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The Weird Week in Review

Swedish Chef Told to Stop Making Good Food

Annika Eriksson is the head cook at a school in Falun, Sweden. Her students have enjoyed extraordinarily good meals, including fresh-baked bread and a vegetable buffet with over a dozen different offerings. School officials told her the food she was serving to the students was too good -and that she will have to scale it back because it's not fair to students at other schools in the district. Her vegetable buffet will be limited to half as many choices, and she must serve store-bought bread. Students at Eriksson's school have started a petition to protest the ruling.

Teenager Hit by Falling Chicken Parts

Cassie Bernard was in the middle of a horseback riding lesson last week in Assawoman, Virginia, when she was hit in the head by a chicken part falling from the sky. Bernard was not injured, as she was wearing a helmet. Several chicken parts fell from the sky, but no other students were hit. Officials from a nearby Tyson chicken processing plant denied the parts came from them. State Land Protection Manager Milton Johnston said the parts most likely came from improperly discarded chickens who died on a farm.

"We can't have pieces of chicken falling out of the sky," Johnston said.

Everybody at the farm looked up to see where the strange objects came from, but the clear blue sky didn't hold any clues.

"It was kind of odd; it made me think about the movie back in the 1980s, The Gods Must be Crazy," said Bruce Penland, who was at the farm. The comedy recounts the strange chain of events that occurs after a soda bottle falls from the sky and lands among a primitive tribe in the Kalahari Desert.

The parts may have been dropped by flying gulls.

Blue Honey Traced to M&Ms

Beekeepers in northeastern France were puzzled to find their hives were full of honey in strange blue and green tints. Although flowers bloom in colors, the nectar from them is usually colorless. The culprit turned out to be candy-coated M&Ms! A biogas plant near Ribeauville in Alsace had contracted with a Mars candy manufacturer to process the plant's waste products, which included the colored candy and food dye. The biogas company was red-faced when confronted with blue honey, and promised to rectify the situation by immediately covering the waste to prevent bees from eating it, and to process the materials as soon as possible. The blue and green honey will not be sold.

Caring for Pandas Dressed as Pandas

China's panda research program includes a plan for releasing pandas into the forest on their own. Tao Tao is the first panda born in captivity to be released into the wild. The cub has been housed at a semi-wild panda facility -and has never seen a human. Workers who cared for Tao Tao and his mother Cao Cao always dressed in Panda costumes, which are smeared with panda urine and feces to disguise the smell of humans. The two pandas were gradually moved to denser forest with less human intervention over the course of two years to prepare them for the final release in the mountains in Wolong, in southwest China’s Sichuan Province. The release is not a true goodbye: Tao Tao will wear a GPS collar and has an implanted ID chip so he can be tracked.

Substantial Penalty for Terminating Cell Phone Contract

Solenne San Jose of Pessac, France, terminated her cell phone contract before it expired. Telecom Bouygues warned her there would be a penalty fee on her next bill. There certainly was -the woman was billed €11,721,000,000,000,000. That is more money than is in circulation in Europe altogether! San Jose called the company to complain, and they offered to help her work out a payment plan -twice. Then they charged her another €12.50 each time she called about the bill. The company finally admitted the bill was an error, but the story does not say whether that was before or after the story hit the news media.

Occubaby Arrives

Last year, Kaylee Dedrick was pepper-sprayed by police at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York City. Robert Grodt stepped up to treat her face and …they fell in love. A year later, the two welcomed 7-pound Tegan Kathleen Grodt into the world.

"Nothing strengthens a relationship like a chemical agent," Grodt told The Daily News earlier this week.

As a memento for their hard days fighting for the 99 percent, OWS Screen Guild sent the newly-minted parents a white onesie with “Occupy Wall Street” printed in fat orange letters.

The media couldn't resist dubbing Tegan "Occubaby." She was born on September 28th.

Goat Rescue Ends Unexpectedly

A goat in West Yorkshire, England, is locally known as Black Rock Billie. Last week, Billie stepped onto a ledge of a cliff and stayed there -for four days. Assuming the goat was stuck, and wanting to forestall amateur rescuers, the Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team strung up a rope system to lower a rescuer to the goat. The three-hour operation came to a head when a man reached the ledge, and that's when Billie decided she'd stood there long enough, and simply leaped away, trotted down the hill, and appeared perfectly fine. The operation was captured on video.

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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
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Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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The TSA's Top 10 Strangest Finds of 2017
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Airport security checkpoints are dull for everyone except Bob Burns, the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) witty social media lead. For the uninitiated, Burns—who’s also known as “Blogger Bob”—keeps track of the strange, hilarious, and dangerous things people try bringing on planes, and posts pictures of the more unusual items onto the organization's Instagram page. Among the many strange items Burns has encountered are countless knives and guns, a tiny dog trapped in a checked suitcase, a sandwich slicer, and even a life-size corpse prop from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Bob Burns, the TSA's social media lead
Courtesy of Bob Burns

To commemorate yet another year on the job filled with bizarre checkpoint finds, Burns recently created the video below. It highlights the top 10 weirdest TSA finds from 2017, which range from bladed metal knuckles Burns dubbed “Satan’s Pizza Cutter” to narcotics disguised as Christmas presents.

“We hate to tear open a perfectly wrapped gift, but as you can see from this [video], the contents of the gifts aren’t always sweaters, socks, and underwear,” Burns tells Mental Floss.

While making the video, Burns didn’t have pictures on hand of every single strange object he wanted to include. If so, he might have added a weaponized paint roller that was discovered inside a carry-on bag at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It “looks like something out of a Mad Max movie,” Burns says. “It’s as if Mad Max wanted to paint the Thunderdome with the blood of his victims. It’s a paint roller wrapped in sandpaper and wire with nails protruding.”

A weaponized paint roller discovered by the TSA in 2017
Courtesy of Bob Burns

Other items that weren't captured in Burns's video that piqued the social media guru’s interest included grenade-shaped salt and pepper shakers and a knife concealed inside a container of Dove men’s deodorant. “Now I get why [the label] reads ’48 hours of protection,'” Burns says.

A knife hidden inside a deodorant container, discovered by the TSA in 2017
Courtesy of Bob Burns

Watch the video below to view Burns’s entire top 10 list of unusual checkpoint finds, and when you're done, check out the TSA's Instagram for more of his signature hilarity.

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