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10 Hoax Definitions, Paper Towns, and Other Things That Don’t Exist

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Facts are hard to copyright—impossible, actually. This is problematic for people who deal in information; any reference material is factual, and therefore difficult to protect from dirty, lying thieves who want to steal your work. That’s where fictitious entries come in: facts become very easy to copyright when they aren’t true. These are people, places and things that exist only on paper, solely to thwart would-be info burglars.

1. Lillian Virginia Mountweazel

The mythical Ms. Mountweazel was a photographer and fountain designer. Her book, Flags Up!, was purportedly an unmatched collection of rural American mailbox photography. Unfortunately, she was killed in 1973 in an explosion, while on assignment for the equally nonexistent Combustibles magazine. Lillian Mountweazel’s life was a sham, created to protect the contents of the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia, but it wasn’t without its perks: her (fake) life would become the subject of an exhibit in Dublin, and her (fake) name would later serve as a neologism for fictitious entries, thanks to a New Yorker article about the next Mountweazel in this list...

2. Esquivalience

The second edition New Oxford American Dictionary was published early in 2005. Almost immediately afterward, a rumor leaked that the NOAD 2E contained a secretly made-up word which began with the letter e. A man with a lot of free time set about isolating the fictitious entry from the 3,128 e-words, using a combination of careful cross-referencing and probably-unhealthy obsession. He narrowed the options to six words: earth loop, EGD, electrofish, ELSS, esquivalience and eurocreep. Of a group of nine lexicographers, six pegged esquivalience as the fraud. This was confirmed by the dictionary’s editor-in-chief, Erin McKean, who said, “Its inherent fakeitude is fairly obvious.” (Fakeitude does not appear in the NOAD 2E.)

3. Zzxjoanw

Rupert Hughes’ Music Lovers’ Encyclopedia of 1903 included the word zzxjoanw, defined as “a Maori word for ‘drum.’” The entry persisted through subsequent editions, well into the 1950s. It was later proved a hoax when someone noticed that there are no Z, X, or J in the Maori language. If you’re wondering, zzxjoanw is pronounced just how it looks.

4. Dog of Norway

The Golden Turkey Awards is a weird 1980s catalogue of obscure and bad films, wherein the authors award movies of poor quality a Golden Turkey. (It’s like a Razzie, only even less prestigious.)

The authors, film critic Michael Medved and his brother Harry, revealed that one entry was a complete hoax, and then challenged readers to discover which movie never actually existed. This time, no cross-references or obsessive searches were necessary: the imaginary film, Dog of Norway, starred "Muki the Wonder Dog"... the same dog featured on the cover of the book with the authors. (That dog’s name was Muki, too.)

5. Agloe, NY

The town of Agloe, New York, was invented by map makers, but the practice of inserting fictional towns, roads, rivers or other geographical has been in place nearly as long as cartography itself. The weird thing that happened with Agloe, though, doesn’t really ever happen: it became a real place. The Agloe General Store was built at its fictional location, prompting the (real) county administrator to declare Agloe an actual town. (Paper Towns by John Green is partially set in Agloe, and one character has a dog named Myrna Mountweazel.)

6 & 7. "The Song of Love" and The Cysterz

Joel Whitburn created a book series based on the Billboard music charts. To throw potential copycats, Whitburn’s pop chart compilations say that, for the week ending December 26, 1955, Ralph Marterie's "The Song of Love" peaked at #84. Sad news for Ralph Marterie, who was probably shooting for a single-digit rank, but it was all okay, because Billboard Magazine didn’t even issue a list that week, and “The Song of Love” was never recorded by Marterie.

In Whitburn’s rock charts, the song "Drag You Down" by The Cysterz makes an appearance, though neither the group nor the song ever did in real life.

8 & 9. Beatosu and Goblu, Ohio

The official state map of Michigan from 1978 includes a pair of hoax entries designed to irk every football fan in Ohio. The chairman of the State Highway Commission (and Michigan alumnus) had Beatosu and Goblu (“Beat OSU!” and “Go Blue!” to Michigan fans) inserted in the Ohio side of the Michigan-Ohio border. They were removed from later editions, but Goblu was briefly of interest again later when it was revealed that Road Pig from G.I. Joe was born there.

10. Philip

In the 1970s, Fred L. Worth began publishing a series of trivia encyclopedias, imaginatively titled The Trivia Encyclopedia, The Complete Unabridged Super Trivia Encyclopedia, and Super Trivia volumes I and II. In order to protect his stake in the trivia encyclopedia market (which was not yet booming), Worth inserted a single entirely false “fact.”

In 1984, Trivial Pursuit hit the market and sold like gangbusters. Unfortunately, the company was about to get sued for a lot more than the $256 million they raked in that first year. Why? Because one answer on the game’s cards was known to only one person—Fred L. Worth, who’d fabricated it years earlier:

The card said the answer was Philip, which was false. In fact, Columbo's name was never revealed, a fact that's been confirmed by both the cast and writers of the show. (Unless you believe this screenshot of Columbo's badge has the answer.) Worth’s suit fingered the creators of the game as well as their distributors; aside from the fictitious entry, he showed that Trivial Pursuit’s creators had lifted his work so completely that the game even included his typos and misspelled words. Trivial Pursuit eventually admitted that they had, in fact, stolen Worth's work for the game—but they had also stolen trivia from a lot of other places, too, which they defended as "doing research."

The case was thrown out before going to trial on the grounds that Trivial Pursuit was “substantially different” from Super Trivia. Worth and his attorneys appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, but to no avail.

Because of Trivial Pursuit’s persistent popularity (and more than a few original versions that are still in play), some shady-looking “fun fact” sites continue to insist that Columbo’s first name was, in fact, Philip.

Image credits: FactFixx, Nerdfighters, and Trivia Hall of Fame.

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8 Laws Way Past Their Prime
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It took a few centuries, but Canada is finally allowing sorcery again. In June 2017, an updated justice bill was submitted for approval that seeks to lift prohibitions on things that are no longer relevant to 21st century citizens, like dueling (fine provided it’s nonviolent), practicing witchcraft (knock yourself out), or mocking religion (possibly tasteless, but free speech is free speech).

With Canadians getting more progressive in their thinking, it might be time to look at a few other laws that once served a purpose but have now been rendered obsolete by common sense. Here are eight codes that are overdue for an overturn.

1. NO WARMING UP YOUR CAR // IOWA

In 1913, Iowa responded to the burgeoning motor vehicle industry by declaring it illegal to leave a running car unattended. The likely thinking was that the law would prevent thieves from making off with a brand-new Model T. Over 100 years later, it’s devolved into being a total nuisance. Iowans battling cold winters often start their cars with remote starters to get them warm enough to enter, making lawbreakers of virtually everyone heading for work on a cold Midwestern morning. While it’s still on the books, police in Des Moines told WHOTV.com in early 2017 that they don’t have the manpower or inclination to enforce it.

2. MINORS CAN’T PLAY PINBALL // SOUTH CAROLINA

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From the 1940s through the 1970s, several major U.S. cities had a bone to pick with pinball. The analog arcade game was perceived as a form of gambling, with lawmakers worried that juveniles could be driven to skip school and steal pocket change in order to feed their addiction. Pro-pinball constituents argued it was a game of skill rather than chance, and many areas relaxed their stance. But not South Carolina. To this day, it remains illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to draw the plunger and engage in a game. A bill seeking to repeal this minor infraction is currently under review.

3. A BAN ON SHACKING UP // MICHIGAN

Do you dream of living in Michigan? Do you also plan on cohabitating with your unwed partner in a lewd and lascivious manner? You’d better think twice, unless you like the sound of a $1000 fine and a year in jail. A long-outdated law is still active in Michigan that makes it a misdemeanor for unmarried couples to live together. While it’s not enforced—perhaps authorities would have to catch you in the act—it’s still an active prohibition, and one that has been repeatedly introduced for repeal over the years.

4. VENEREAL DISEASE DISCRIMINATION // NEW JERSEY

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With the best interests of the public in mind, New Jersey once decreed that they would place limitations on where people with venereal diseases could live and work. This likely stemmed from a more primitive understanding of how diseases like syphilis could be spread. Despite more advanced thinking, the law survived multiple attempts by the state’s Law Revision Commission to be repealed before it was finally dismissed in late 2014. The bill also struck down a ban on detaining homing pigeons, if you’re into that sort of thing.

5. THE HIGHLY LENIENT CHILD-ABANDONMENT LAW // NEBRASKA

Intended to provide for parents wishing to abandon their infant children without criminal reprimand, Nebraska’s “safe haven” law became something of a national outrage in 2008, when it was publicized that a number of people had dropped off children as old as 17 at area hospitals. Just before the law was repealed to set a strict age limit to infants 30 days old or younger, CNN.com reported that a man flew in from Florida to take advantage of the law and deposited his teenage son in the state.

6. THE FOOTLOOSE LAW // NEW YORK CITY

People dance in a club

In the 1920s, New York City passed a law that prohibited patrons from dancing in nightclubs or other businesses that failed to obtain a cabaret license from the city. The idea was to enforce Prohibition through indirect means, but the law managed to survive throughout the decades while alternately being enforced, ignored, or mocked. Despite a consistent outcry from artist advocacy groups, it's still in effect.

7. REGULATING POSSESSION OF ADULT TOYS // TEXAS

While Texas may be generous when it comes to owning, carrying, and shooting firearms, lawmakers took a more conservative approach to regulating sex toys—specifically, owning too many of them. Texas law stipulates that no one shall own or "promote" more than six "obscene devices." The law, enacted in 1973 during the height of anti-obscenity legislation, is believed to be directed at entertainment or stage performers and may allow for exemptions if the toys are for medical or law enforcement purposes.

8. STRICT HALLOWEEN PROTOCOL // REHOBOTH BEACH, DELAWARE

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You think Halloween is about having fun? It can be—provided you adhere to the strict protocol of Rehoboth Beach, which doesn’t tolerate even a single millisecond of mischief. To help keep kids and their candy bags moving along, the town allows just a small window of trick-or-treating: Parents and kids under 14 can only knock on doors from 6 to 8 p.m. Halloween night and no later. Don’t like it? If Halloween falls on a Sunday, then you don’t get to go that day at all—the festivities, such as they are, are rescheduled to the day prior.

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The Reason Police Officers Tap Your Taillight When They Pull You Over
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Asking a driver for their license and registration is common procedure from police officers during traffic stops. There’s another practice that was once standard across the force but is more of a mystery to the people being pulled over: While approaching a driver’s window, officers will sometimes touch a car's taillight. It's a behavior that dates back decades, though there's no reason to be concerned if it happens at your next traffic stop.

Before cameras were installed on the dashboards of most police cars, tapping the taillight was an inconspicuous way for officers to leave behind evidence of the encounter, according to The Law Dictionary. If something were to happen to the officer during the traffic stop, their interaction with the driver could be traced back to the fingerprints left on the vehicle. This would help other police officers track down a missing member of the force even without video proof of a crime.

The action also started as a way for officers to spook drivers before reaching their window. A pulled-over motorist with a car full of illegal drugs or weapons might scramble to hide any incriminating materials before the officer arrives. The surprise of hearing a knock on their taillight might disrupt this process, increasing their likelihood of getting caught.

Today the risks of this strategy are thought to outweigh the benefits. Touching a taillight poses an unnecessary distraction for officers, not to mention it can give away their position, making them more vulnerable to foul play. And with dash cams now standard in most squad cars, documenting each incident with fingerprints isn’t as necessary as it once was. It’s for these reasons that some police agencies now discourage taillight tapping. But if you see it at your next traffic stop, that doesn’t mean the officer is extra suspicious of you—just that it’s a hard habit to break.

[h/t The Law Dictionary]

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