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12 Things We Learned About Unsolved Mysteries from the Creators' Reddit AMA

Today, the creators of Unsolved Mysteries, Terry Dunn Meurer and John Cosgrove, sat down for a Reddit AMA to discuss their delightfully creepy show, which started as a series of specials and ran from the late '80s to 2002 with Robert Stack as host. (The show was revived in 2008 and ran until 2010; Stack, who died in 2003, was replaced by Dennis Farina.) Here are a few things we learned.

1. THE CREATORS KNEW WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING FOR IN AN UNSOLVED MYSTERIES STORY.

Meurer and Cosgrove wrote that they were looking for “a good mix of stories, murders, missing, wanted, paranormal, etc.” when deciding what to put on the show. Beyond that mix, they wanted mysteries that had more than one suspect or theory. Finally, they wrote, “we focused on stories we thought the show might be able to solve.”

2. THEY USED A NEWSPAPER CLIPPING SERVICE TO FIND STORIES.

Though the stories featured on the show came from a variety of sources—“we had viewers who sent in cases, law enforcement would contact us with cases, and we had a team of researchers constantly looking as well,” the duo said—they also used a newspaper clipping service with some grim keywords. “When we were producing the show, the internet didn't exist yet, so we had a newspaper clipping service that would send us articles from around the country keying off of words like ‘murder’ ‘missing’ ‘ufo’ ‘ghost’ etc.,” they wrote.

3. THE CALL CENTER FEATURED IN THE SHOW WAS REAL.

Unsolved Mysteries filmed host Stack in locations all over Los Angeles, including Griffith Park and the Hollywood Dam. Some shots also featured Stack walking through a call center. “That was a real call center with real people!” Meurer and Cosgrove revealed. “Cases actually did get solved during the broadcast of the show.”

4. A FEW CASES NEVER MADE IT ON THE AIR BECAUSE THE SHOW’S RESEARCHERS SOLVED THEM.

“Sometimes when our researchers would start investigating a story, they would solve the case themselves, especially a lost love type story,” the duo wrote. “So those cases were abandoned before they aired.”

5. THEY WERE DUPED BY HOAXSTERS ONCE.

Meurer and Cosgrove wrote that “Our researchers did a great job vetting stories to weed out the ones that seemed suspicious.” But that didn’t mean their process was foolproof; at least one fake story made it past them. “We did a UFO story in which 30 people did drawings that looked like the same UFO, and it was a very convincing argument they made,” Meurer and Cosgrove revealed. “Months later we found out that one of the key proponents had a made a model of the UFO and photographed it against a highway. All those people were fooled by it, and so were we.”

6. SOMEONE SENT THEIR MOTHER’S LUNG TO THE PRODUCERS.

When one Redditor asked for “any funny stories or WTF moments while working on the show,” Meurer and Cosgrove came back with a whopper. “Someone sent their mother's lung to us in the mail. He believed his mother had been murdered, and he wanted us to send the lung out for testing,” they wrote. “On the lighter side, one of our directors was absolutely convinced that they were being haunted during the filming of one of the stories.”

7. A FUGITIVE FROM ONE OF THE CASES WAS ON SET FOR FILMING.

When asked about “creepiest thing that ever happened to you over the course of filming a segment,” Meurer and Cosgrove responded with a story that will send chills down your spine: “There was a case where the wanted fugitive was on the set while we were filming the reenactment and no one knew initially. No one on the crew had seen his photograph yet.”

8. SOMETIMES LAW ENFORCEMENT ASKED THEM TO OMIT DETAILS FROM THE SEGMENTS.

Featuring active investigations on the show sometimes meant that Meurer and Cosgrove couldn’t reveal everything they knew. “Law enforcement would often ask us to hold back clues in a case that they could use to help identify a suspect's innocence or guilt,” they said. And sometimes, in interviews, Meurer and Cosgrove could tell who was lying: “We can't name names, but there were often prime suspects that we interviewed whose interview was in direct contradiction with what witnesses and law enforcement were saying. In many cases the people we interviewed were later convicted.”

9. SELLING THE SHOW TO SPIKE TV MEANT MAKING SOME STYLISTIC CHANGES.

Meurer and Cosgrove rebooted Unsolved Mysteries with host Dennis Farina in 2008. The pair explained that because Spike “appealed to a younger, male audience,” the network “requested a version of the show that might better suit their audience. There was an effort made to try to update the show with more contemporary elements.” That meant new music and high-tech elements like shots of Google Earth. “We were glad to have the opportunity to update the show,” they wrote. “It was sad that Bob had died, but we felt that Dennis would be a good choice. He was a wonderful man to work with.”

10. THEY BECAME CLOSE WITH THE PEOPLE FEATURED ON THE SHOW.

It might seem strange that family members would participate in TV segments about crimes involving their loved ones, but Meurer and Cosgrove pointed out that “when family members participated, it was a cathartic experience for them. And they felt good about doing something active to help solve the case. That was reason enough.”

“We got to know people very well when we did their cases, and we became attached to them,” Cosgrove said. The duo reached out to those featured on the show to update their cases, but that’s not where the contact ends: “I still get a Christmas card from a woman in England who had given up her baby for adoption, and Unsolved Mysteries helped reunite her with her daughter,” Cosgrove wrote.

11. FOR LEGAL REASONS, SOME SEGMENTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THE SEASONS THAT ARE STREAMING.

“We have a legal staff that keeps track of the cases to make sure that we do not infringe on anyone's rights,” Meurer and Cosgrove explained. “Sometimes a statute of limitations on a case has passed. We always try to be as respectful as we can be to the people who were featured in the segments.”

12. THEY’RE ACTIVELY TRYING TO GET UNSOLVED MYSTERIES BACK ON THE AIR.

“We are in the process of reaching out to networks to see if there is interest in ordering new shows,” Meurer and Cosgrove wrote. “Let's keep our fingers crossed!”

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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