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10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (3/9/19)

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

It’s Saturday, which means, as always, that it’s time to catch up on the weird side of the news. Just in case you weren’t able to stay up-to-date with the important recent world events, we’ve got you covered. This is a look at a few uncanny stories that made the headlines recently.

We have quite a few controversies this week that span the worlds of fashion, art, sports, and law. There is also a tale of survival and Taco Bell, the discovery of an elixir of immortality, and the strange observation of a creature with a temporary anus.

10 A Different Kind Of Bridge Suspension

Another doping scandal has rocked the sporting world as Norwegian player Geir Helgemo tested positive for testosterone. What’s most bizarre about this situation is that Helgemo plays bridge.

The testing occurred in September at an event in Orlando. The bridge player tested positive not only for synthetic testosterone but also for a female fertility drug called clomifene.[1] As a result of this, the World Bridge Federation (WBF) suspended Helgemo until November 20 and stripped him of all the titles and points won during the 2018 World Bridge Series. Before this happened, he was ranked No. 1 in the world.

The WBF said that Helgemo told an investigative panel how the drugs got in his system, although they didn’t make the explanation public. Unsurprisingly, the president of the Norwegian Bridge Federation, Kari-Anne Opsal, confirmed that the drugs were not performance-enhancing. In case you are wondering why they even test for them, then, it’s because the WBF is recognized by the International Olympic Committee and, therefore, abides by World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines.

9 Armageddon’t

Photo credit: Touchstone Pictures

The 1998 disaster movie Armageddon gets plenty of criticism for the implausibility of its plot, but a new study published in the journal Icarus might have put a final nail in its coffin. Scientists have run computer simulations, and they believe that even if humans were able to blow up an asteroid heading for our planet, gravity would simply cause it to reform in space.

The threat of an asteroid impact is a genuine concern. After all, it has happened before, with devastating consequences. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University put together a computer model which simulated collisions to see how the space rock breaks apart. They discovered that the fragments which would be blown away in an Armageddon-like scenario are likely to reform with the asteroid due to gravity.[2]

Dr. Charles El Mir believes that the simulations show that a much more energetic force would be needed to completely shatter an asteroid than previously thought. Scientists used to contend that larger objects would be easier to break because they had more flaws. However, new research suggests that bigger asteroids also come with bigger cores, whose gravitational pull would be powerful enough to attract the fragments that get blasted away.

8 A Pricy Set Of Wheels

Photo credit: BBC News

The Geneva Motor Show is currently underway in Switzerland. There are plenty of stories to excite gearheads, including the unveiling of the world’s most expensive new car.

The vehicle is called La Voiture Noire (“The Black Car”) by French manufacturer Bugatti. It’s one-of-a-kind and was built to celebrate the company’s 110th anniversary. Many media outlets have reported the hypercar as being the most expensive new car in the world, overtaking the previous record-holder, the Rolls-Royce Sweptail. However, it is hard to say with certainty since the actual price for either automobile has not been revealed. Estimates for the Bugatti range between $11 and 12.5 million for the vehicle, plus another $6 million in local and luxury taxes.

La Voiture Noire is a jet-black car with a carbon fiber body. It has a 16-cylinder engine which puts out 1,500 horsepower. Again, the company is keeping mum on its top speed, although the specs are thought to be similar to the Bugatti Chiron. A spokesperson said that La Voiture Noire was designed as a tribute to the Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic, of which only four were made in the 1930s.

The buyer of La Voiture Noire is another mystery. Bugatti has simply described them as “an enthusiast of the brand.”[3] People have speculated that the exclusive owner is Ferdinand Piech. He is the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche and a former chief executive at Volkswagen.

7 The Mystery Of The Transient Anus

Photo credit: Bastique

A marine biologist believes he may have discovered a certain species of comb jelly with a feature unique among animals: a transient anus.

There are simple species of creatures such as jellyfish that only have one opening which they use to swallow food and to expel waste. Then, more complex animals have a through-gut with a mouth at one end and an anus at the other. It was thought that comb jellies were part of the latter, but the warty comb jelly was a strange exception. It did not appear to have an anus.

However, Sidney Tamm of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, discovered that the creature does have an anus . . . sometimes. According to his observations, the opening appears only when the animal needs to defecate and disappears afterward.[4] As waste accumulates in the comb jelly’s body, the gut starts to balloon out. Eventually, it stretches out so much that it touches the epidermis. When this happens, the two fuse together and create a hole for excretion. After the process is done, there is no more trace of the opening, not even under the microscope.

Tamm believes the discovery is more significant than simply finding an animal with a weird quirk. He thinks it is possible that the temporary anus is an intermediate stage in the evolution of the anatomical structure.

6 Is Lake Erie A Person?

Voters from Toledo, Ohio, approved an unusual measure which gives Lake Erie the same rights as people. This marks the first time that a natural resource has been granted legal status in the United States.

This move was done primarily to protect the Great Lake from pollution. Back in 2014, all the agricultural runoff that ends up in the lake from tributaries caused a toxic alga to bloom so much that it led to a state of emergency. About half a million people were left without drinking water, and since then, the residents of Toledo looked for new ways to protect the lake.

That led to a recent referendum which passed with 61 percent of votes. The Lake Erie Bill of Rights grants the body of water legal standing. Specifically, Lake Erie can now “stand” to sue polluters.

As expected, the measure has already been challenged by a group of farmers for being unconstitutional and unlawful. They argue that it is too vague to be enforceable and a violation of their rights.[5] It remains to be seen if the move will be accepted in US courts. Legal experts don’t like its chances, primarily because Lake Erie extends far beyond the jurisdiction of Toledo.

5 The Elixir Of Life

Photo credit: Xinhua/Li An

Back in October of last year, Chinese archaeologists were exploring the tomb of a noble family in the Henan Province. They found many interesting artifacts at the site, including clay pots, jade materials, and a lamp. They also recovered a pot with a yellowish liquid inside. At first, they thought it was wine, but now they have concluded that it was an elixir of immortality.

The wine conclusion made sense initially. Besides the color, the 2,000-year-old liquid smelled like alcohol. It was also consistent with other discoveries, as wine was used in various ceremonies of the time. However, lab analysis of the substance revealed that it contained alunite and potassium nitrate.[6] According to ancient Taoist texts, both of these chemical compounds are main ingredients used in elixirs intended to grant long-lasting life.

Considering that archaeologists found the liquid next to a dead nobleman, it is pretty safe to say that the elixir does not work. Even so, Chinese researchers are still excited with the discovery. According to Shi Jiazhen, head of the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Luoyang, this is the first time that they actually found an elixir of immortality from ancient China.

4 Taco Bell Saves Lives

A man stranded in the snowy wilderness of Central Oregon survived for five days just on Taco Bell sauce packets.

Jeremy Taylor is an avid outdoorsman who went out in Deschutes National Forest accompanied by his dog, Ally. Heavy snow caused his car to get stuck on a forest service road. He slept in the vehicle overnight, hoping that the weather might clear by morning. Unfortunately, the opposite happened, as the snowing continued through the night.

The next day, Taylor and Ally tried to hike out of there, but the snow was too deep. They returned to the car. The two spent five days in the wilderness before finally being rescued after being spotted by a passing snowmobiler. During that time, the only sustenance Taylor had was a few packets of Taco Bell hot sauce.[7]

The man and his best friend were healthy and happy, although very hungry. Following his ordeal, Taylor joked online that, “Taco Bell fire sauce saves lives!” The strange story made its way to the fast food restaurant, which rewarded Taylor with a year’s supply of free Taco Bell, complete with all the sauce packets he could eat.

3 Tiny Handbag Makes Big Splash

Photo credit: Instagram/@jacquemus

Paris fashion week ended on Tuesday. All the cool, stylish people were there to see the new couture trends. One accessory grabbed everyone’s attention. It made them wonder if the recent craze of downsizing things has finally gone too far. It is a micro-handbag which measures only 5.2 centimeters (2 in) long.[8]

The bag is called the Mini Le Chiquito and is the creation of French designer Simon Porte Jacquemus. It is actually a miniaturized version of the already diminutive Le Chiquito handbag, which was launched last year. Despite a price tag of over $500, that accessory proved popular enough that it sold out at many retailers. Measuring a whopping 12 centimeters (4 in) by 6 centimeters (2.5 in), it was probably too bulky for some people, so a tinier version was in order. There is no word yet on how much the Mini Le Chiquito will cost.

2 Do Hipsters All Look The Same?

A man was angry with a technology magazine that published an article about how all hipsters look the same. He threatened to sue them for using an image of him without permission and implying he was a hipster, only to discover it showed a different man who looked the same as him.

The MIT Technology Review ran a story about the hipster effect. It is a counterintuitive phenomenon where people perceived to be hipsters, even though they are meant to be anti-conformists who oppose mainstream culture, somehow “all end up looking the same.” For the article, the magazine used a stock photo (shown above) licensed from Getty Images. It showed a man who fit the stereotypical look of the hipster: white, thirties, with a beard, wearing a flannel shirt and a knit cap.

This prompted a very angry letter from a person who claimed to be the man in the photo. He called the article “nonsense” and “slanderous” and said he will be pursuing legal action for using his picture without permission.[9]

The editor-in-chief knew that implying that someone is a hipster isn’t exactly a prosecutable offense. He also knew they had the right license and had used the image properly. Just to be sure, the magazine contacted Getty to check that the man in the photo signed a model release. The company wrote back, saying the name of the model was not the same as their grievant. When presented with this information, the accuser realized the man in the photo wasn’t him but probably looked very similar.

1 Mona Lisa, The Early Years

Photo credit: Conde Museum

Art experts believe that Leonardo da Vinci might be the author of a charcoal drawing known as the Nude Mona Lisa, perhaps even done in preparation for his iconic painting.

The Nude Mona Lisa is also called the Monna Vanna and sits at the Conde Museum in Chantilly, Oise, France. We already knew that it came from the school of Leonardo da Vinci, but art historians believed the drawing belonged to one of the master’s pupils. Now, however, they have reconsidered following extensive testing performed by investigators from the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France (C2RMF).

The idea emerged in 2017, when Bruno Mottin, a restoration expert from the Louvre, dated the drawing to da Vinci’s lifetime. However, he dismissed Leonardo as the author because he believed it was done by a right-handed person.

Now, investigators think that Mottin was thrown off by some shading at the top of the drawing which was done by a right hand. The rest of the artwork, however, was definitely the work of a left-handed person. They say that they found “left-handed charcoal marks pretty much everywhere.”[10] Furthermore, the drawing features a technique called “sfumato” used to blur color transitions. Leonardo liked this method and even used it on the Mona Lisa.

Conde Museum curator Mathieu Deldicque believes that the drawing was “almost certainly a preparatory work for an oil painting.” However, he acknowledges that they can never be completely certain about its origins.


Read more offbeat stories you might have missed from March 2, 2019, and February 23, 2019.

fact checked by Jamie Frater