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10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (3/2/19)

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Another week has passed, which means that it is time, once again, to look at some of the bizarre stories that made the headlines recently. If you want to read up on the more serious stuff, click here.

This week’s list has a party vibe to it as we talk about beer, cannabis, and the world’s largest glory hole. Meanwhile, a snake sneaks into Scotland, a crusader gets beheaded, and sumo wrestlers shave their beards.

10 A Tale Of Two Truths

Photo credit: Jeremiah Gurney

The reputation of novelist Charles Dickens took a serious hit recently as newly surfaced letters detail the cruelty showed to his wife, Catherine.

Dickens is hailed as a literary genius and, arguably, the greatest writer of the Victorian era. However, he had a strained relationship with his spouse. He wed Catherine Hogarth in 1836, and they had ten children together. After nearly two decades of marriage, Dickens almost certainly started having an affair with a young actress named Ellen Ternan. This led to the couple separating in 1858, which was scandalous for the time.

Publicly, Dickens furiously denied rumors of an affair. He also wrote a private letter in which he claimed that the separation was Catherine’s idea because she suffered from mental illness. Although this was personal information, it eventually made its way to the public and helped shape the narrative of the disunion. Some Victorian scholars argue this was Dickens’s intention all along.

Now, previously unseen letters suggest that the novelist went a great deal further and tried to have his wife committed to an insane asylum. The documents were found and analyzed by Professor John Bowen from the University of York. They were written by Edward Dutton Cook, a friend and neighbor of the Dickens household. He says that Catherine told him, shortly before dying, that her husband unsuccessfully tried to coax a doctor to declare her mentally unstable.[1]

Bowen believes he has identified the doctor in question. Thomas Harrington Tuke was an asylum director and a friend of Dickens, but the two had a falling out a few years after the separation.

9 Snake On A Plane

Photo credit: Paul Airlie

A Scottish woman brought back an unexpected souvenir from her holiday in Australia. A spotted python somehow snuck into her luggage and made the nearly 15,000-kilometer (9,300 mi) trip back to her home in Glasgow.

Moira Boxall traveled to Queensland to see her daughter. She was apprehensive about the snakes in Australia. Her son-in-law, Paul Airlie, had to reassure her that they are not really as common as people think. And yet one sneaky reptile curled up into one of Moira’s slip-on shoes and rested peacefully the whole journey back from Australia to Scotland. It even shed its skin during the trip.[2]

Understandably, Moira was a bit spooked when she unpacked her luggage and found the snake. At first, she thought it was a toy that someone put in there as a prank. When she realized it was real, she took it outside in the garden, still in the shoe, and covered it with a box. Fortunately, it was docile and nonvenomous. The Scottish RSCPA came and collected it, and the snake is currently under quarantine.

The grandmother later revealed that the reptile may have been in her shoe for weeks. She first set eyes on a snake one morning at her daughter’s home in Queensland. By the time a snake catcher arrived, the serpent had disappeared, and they were unable to find it again.

8 Beer Is Magically Ridiculous

A brewery from Norfolk, Virginia, will be releasing a limited-edition IPA beer which will taste like a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal.

Described as “magically ridiculous,” the upcoming beverage is the creation of the Smartmouth Brewing Company and will be named Saturday Morning IPA.[3] A spokesperson from the brewery said that they achieved the unique flavor by tossing in “pounds of marshmallows, some of which we toasted” during the brewing process, alongside Calypso hops, which are naturally fruity. The end result is supposed to be a sweet beer which will remind people of a beloved childhood cereal.

The IPA will have a 6.6-percent alcohol by volume (ABV) content and will be released on March 2. Unfortunately, it will only be available throughout the state of Virginia, so beer connoisseurs might have to make a trip.

7 Florida Man Steals Coins

A bizarre crime occurred in Florida as a thief stole rare coins worth tens of thousands of dollars and then ran most of them through change machines that replaced them with ordinary coins worth face value.

Forty-year-old Shane Anthony Mele from Riviera Beach absconded with commemorative presidential dollar coins and other valuable coinage worth an estimated $33,000.[4] At first, he did what you might expect a criminal in his position to do. He pawned some of his loot for thousands of dollars. However, he then took the rest of the money and visited grocery stores with change machines. He passed the rare coins through the machines and got back ordinary coins, which were worth only a small fraction of the stolen goods.

Mele was eventually arrested, although it is still unclear at this time why he did what he did. Perhaps he simply wanted to get rid of the coins because he couldn’t find a buyer. On a possibly related note, he was also charged with multiple drug-related offenses when he was arrested.

6 Alacritous Evolution

As detailed in a new study published in Scientific Reports, researchers were able to observe single-celled organisms evolve into multicellular life in less than a year.

The leap from primitive single cells to more complex creatures is one of the main stages in the evolution of life on Earth. Scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Montana were able to see and record this leap occurring over a period of 50 weeks, or approximately 750 generations.

The organism in question was green alga named Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. It began evolving with one simple change to its environment—the introduction of a predator.[5]Paramecium tetraurelia is a single-cell filter-feeder which was added to the mix to see what would happen. Two out of five experimental populations of the single-celled algae evolved into multicellular life-forms as a response to this new threat. The test not only provided a unique glimpse into early life on Earth but also lent credence to the notion that predation played a key role in the evolution of primitive organisms.

5 Live In The House of Tomorrow . . . Today

Photo credit: Holling

The “House of Tomorrow,” presented at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, is available to lease to anyone willing to spend a few million dollars in renovations.

Back in 1933, Chicago hosted the World’s Fair under the theme of “Century of Progress.” It was intended to celebrate the city’s centennial but also to show the way of the future to a nation still suffering from the Great Depression. Part of this strategy included many futuristic exhibits, including one visionary marvel dubbed the House of Tomorrow.

It was the brainchild of George Fred Keck and was a three-story, twelve-sided polygon. As its name implied, it was meant to showcase an avant-garde design full of features that would become common years or decades down the line. It got many things right. It had floor-to-ceiling glass walls, central air conditioning, a push-button garage door opener, and the first dishwasher designed by General Electric. There were also a few missteps, such as a personal airplane hangar.

After the fair finished, the House of Tomorrow and a few other exhibits were relocated to Indiana. In the 1970s, they became properties of the Indiana Dunes National Park. As they began falling into disrepair, Indiana Landmarks leased the exhibits from the National Park Service and then subleased them to private residents who could live in them, provided that they paid for renovations.

The House of Tomorrow is the last property to become available for a lease. The National Trust for Historic Preservation estimates that it could cost between $2.5 and 3 million to refurbish the home.[6] However, the new tenant will receive a 50-year lease in exchange for their efforts.

4 Crusader Lost His Head

Photo credit: RTE

An 800-year-old crusader got beheaded, and his head was stolen from a crypt in Dublin, Ireland.[7]

On Monday afternoon, a guide was preparing to give a tour of St. Michan Church when they made the grisly discovery. The criminals removed a solid steel gate which was meant to secure the vaults, entered the crypt, and desecrated several mummies. The remains of the crusader got the worst of it, as his head was completely removed. The site has been closed to tourists for the foreseeable future.

While church officials are concerned with recovering the head and fixing the damage done to the other bodies, the worst might still be yet to come. They are worried that the remains might begin disintegrating now that they have been exposed to open air.

In response to the desecration, Archdeacon David Pierpoint called it a “sad day for humanity.” The crypt was previously vandalized in 1996, when teenagers stole several mummies and played football with the heads.

3 Largest Glory Hole In The World

Photo credit: Flickr/Doug Letterman

The Glory Hole at Lake Berryessa reservoir in Northern California was used for the second time in two years, even though initially, people anticipated needing it only a couple of times per century.

Its official name is the Morning Glory Spillway, although locals simply call it the Glory Hole. With a 22-meter-wide (72 ft) opening channeling water into a 75-meter (246 ft) pipe, the spillway is the largest of its kind in the world. The US Bureau of Reclamation built it over 60 years ago to take in water following powerful storms. However, they only expected the Glory Hole to be used once every 50 years or so, but this is the second time it was activated in just as many years following weeks of heavy precipitation. The Glory Hole has previously spilled over in 2006 and 1997.[8]

The visual of the Glory Hole in action suggests a giant flushing toilet, although some with a more upbeat outlook suggested an inverted fountain. The Glory Hole flushed without incident, although that has not always been the case. As the largest body of water in Napa County, Lake Berryessa is a popular spot for all kinds of water activities. During the 1997 overspill, a 41-year-old swimmer named Emily Schwalek died after being sucked into the spillway.

2 Beardy Sumo Ban

Photo credit: Eckhard Pecher

Sumo wrestlers will have to clean up their act following a ban on beards in an effort to improve the image of the sport.

Officials with the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) said that the sumo ring (dohyo) is sacred and that spectators must be prevented from seeing anything unsightly while watching the sport. Therefore, the organization has instituted a ban on things they deem indecent, which include beards, tattoos, and long nails.[9]

The whisker embargo is the one most likely to irk fighters. Sumo is an ancient sport steeped in tradition, and many superstitious wrestlers believe that it is bad luck to shave during competition. However, current yokozuna Kakuryu Rikisaburo has expressed his support for the new bans, saying that looking good is an important aspect and that all fighters “must absolutely adhere to it.”

This is the latest in a string of moves intended to improve a sport with a tarnished image following multiple scandals over the past few years. There have been accusations of match-fixing, and in late 2017, Yokozuna Harumafuji Kohei had to resign after admitting to assaulting another wrestler. In 2018, an official suffered a stroke in the middle of the ring. Despite a life-threatening situation, the referee was more concerned with evacuating the female medics attending to him, as women were not allowed inside the dohyo.

1 The Cannabis Brew

Photo credit: Marina Taikevich

Scientists from the University of California Berkeley took a yeast typically used for beer and modified it so that they could brew cannabis with it.

The yeast in question is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. According to lead author Jay Keasling, the process is “just like brewing beer.” However, they modified the yeast’s DNA with dozens of genes from the marijuana plant. Now, when you add a sugar called galactose to the mix, the yeast starts producing cannabigerolic acid instead of ethanol. In turn, this solution could be used to derive a wide range of cannabinoids.[10]

Among the compounds obtained using this method is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Another noteworthy result is cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid which is currently of interest to researchers for its potential therapeutic applications.

The yeast also produced compounds that are usually only found in minute amounts in marijuana. The hope is that, from now on, it will be much easier to obtain these cannabinoids for research. Using yeast could also become a cheaper, greener, and more effective method of cultivating cannabis in the future.


Read more offbeat stories you might have missed from February 23, 2019, and February 16, 2019.

fact checked by Jamie Frater