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The world's biggest balls

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It was a roadside phenomenon that grew into a country-wide craze; now it seems that every state in the union lays claim to at least one or two record-breaking balls. What compels people to make their balls so big? We may never know -- we can only admire them, and pay homage. Which is just what this list intends to do. So without further ado, here are the world's biggest balls of:

TWINE

Some pertinent stats: It weighs nearly 18,000 pounds, just shy of nine tons. It has a circumference of 40 feet. It also has its own mini-museum -- more of an enclosed gazebo, really -- in Darwin, Minnesota, where creator Francis Johnson spent four hours a day winding it for 29 years, from 1950 to 1979. The town celebrates "Twine Ball Day" every August. (But all is not well in twine-ball town; a controversy has brewed for years over whose ball is biggest, Darwin's or the one on display in Branson, MO, built by millionaire J. C. Payne of using a system of pulleys. The Guinness Book certified the latter as the largest, but Darwinians claimed that Payne cheated by using machines.) By the way, these are only the largest balls of twine built by one person; the largest community-built ball resides in Cawker City, Kansas, where every year a "twine-a-thon" is held in which townsfolk gather 'round the ball and help it grow.

PAINT
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Michael Carmichael has spent twenty-eight years painting a baseball, which has nearly 20,000 coats on it to date and weighs at least 40 pounds. The town where it resides, Alexandria, Indiana, is also home to the world's largest hairball, which was found in the sewers some years ago and was (an apparently true) feature in the National Enquirer. Even more amazing, the huge ball of paint was identified by the Dept. of Homeland Security as a "distinguished heritage site" which helped qualify Indiana for a slice of its annual terror defense budget.

BARBED WIRE
Sitting in an open field in Texas is the world's largest ball of barbed wire, wound together over 30 years by the same mad genius who created the Guinness-recognized twine ball (see above), J.C. Payne. Weighing 21,000 pounds and measuring 11.5 feet in diameter, it's probably also the world's largest tetanus hazard.

POPCORN
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Constructed in a popcorn factor in Sac City, Iowa (doesn't that seem like cheating?), Guinness recognized this ball as the world's largest in 2004. 910 lbs. of popcorn, 1500 lbs. of sugar and 690 lbs. of syrup went into making the seven-foot-tall, 3,100 pound treat.

RUBBER BANDS
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Oregonian Steve Milton created the world's largest ball of rubber bands with a little help (and about 175,000 rubber bands) from his friends at OfficeMax. It weighs in at 4,000+ lbs and stands 5.5 feet high.

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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