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Miss Cellania’s Top 20 Weird News Stories of 2013

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One of the ways we celebrate the end of the work week here at mental_floss is to round up the oddest news stories for The Weird Week in Review. Not every weird news story made it into the weekly column here, because I tend to skip those that are overly prurient or tragic, and stories that are not available in English. There is also a chance that I skipped a few good ones because they were covered elsewhere at mental_floss. But of those 300 or so strange news items that appeared in the Friday column, here are the twenty stories of 2013 that are worth another look.

20. Inflated Hedgehog

A hedgehog in Bude, Cornwall, England, was taken to the vet because he was so big and round that he couldn't walk or curl up. Veterinary staff were puzzled, because the huge hedgehog was of normal weight. An x-ray revealed that the animal was, indeed, inflated. Veterinary surgeon Adam Revitt said he had never seen a case of "balloon syndrome" before. It occurs when bacteria get into a wound and create gas that lifts the skin from the animal. Revitt used a syringe to slowly deflate the hedgehog over about five minutes. The animal was given a course of antibiotics and was last known to be recovering nicely.

19. Chinese Zoo Displays Dog as Lion

Photograph from Sina Weibo via South China Morning Post.

A private zoo in Luohe, Henan province, China, is under fire for trying to pass off a Tibetan mastiff, a particularly hairy dog, as an African lion. A zoo representative said the lions were away at another zoo for breeding purposes, and the dog was in the cage for his own protection. However, visitors also noticed that the creature in the jaguar enclosure looked suspiciously like a fox, and a "wolf" that was clearly a domestic dog. An official of the People's Park, where the zoo is located, said that the signs for the animals would be corrected. The zoo is a private enterprise, and is only there because its contract with the People's Park has not yet expired. See more pictures here

18. Government Agency Smashes Computers to Get Rid of Viruses

Unrelated photograph by Flickr user youngthousands.

A couple of years ago, the Department of Homeland Security notified NOAA (the weather agency) and the Economic Development Administration (EDA) that they had a potential malware problem in their computer systems. The two agencies reacted in very different ways. NOAA isolated the problem and cleaned out the malware. That project took a few weeks. The EDA, however, cut its entire computer system off from the outside world, disabling email and causing the agency -and its database- to be inaccessible to its regional offices and other government agencies.

It then recruited in an outside security contractor to look for malware and provide assurances that not only were EDA's systems clean, but also that they were impregnable against malware. The contractor, after some initial false positives, declared the systems largely clean but was unable to provide this guarantee. Malware was found on six systems, but it was easily repaired by reimaging the affected machines.

EDA's CIO, fearing that the agency was under attack from a nation-state, insisted instead on a policy of physical destruction. The EDA destroyed not only (uninfected) desktop computers but also printers, cameras, keyboards, and even mice. The destruction only stopped—sparing $3 million of equipment—because the agency had run out of money to pay for destroying the hardware.

A report said that the malware was of a common type, and there was no evidence that the agencies were targeted for attack. The news only came to light in a report released in June of 2013. The total cost of the incident was $2.7 million.

17. The Ride of Kick Buttowski's Life

Photograph by Bell Brown and Bentley Veterinary Surgeons.

Electrician Helen Stevens got in her work van in Melton, Leicestershire, England, and sped off to another job in another town one day in October. She did not know that a cat was clinging to her roof! Stevens got up to 70 mph on the highway when she saw another vehicle flash its light at her. She pulled over, checked her van, and found a cat clinging for his life! Stevens took the terrified cat to a veterinary clinic. The clinic, where they nicknamed the cat Batman, put an appeal on Facebook to find the cat's owner. A friend called Ellise Pepper, whose 5-year-old son was worried about his missing cat, Kick Buttowski. The family was reunited with the cat the next day. Even after returning to his family, Kick Buttowski still looked a little traumatized

16. Ghost Haunts Liquor Store

A security camera captured footage of a man dressed in a sheet attempting to steal from a liquor store in Anniston, Alabama. The police were summoned by an alarm that signaled a break-in early on the morning of October 16th. The man had fled the store when they arrived, but they watched the recording as the man went up and down the aisles, dealing with the eyeholes on his costume. The man ran off into the night without taking anything from the store.

15. Giant Purple Chicken Stolen

Photograph by David Biggers.

Most thieves would try to hide their loot, but it was impossible in this case. What were they thinking? Three men were arrested Putnam County, Florida, for stealing a 9-foot-tall purple chicken. The 660-pound aluminum statue stood guard over Biggers Apiaries honey stand owned by David Biggers until that fateful day in July, when a neighbor heard a commotion. He went outside and saw a pickup truck dragging the chicken down the street -with one of the perpetrators riding on it! Witnesses and video evidence led police to the chicken, which had sustained extensive damage. The chicken is valued at $2,300. Darrin Luke Edwards, Tyler Lee Jones, and James Joseph Smith were charged with grand theft.

In an update to the original story, Jones and Smith entered a plea agreement. They agreed to spend two hours standing on a public bridge holding a sign that said "I stole the purple chicken." They fulfilled that part of the agreement in August. Jones was also ordered to pay $2300 restitution.

14. Carjacker Foiled by His Own Walker

A 64-year-old man in Geelong, Victoria, Australia, was arrested soon after his carjacking victim called police. He couldn't make a fast getaway because it took him too long to load his walker into the stolen car!

Geelong Senior Constable Paul Mitchell said the woman wound down her window and he held the knife to her throat, demanding she give him the vehicle.

After putting his walker in the car, the man drove a short distance before getting out to load in other suitcases and bags.

The unnamed suspect is charged with one count of armed robbery.

13. Meat Pies Contain No Horse, No Meat

Photograph by Flickr user Welshdan.

Early this year, news sites were filled with stories of horse meat being passed off as beef or other meat. A story in March took the narrative in another direction. Authorities in Iceland ordered tests on meat pies sold in grocery stores in response to reports of horse meat being found in beef products across Europe. Icelandic meat inspector Kjartan Hreinsson announced that no horse meat was found in any of the brands tested in Iceland. However, one brand sold as beef pie was found to have no meat in it at all! Inspectors say the pies seemed to be filled with some sort of vegetable matter. The case was turned over to municipal authorities, as it changed from an adulteration check to a truth-in-advertising scandal.

12. Snake Burns House Down

Call it revenge of the snake. In March, an unnamed woman in Liberty Eylau, Texas, found a snake. For some reason, she decided on a strange and dangerous method for getting rid of it.

"While cleaning up, she saw snake, threw gasoline on the snake, lit the snake on fire," said Deputy Randall Baggett with the Bowie County Sheriff's Office. "The snake went into the brush pile and the brush pile caught the home on fire."

Despite the efforts of several fire departments that responded to the scene, the flames completely engulfed the home. It is a complete loss. A neighboring home was also damaged on one side.

The fire was investigated, but no further details were published.

11. Mistrial Declared When Victim's Eyeball Falls Out

A punch during a bar brawl in 2011 caused John Huttick to lose his left eye. Matthew Brunelli went to trial this year in Philadelphia, charged with aggravated assault over the incident. Huttick was on the witness stand in February telling his side of the story when he lost his eye again -the glass prosthetic popped out in the courtroom. At least two jurors gasped and acted as if they wanted to leave. The judge immediately declared a mistrial due to the incident. The judge said it was an "unfortunate, unforeseen incident," and set a new trial date for March 4th.

The trial started over again in March, with a new jury. This time, Brunelli was acquitted of the charges against him.

10. Truck Encased in Concrete Driveway

Photograph by Henry Stênio/TV Globo.

In December, a dispute between a building owner and a car dealer in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, led to a pickup truck becoming encased in concrete. The building owner ordered the paving, while the man responsible for the vehicle refused to move it. The car dealer claims that the area is a public street, and the building owner has no control over it. The building owner disagreed, and had the construction company pave the driveway on Wednesday while the vehicle sat there in the middle of it. The next words were about a lawsuit.

9. Seven-meter Wasp Nest

Is this a world record? I don't even want to know! An abandoned house in San Sebastián de la Gomera, Spain, was investigated by police after calls from neighbors in April. Inside, they found a wasp nest that almost filled a room! Experts measured the nest at 21 feet 9 inches. They fear it may have been built by an invasive species from Africa. San Sebastián de la Gomera is in the Canary Islands, less than 100 kilometers from Gibraltar. One can almost imagine the wasps, finding that this was the most wonderful place for a nest ever because no one bothered them and it never rained, deciding that they'd never leave to build new nests elsewhere.

8. Peeing in Theater Leads to SWAT Team Response

Image from KPYV video.

An incident at the Bridgeport Village Regal Cinemas in Portland, Oregon, involving multiple law enforcement agencies, turned out to be a comedy of errors that served as a useful police drill. During a showing of the movie Prisoners in September, an elderly man stood up and urinated. It is believed he might have been drinking. The urine fell on a teenager sitting in the row in front of him. The ensuing commotion upset a nearby woman who started yelling "Gun!" over and over. Theater patrons began running for the exits. Someone called 911, which led to "a massive response from multiple agencies." The theater was evacuated and police began an investigation. An explanation came from the teenager and his parents. The woman who screamed had been diagnosed with PTSD. The elderly man was not arrested, and the family chose not to press charges. Police say the man is no longer allowed back into the Regal Cinemas at Bridgeport Village.

7. Batman and Captain America Save Cat from Burning Home

In September, a pair of superheroes responded to a house fire in Milton, West Virginia, even before the firefighters arrived. John Buckland, dressed as Batman, and Troy Marcum, dressed as Captain America, had been speaking to children at an American Legion Post about positive lifestyles. When they emerged from the event, they saw rising smoke in the neighborhood.

"He (Captain America) breaks out the window," Buckland said. "The smoke lets out and as I can start to see I reach down and grab something furry!"

While the home owners were out of town, their cat couldn't get out and had to be resuscitated by Batman.

Buckland is a former firefighter in addition to his career as the Caped Crusader. The cat was not initially happy about being rescued, and even hissed at Batman. But bystanders were impressed. See additional pictures here.

6. Suspect Identified in Evidence Vandalism

Photograph from KSN-TV.

Police in Wichita, Kansas, held a press conference in January to release a sketch of the suspect in a case of evidence tampering at their property and evidence department building. They have determined that mice chewed into packages of marijuana. Lt. Doug Nolte said police followed protocol and photographed, weighed, and resealed the evidence. Exterminators have been called in to assist police in the case.

"We do have a sketch artist that came and did a rendering of who we think is responsible for the marijuana heist. So we are currently looking for something that resembles a mouse like this," Lt. Doug Nolte said.

At press time, the perpetrators had not yet been caught.

5. Brothers Celebrate Lottery Win by Blowing Up House

In another story out of Wichita, Kansas, two unnamed brothers won $75,000 in the lottery in February. They purchased marijuana and meth to celebrate their good fortune, which led to their attempt at another prize: a Darwin Award.

One of the brothers went to the kitchen to refuel the butane torches they planned to use to light their bongs. He emptied a couple of large cans of butane lighter fluid, leaking butane into the air.

“The butane vapor reached the pilot light in the furnace, and as you might expect, ka-boom,” Watts said.

The victim was wearing a lottery T-shirt during the explosion.

The injured brother was taken to a hospital where his girlfriend dropped him off and left. Police arrested the other brother at the site of the explosion.

4. Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Theme Song Prompts School Lockdown

Misheard lyrics is an amusing internet meme, but in February, it became the story all about how Travis Clawson's life got flipped, turned upside-down. A receptionist at an eye doctor's office in Pennsylvania called the 19-year-old to confirm an appointment. Instead, she got an outgoing message that alarmed her. She thought she heard Clawson say something about shooting some people at the school. The receptionist then called Sewickley police, who contacted the Ambridge Area High School, where officials put the school on lockdown. Police found Clawson at the school and arrested him.

An investigation determined that the outgoing message on the phone was Clawson singing the theme to the TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The line “And all shooting some b-ball outside of the school” was what alarmed the receptionist and set off the crisis. Clawson was released and has not been charged with any crime, but his parents were urged to have him change the outgoing message on his phone.

3. Bees Foil Carjacking in Sting Operation

Pay attention; this one is complicated. In July, two guys in a Lexus in Craighall, South Africa, witnessed a BMW hitting a Peugot in a hit-and-run and then followed the perpetrator. When the two cars stopped, the Lexus passenger got out to take pictures for evidence. Three men got out of the BMW. One of them jumped into the Lexus and pointed a gun at the driver. The Lexus driver hit the gas pedal and backed the car swiftly into a wall. The wall collapsed, and thousands of enraged bees swarmed from their hive behind the wall and into the Lexus. The three men from the BMW, which was later found to be a stolen car, were last seen running down the street, pulling their clothing off. Emergency services responded and treated the two men from the Lexus for bee stings. The Lexus was a total wreck, the Peugot was badly damaged, and the wall sustained an estimated $10,000 in damage.

2. Boeing's Biggest Plane Landed at Wrong Airport

Getty Images.

The Boeing 747 LCF Dreamlifter is a modified airliner that can haul the most cargo by volume of any plane in the world. Boeing uses it to haul plane parts, particularly whole 787 Dreamliner fuselages. For takeoff, it officially requires a runway of 9,199 feet. November 20th, a Dreamlifter arrived in Wichita, Kansas, which has several airports. The plane received clearance to land at McConnell Air Force Base, the intended destination. Instead, the plane landed at the much-smaller Col. James Jabara Airport nine miles away. Jabara has no control tower, and a 6,101-foot runway, which is almost a thousand feet short of the big plane's landing requirements. The plane landed with no injuries or damage -just some serious tire skid marks. But what next? A much bigger runway is required for takeoff.

A replacement crew was sent in to fly the plane out of Jabara and nine miles over to the Air Force Base. With much of the cargo removed, the plane was able to take off on the short runway the next afternoon.

That makes three of the weirdest stories of year to originate from Wichita, Kansas. Florida will have to work hard to regain the title next year. But none of the items so far made us laugh as much as the next story from Colorado Springs.

1. Bear Steals Entire Dumpster -Twice

You often hear of bears taking things from dumpsters, but this one made off with the whole thing! The Edelweiss Restaurant in Colorado Springs had a security camera trained on the back alley, and on a Tuesday night in August they caught the bear in action. Reaching to the top of the dumpster, the bear backs up and takes the entire unit away!

The dumpster was found, returned to the restaurant, and placed in a somewhat less-accessible spot. That did not stop the bear. The restaurant posted an update on Facebook in which you see the bear returning for more German food on Wednesday night!

Since the bear incident, the Edelweiss Restaurant has fed more diners than ever. Tourists come to take pictures of the dumpsters, and stay for the food that even a bear will return for. The increased business spurred a renovation and expansion that should be completed by Mothers Day 2014. And the bear? It is believed to have found its way back into the wild unscathed.

See also: Miss Cellania’s Top 20 Weird News Stories of 2012 and 2011

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To Curb Exploding Kangaroo Populations, Ecologists Urge Australians to Eat Kangaroo Meat
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Australians eat everything from Vegemite, a spread made from leftover brewer's yeast extract, to a snack called fairy bread, otherwise known as white bread smothered in butter and rainbow sprinkles. Now, they may need to add another unique national food to their diets. BBC News reports that ecologists and landholders Down Under are encouraging people to embrace kangaroo meat to curb the nation’s surging marsupial numbers.

In 2010, Australia was home to just 27 million kangaroos. But by 2016, this figure had skyrocketed to nearly 45 million—nearly double the nation’s human population— thanks to rainy weather conditions that supplied the grazing animals with an abundance of vegetation. That's not necessarily a good thing for the species in the long run. If a drought occurs, there’s a good chance that millions of kangaroos could starve to death.

Some experts in Australia think that hunting kangaroos would be the most humane and efficient way to keep their numbers in check. But it’s not so easy to convince people to eat them.

Kangaroo meat is lean and sustainable, with a taste that’s been likened to sweet filet mignon. It can be transformed into steaks, roasts, meatballs, sausages, and kebabs. Even so, many Australians tend to dismiss the meat's culinary potential, since kangaroos are the country’s national animal. The stigma against eating them means that when hunters do nab kangaroos, the meat often goes to waste.

Plus, kangaroo meat currently fetches such a low price that hunters have little incentive to pursue the animals for commercial reasons. That means they’re not obtaining the special licenses required to hunt the nationally protected species.

Professor David Paton of the University of Adelaide supports the notion that Australia should cull the nation’s kangaroo population with humane hunting methods, he told Australian news outlets. "It's not the kangaroos' fault they're overabundant," he said. "It's probably we've just been too reluctant to take a stick to them, remove them out of the system sooner, to actually prevent the damage being caused [by the animals]," Paton said. That damage includes losses to biodiversity as the marsupials overgraze vegetation and outcompete other animals [PDF].

But no matter where Australians stand on the controversial killing and eating of kangaroos, some admit that their overpopulation leads to broken fences, trampled crops, damaged local ecosystems, and plenty of car accidents. Animal lovers are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place—and unlike kangaroos, they can’t simply leap out of the crevice.

"Two or three weeks ago we had thousands [of kangaroos] on here, just moving through,” a farmer named Garry Hannigan, who lives in New South Wales, recently told the ABC. "They were here in droves, and the amount that are being hit by cars is amazing. They're just devouring anything we've got grass-wise, they're starting to cause erosion along fences. Any of the grass country is just being pulled up by the roots." In turn, we may have to devour them.

[h/t BBC News]

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Why Are Cats Afraid of Cucumbers?
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Thanks to the internet, felines around the globe seem to have found a new—and unlikely—foe: the seemingly harmless garden cucumber. You’ve likely seen viral video compilations of pet owners surprising their cats with the fruit (yes, a cucumber is technically a fruit), which include footage of frightened kitties jumping, running, or clawing at the mysterious green objects before them.

Are cats and cucumbers really mortal enemies? Did an early feline ancestor eat a bad salad, or find that cucumbers made terrible scratching posts? “No, I don’t think that cats are inherently afraid of cucumbers,” Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss.

Cats are creatures of habit, and Delgado thinks the cats in those videos—who were often ambushed from behind while bent forward eating—were simply caught off-guard while engaging in a familiar activity.

“Their eyes face forward, much like ours do,” Delgado explains. “That’s a very common structure for a face in a predator—you’re looking forward, and you’re not as worried about seeing behind you. Personally, I think that a lot of people were inadvertently startling their cats when they were already distracted. They were putting a strange object behind the cat while it was eating, the cat can’t see the object, they’re focused [on their food], and then they turn around” and see a cucumber.

The cats’ fright could be likened to how we sometimes jump or scream after we turn around and see someone standing behind us. But even though we typically laugh these moments off once the adrenaline dies down, it’s not cool to subject your cat to the same unsettling experience—especially when it’s eating.

“You want cats to feel safe when they eat,” Delgado says. “If cats don’t eat, they can become sick quite fast, and develop what’s called fatty liver disease.”

Plus, “stress can have really serious health effects on cats,” Delgado adds. “There’s been research showing that something as trivial as changing their routine can cause cats to exhibit what we call sickness behaviors: vomiting, not using their litter box, diarrhea, changes in appetite. Cats are sensitive.”

This doesn’t mean that you can’t introduce new items (say, a couch in the spot where your cat typically likes to sleep) to your household. But when you do, let Fluffy check out these unfamiliar objects on his or her own terms.

“A lot of the time people try to show a cat that something they’re afraid of isn’t scary,” Delgado says. “They’re going to inadvertently make the cat more afraid, because they’re forcing it to interact with something they’re fearful of.”

As time passes, the object will start smelling familiar, and your favorite feline will gradually relax. In the meantime, though, save the cucumbers for your salad, and keep them far away from your kitty’s food dish.

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