts pulled up high around his waist so that his genitals were hanging out. On occasion, he had stopped and approached women on foot.

Determined to do something about it, the crime fighter took matters into her own hands. First, she put up posters around public areas warning people of a flasher. Then she began staking out the park he liked to frequent. Fearing he might recognize her, the woman wore a costume of a gorilla dressed up as a cop.

The bizarre gambit paid off. The concealed crusader spotted the offender and was able to follow him to his home without being spotted. She then relayed the information to the police, who charged him with four counts of indecent acts in public.[6]

4 Radiation At Grand Canyon

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For almost two decades, people who visited the Grand Canyon National Park museum could have been exposed to radiation thanks to uranium ore being stored in the vicinity.

Earlier this month, park staff members received a distressing email which said, “If you were in the Museum Collections Building (bldg 2C) between the year 2000 and June 18, 2018, you were ‘exposed’ to uranium by OSHA’s (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) definition.”[7]

It came from safety manager Elston Stephenson. He discovered that three 19-liter (5 gal) buckets of uranium ore had been stored near the taxidermy exhibit for nearly 20 years.

Things weren’t as serious as they sounded, though. The ore contained only low amounts of radiation. Levels were below those needed for concern about public safety, although they were higher than “background radiation.” Legally, this is why employees had to be notified. OSHA inspectors don’t expect any health problems and currently label the area as “no risk.”

That being said, employees could have done a better job of disposing of the uranium. They finally decided to get rid of it last June. They moved the buckets using gardening gloves and mop handles. They took the ore to the Lost Orphan uranium mine from which it had come.

3 A Joker On Mars

Photo credit: The Guardian

Most of us have a preconceived notion of what astronauts should be like. They need to be tough (both physically and mentally), smart, determined, and cool as a cucumber. In the words of Tom Wolfe, they need to have “the right stuff.” However, research suggests that, if colonization missions to Mars are to be successful, at least one of those astronauts should be more of a class clown than a class president.

It all has to do with boosting morale and diffusing tense situations. Anthropologist Jeffrey Johnson from the University of Florida has been studying overwintering crews in Antarctica for four years to identify the importance of informal roles in helping teams work smoothly together. He pinpointed multiple vital characters such as the leader, the peacemaker, the counselor, and the clown (whose role is essential in creating group cohesion).

Johnson puts it simply: Groups who have the right combination of characters do well, and those who do not do badly. He uses the famed Amundsen polar expedition as an example. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen understood the importance of a friendly face and selected the rotund and jolly chef Adolf Lindstrom to be on his team. He later wrote that Lindstrom “rendered greater and more valuable services to the . . . expedition than any other man.”[8]

Johnson has begun working with NASA to monitor groups of astronauts placed inside a mock space habitat in Houston, Texas. They want to see if the same informal dynamics are maintained in space environments.

2 May The Foil Be With You

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In a galaxy far, far away, the French Fencing Federation has officially recognized lightsaber dueling as a competitive sport.

Fencing clubs all over the country have been equipped with lightsabers and even offer training for those looking to live out their Star Wars fantasies. According to the federation’s Secretary General Serge Aubailly, this move was an effort to get young people to exercise more. He believes that they lead sedentary lifestyles that involve sitting on the couch and only exercising their thumbs.

In the past, cape-and-sword movies have had a big impact on fencing as a sport. Popular characters like Zorro and Robin Hood helped bring in a lot of new people interested in giving it a shot. Aubailly simply sees the Star Wars franchise as the next step.[9]

The rules are similar to regular fencing, but they have been modified slightly to give the sport more visual appeal as one would expect in the movies. The rooms are darkened so that the glowing lightsabers are easier to see.

In order for a blow to count, the tip of the saber must first have been pointed behind the fighter’s head. This is to encourage more brazen, over-the-head blows as seen in Star Wars duels instead of the lightning-quick, tip-first strikes common in fencing.

1 Why The Zebra Got Its Stripes

Photo credit: The Guardian

In a new study published in the scientific journal PLOS One, researchers from the University of Bristol concluded that the striped pattern on zebras appeared to confuse and deter flies.

According to coauthor Dr. Martin How, the stripes affect the insects’ landing. Close-up footage showed that the flies zoomed quite fast into the zebras. Some turned away completely, while others crashed into the animals instead of doing controlled landings.[10]

The stripes only appear to work as a deterrent from close range. Researchers believe that the low-resolution vision of flies will cause the zebras to look like regular gray horses from a distance of a few meters. The sudden reveal of the stripes might surprise the insects enough to make them veer away, or it might interfere with their ability to gauge correctly how fast the object is coming at them.

To be thorough, scientists needed to be sure that it was the stripes turning away the flies and not something else, such as a scent. Therefore, they dressed up horses in zebra coats to see if they would get the same results.

They also put plain white and plain black coats on other horses to act as a control. Indeed, the flies landed noticeably fewer times on the horses wearing stripes as compared to the ones clad in the other garments.


Read more offbeat stories you might have missed from February 16, 2019, and February 9, 2019.

fact checked by Jamie Frater