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9 Things That Might Kill You (If They Actually Exist)

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No doubt you've heard of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, but you may not have known that they belong to a class of creatures called cryptids. The technical definition is a creature that can't be proved to exist, even though sightings of this "thing" may have occurred. The definition also includes sightings of creatures thought to be extinct.

Yeah, so that's the "technical" definition. One that makes more sense to me is, "Creatures you might see featured in the Weekly World News." Which is not to say that these creatures aren't really lurking somewhere "“ in fact, some cryptids have been proven to exist. For example, the Kraken, a mythical sea monster, is now widely accepted as an early description of the giant squid, which does, in fact, inhabit the seas (although it's hard to catch alive).

So, on the chance that some of these cryptids aren't just local legend or mythological beings, here are nine to watch out for.

1. The Mongolian Death Worm

mongolian.jpgEven the name is terrifying. This two-to-four foot-long worm supposedly makes its home in the Gobi Desert. Locals refer to it as "allghoi", which means "blood filled intestine worm". Yummy. The allghoi's might be able to kill you by secreting a yellow poison that kills on contact, but it probably doesn't need to. It's rumored that it can also kill from a distance by some sort of electrocution. Adventurers should definitely avoid the Gobi Desert in June and July, because that's when the allghoi is the most active. Also, you're going to want to avoid wearing your "When life gives you scurvy, make lemonade" shirt, because the Death Worm is attracted by the color yellow. Don't say I didn't warn you. Note: Kinda reminds me of the sandworms from Beetlejuice.

2. The Beast of Bray Road

If you're near Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and see something resembling Bigfoot or perhaps a large wolf walking on its hind legs, don't stop to see if it's friendly. The Beast of Bray Road might not actually kill you "“ so far the only suspicious activity chalked up to this maybe-werewolf is the slaughter of small game and deer. One Web site says it behaves aggressively, though, so I probably wouldn't try its patience.

3. Beast of Gévaudan

While we're talking about Beasts, we should discuss the Beast of Gévaudan. It's a French cryptid that killed an estimated 60-100 people between 1764 and 1767. It must have been quite a peculiar-looking thing, because eyewitnesses describe it as being about the size of a cow with a long, lion-like tail, red fur and a head with small pointed ears and sharp fangs. King Louis XV sent acclaimed hunters after the beast, who successfully killed an abnormally large wolf in September of 1765. When more attacks occurred in December of the same year, it was concluded that the wolf that was killed was not the Beast in question. Another large creature was killed in June of 1767 "“ when they gutted it, the remains of a little girl were found inside. The deaths ended after that, so presumably the right thing was killed... the question remains, though, what was that thing?

4. The Brosno Dragon

If Nessie has a cousin, the Brosno Dragon could be it. He's been lurking in Lake Brosno in the Russian city of Novgorod since the 13th century, according to one report. That's when he ate some of Batu Kahn's (grandson of Genghis Khan) soldiers and horses when they tried to let their horses drink from the lake. Supposedly Batu Khan and his soldiers were so scared that they turned tail and ran, leaving Novgorod in peace. Today, most people are understandably skeptic about the existence of the dragon and some seem to think it could be a mutant beaver"¦ which really seems just as strange in my book, but whatever. One scientific approach suggests that gas bubbles up from the bottom of the lake and makes it look like something large is moving under the water.

5. The Jersey Devil

puddy.jpgThe Jersey Devil, AKA the Leeds Devil, supposedly came about in the 18th century when a woman had her 13th child. She was so sick of having children with her husband (whom she did not love) that she would rather have the Devil's child than have one more child by her husband. Her wish was granted and the baby was born with claws, a tail and hooves. Ouch. It flew out the chimney and began to terrorize New Jersey, including some notable people like Napoleon Bonaparte's brother and Commodore Stephen Decatur. There was a week in January of 1909 that the Devil seemed particularly bent on wreaking havoc "“ it was sighted every single day, attacking dogs and people. By Friday of that week, people were so scared that businesses and schools were actually shutting for the day out of fear.

6. Dobharchu

A traditional Irish ballad tells the tale of Grainne Ni Conalai on September 24, 1722. She went to Glenade Lake in County Leitrim to bathe and never came back. When her husband went to look for her, he found her mangled near the water with a huge beast, a cross between an otter and a dog, lying asleep on her. Her husband returned home and got his brother; together the two of them went back to the lake and used their horses as bait. When the dobharchu lunged at the horse, the brothers stabbed it in the heart. Some stories say they sliced its head off.

Before it died, though, let out a whistle to call its relatives to seek vengeance. It doesn't look like there have been any sightings since, but just the same, I can't imagine they get many skinny-dippers in Glenade Lake these days.

7. The Pope Lick Monster

popelickcreek.jpgWith a name like that, you would expect the Pope Lick Monster to have a very odd story of origin. You might be disappointed to learn that it's really just named for the creek/railroad trestle it was sighted at "“ Pope Lick Creek and trestle near Louisville, Kentucky. The half human, half goat kills people in one of two ways: he's either so horrifying that when people encounter it near the trestle, they would rather jump off the bridge to their deaths than be near it, or he hypnotizes whoever he finds and tosses them off.

No matter what you believe, the fact remains that there is a relatively large number of accidental deaths at that very location.

8. Kikiyaon

The Kikiyaon gives a whole new meaning to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. It lives in West Africa and looks kind of like an owl"¦ an owl with razor-sharp talons and a deadly beak. You know it's coming after you when you hear the strangled cry it makes, which turns into a scream that lingers in the air. One account says it's similar someone being strangled very slowly. If you see it and escape, don't start thanking your lucky stars just yet "“ you'll probably die soon afterward anyway. It flies faster than a man can run, so most likely you're doomed anyway"¦ if it exists.

9. The Mothman

mothman.jpgOur list concludes with a cryptid you might have heard of, especially if you saw the Richard Gere-Debra Messing movie The Mothman Prophecies. The Mothman is, as you would expect, a creature that looks like a human with giant wings on his back. Most descriptions say he has bug-like red eyes. He was first sighted in West Virginia by two couples who were out on a late night drive. For the next year he was sighted by numerous people, some claiming to be chased at more than 100 miles per hour. A little more than a year after the first sighting, the Silver Bridge collapsed into the Ohio River, killing 46 people. The Mothman wasn't seen as much after that. So was the Mothman trying to warn locals about the impending doom? Or did he cause it? Either way, Point Pleasant, W.V. has become well-known as being the home of this cryptid and even embraces the fact: the town erected a 12-foot statue of the Mothman and just celebrated their sixth annual Mothman Festival in September.

Do you have any cryptids in your area, or know of some I didn't cover here? Do tell. I love this stuff.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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