Our 40 Favorite Stories of 2018

iStock.com/ViewApart
iStock.com/ViewApart

Like parents with their children, Mental Floss's editors and writers don't want to have to choose a “favorite” story during any given year. But also like parents with their children, we do tend to play favorites (sorry, kids—it’s true for your parents, too). Whether it’s a piece we wrote, a story we edited, or just something we read on the site and loved, our team agreed to share some of their favorite stories of the year (listed in chronological order). Just in case you missed them.

How Are Rooms Cleaned at an Ice Hotel?

Lucas Reilly is probably best known for his impeccably-researched long form stories, but he’s just as adept at offering a quick glimpse of a situation few have stopped to ponder: How does one tidy up the rooms of an ice hotel in Sweden? (Hint: Maids carry ice picks instead of feather dusters.) I like this story because it presents a totally alien situation, piques the reader’s curiosity, and then summarizes the logistics involved. Also: Having “manager of ice hotel” in your list of contacts is a very Mental Floss thing to do. —Jake Rossen, Senior Staff Writer

14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Hollywood Food Stylists

I just loved the details of how Hollywood food stylists accomplish their goals: mashed potatoes as ice cream (it doesn't melt under hot lights)! Ground-up Oreos to stand in for Pakistani dirt! Prosciutto slices when you need to mimic slivers of a human arm for Hannibal! It's all here! —Bess Lovejoy, Staff Editor

The Enigma of Edinburgh’s Miniature Coffins

Some of the coffins discovered in 1836
National Museums Scotland

I've long been fascinated by the 17 miniature coffins a group of rabbit-hunting boys found in Edinburgh in 1836. Were they connected to some sort of spellwork, like a Scottish version of voodoo dolls? Or an eerie homage to the Burke and Hare murders? I love how Allison Meier laid out the various bizarre theories and delved into the the scholarly analysis of what must be some of the stranger museum artifacts on display in the world. —BL

Bizarre as Hell: The Disappearance of the Yuba County Five

The disappearance of the Yuba County 5 was a tragedy for their families. But when I found mention of it deep in a Reddit thread over the holiday break of 2017, I knew we had to cover it. Young men driven into the forest for no apparent reason, only to meet their icy doom? It seemed like something out of Twin Peaks, or, as some have said, like an American Dyatlov Pass incident (a reference to the mysterious deaths of nine Soviet students in 1959 while camping). And even though I knew the whole story, Jake Rossen still spooked me retelling it. The sense of atmosphere and mystery he created here is, to me, far darker and more interesting than the average blood-soaked murder—perhaps because, when left to its own imaginings, the mind often creates something much worse than the truth. —BL

When The Day After Terrorized 100 Million Viewers With a Vision of Nuclear War

Several years ago, before we had ever worked together, Jake Rossen wrote a story for Mental Floss about the awesomely terrible little-kid-is-a-robot sitcom Small Wonder. Jake and I had never spoken, emailed, or in any other way communicated (we were both freelancers at the time), but I was determined to see him make some of my bizarre, half-formed story ideas come to life. When we both came aboard as staffers, I set about putting my devious plan into motion. And it worked (this is the part where Jake would add that he got the raw end of that deal). In addition to sharing a rather warped sense of humor and desperate love of Cobra Kai (seriously—go watch it), Jake has a knack for turning my random emails—“Stop the Insanity!” “John Wayne Bobbitt”—into fully fleshed out stories (no pun intended, John) that go beyond the surface or just some kitschy “hey, remember this?” kind of thing. His piece on The Day After—which scared the sh** out of me as a kid, and 100 million other people—is the perfect example of this. I’m still not sure why my parents let me and my siblings watch it. But I’m glad that Jake suggested a deep dive into how it came to be. —Jennifer M. Wood, Senior Editor

How Jeremy Bentham Finally Came to America, Nearly 200 Years After His Death

The back of a woman gazing at Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon
Mental Floss

Can you fangirl over a skeleton? Well, I did this year. Jeremy Bentham is my favorite preserved dead philosopher, and not only because he's the only preserved dead philosopher in the world—or at least, the only one who left such specific instructions. For me, the joy of this story was to talk to the curators involved in displaying Bentham's auto-icon (as his articulated, stuffed skeleton topped with wax head is known) on both sides of the Atlantic. I could hear Luke Syson at The Met Breuer positively beaming delight down through the phone wires, and thought about how weird—but beautiful—it is that this corpse brings so much joy to people, including me. Part of that is because Bentham himself was so iconoclastic, and his attempt to make a political, or at least ethical, statement with his own body feels very modern. Not to mention wonderfully eccentric. —BL

5 Ways to Define a Sandwich, According to the Law

Michele Debczak always manages to answer questions I didn’t even know I had. Can I get paid to eat Nutella? What does Uranus smell like? Why do tumbleweeds tumble? But I’m especially thankful for this jewel: This was a huge debate in the Mental Floss office back in 2014, and I’m glad somebody finally put it to bed. —Lucas Reilly, Features Writer

The Typo That Helped End World War II

In our line of work, typos are a very, very bad thing. So when a typo mistakenly landed a cryptogamist (a person who studies algae) instead of a cryptogramist (a codebreaker) a job at Bletchley Park in 1939, it seemed like one big embarrassing mistake. But when Allied forces managed to salvage a bunch of critical—albeit waterlogged—documents from some German U-boats they had torpedoed, it turned out that having a cryptogamist on hand was just the thing they needed to salvage the documents. Once dried, the Bletchley codebreakers were able to use the information to crack German communication, which likely hastened the end of the war by two to four years, saving millions of lives in the process. And all because of a seemingly embarrassing typo! —JMW

The Canadian Village Where Sasquatches Are Said to Roam

British columbia coastline
iStock

As a child of British Columbia, sasquatches are close to my heart. In this piece, I particularly admired the primacy of indigenous knowledge: A lesser writer could easily paint the whole thing as "weird," or dismiss it due to lack of evidence, but Kat explores the role of the sasquatch as a member of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais community. The result is a much fuller account of what this creature means for the people of the Pacific Northwest than you usually see. She also paints a rich picture of the land where she reported—something that's all too rare in our mostly desk-bound days. —BL

25 Foreign Words with Hilarious Literal Meanings

I studied Vietnamese for about a year while living in Hanoi, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn anything during the animal lesson because I couldn’t get past the hilarious literal translations. For example, a crocodile is literally called an “ugly fish” and a skunk is a “stink fox," which is actually a pretty perfect naming system, in my opinion. This inspired me to research some of the amusing literal translations in other languages, and I wasn’t disappointed. My personal favorite is "paper vampire" for stapler in Afrikaans. —Emily Petsko, Staff Writer

The Wild, Wild Story of the 'Sex Guru' at the Center of Wild Wild Country

When Netflix dropped the docuseries Wild Wild Country in March, I was instantly hooked. A true crime series with a sex cult at the center? Sign me up! Though I binge-watched all six hours in one sitting, Emily Petsko managed to reveal even more about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the man at the center of the documentary, offering an even deeper understanding about who he was and why he was compelled to do the things he did. If you haven’t seen the series or read the story, I won’t give too much away. But I will say that pairing a binge-watch with this article is one great way to spend a weekend. —JMW

9 The Shining References Buried in Pixar Films

Woody from 'Toy Story' on a background from 'The Shining'
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Woody Image: iStock. Background: IFC Midnight

One of the things people seem to love about Pixar films is how they speak to adults as much as they do kids. One possible reason to explain this could be Pixar mainstay Lee Unkrich’s love of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. As such, Unkrich—who has directed and/or co-directed a handful of films for the animation company, including Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo, and Coco—has hidden subtle nods to the iconic Stephen King adaptation (which, ironically, King doesn't like) into the Pixar world. Rebecca Pahle had some fun sharing some of them here. —JMW

Traumatic License: An Oral History of Action Park

It’s hard to believe that a place like Action Park actually existed, and it’s even harder to believe that it remained open for nearly two decades. I’m simultaneously relieved and a little disappointed that I never got to experience the “Cannonball Loop.” —EP

8 Professional Translators Choose Their Favorite 'Untranslatable' Words

I’ve been trying to work Hellhörig into conversation ever since I read this piece, which—in addition to that delightfully German word—is full of other terms you’ll want to start using immediately. —Erin McCarthy, Editor-in-Chief

20 Character Actors Who Make Everything They’re in Better

When Scott Beggs pitched me this idea, I had just one question: Will Walton Goggins be included? He swore he was already at the top of the list, and I was sold. But I could have very well asked the same question about every actor he included here, each of whom really does elevate every project they’re in—even if it’s already great to begin with. Side note: It hardly seems coincidental that a handful of the actors in here have appeared in the television version of Fargo (or, in the case of Peter Stormare, the original film). Yes, that’s a total plug for Fargo. No, I have no affiliation with the series beyond loving it and always being amazed by the casts they manage to assemble. —JMW

The Quest to Break America's Most Mysterious Code—and Find $60 Million in Treasure

Buried treasure on top of a cipher and the declaration of independence.
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla. Image: iStock.

A lot has been written about Beale’s treasure, and people love debating whether it’s real or not. But what’s most real to me is that people can get so wrapped up in solving this mystery that they become utterly consumed by it. This isn’t so much a story about treasure; it’s a story about the people who hunt it—and how their passion transforms their lives, for better and worse. (Treasure hunters, by the way, are incredibly fun people to interview!) —LR

The Best Way to Wipe Your Butt, According to Experts

Wiping your butt seems like something you shouldn’t be able to mess up, but here’s a dirty little secret: You totally can. I love that we spoke to an expert who walked us through how it's done properly (wet wipes are a no-no!) and introduced us to the frankly horrifying Polished Anus Syndrome. —EM

12 Facts About Japanese Internment in the United States

While we tend to steer clear of modern-day politics in our everyday coverage, it’s always interesting to see how so many of our historical stories have a resonance in the world today. Scott Beggs’s excellent story about FDR’s Executive Order 9066, which sanctioned the removal of Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese heritage from their homes to be imprisoned in internment camps throughout the country, is a perfect example of that. And a great read—particularly when you consider that it happened in 1942, which is really not that long ago. —JMW

The 1925 Cave Rescue that Captivated the Nation

lantern in cave
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Image: iStock.

I loved the sense of tension and suspense that Lucas wrought from a simple question: Will the man trapped in the cave survive? He brought the long hours of stillness and tedium within the pitch-black cave to life, and gave readers a thread—like the weak flame of Collins's lamp—on which they could cling to hope. The contrast between those scenes and the crass, party-like atmosphere outside the cave captured a time in American history that held a mirror to today's sensationalizing of disasters. —Kat Long, Staff Editor

10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories

Though I rarely buy into fan theories, I love reading about them. And Kristin Hunt has really become our go-to writer for digging up some truly bizarre ones on everything from Mary Poppins to The Sopranos. As a rabid Sesame Street fan (yes, even as an adult—and I’ve got the socks to prove it), the idea that Count von Count occasionally gives into his vampiric need for human blood or that Oscar the Grouch’s trash can is actually a TARDIS gave me a lot to think, and laugh, about. (Yes, I’m also a Doctor Who nerd.) —JMW

Amazing Automata and Mechanical Musical Instruments

Librarians and archivists are my rock stars, so the whole video series we did at little-known local museums this year had me fangirling. But the highlight may have been in June, when we went to the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, and the conservator, Jere Ryder, opened up the deep storage. While the automata and musical instruments upstairs in the museum are sublime (think ornate and expensive), these not-quite-ready for primetime players, including a taxidermy cat playing a harp and meowing "kittens" playing cards, were so incredibly awkward and sweet I think I squealed. The place is definitely worth a trip to New Jersey, even if a child on a previous visit did scream "This is going to give me nightmares!" —BL

15 Essential Midnight Movies Every Film Fan Needs to See

Though movie theaters had a very good year in 2018, their so-called “comeback” was due in large part to major blockbusters like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Which makes me long for the days when even the smallest towns seemed to have a repertory theater, where midnight screenings of movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, El Topo, and The Warriors were a standard option on a Saturday night. Matthew Jackson wrote about some of the best of them here, and what made them perfect for late-night moviegoers. —JMW

The Tiny "Spite Triangle" That Marks a Century-Old Grudge Against New York City

A tiled triangle in the sidewalk that reads 'Property of the Hess estate which has never been dedicated for public purpose.'
Jason Eppink, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Over the years we’ve written about spite houses and spite fences, but Shaunacy Ferro’s exploration of a teeny tiny mosaic tile that sits in the ground in New York City’s West Village might be the ultimate middle finger—if only because it largely goes unnoticed, and will hopefully remain there forever. —JMW

13 Secrets of Crime Scene Cleaners

I love covering professions many people don't think much about, like the companies brought in to clean up after violent deaths. Deanna Cioppa focused both on the memorable details—like the training set-ups made out of sheet rock and pig's blood—and the emotional heart of the story, which I think is the immense satisfaction people get from doing this job. As one interviewee put it, "It's the beat of another human being's heart against yours, thanking you for helping them on the worst day of their lives." —BL

When Missing Kids Could Be Found on Milk Cartons

Any kid who ever ate a bowl of cereal in the 1980s probably remembers staring at the back of the milk carton and being confronted with the haunting faces of “missing” children. To a child, it was slightly alarming—and it’s a tactic that has long confounded me, mostly because I wondered just how effective it really was. The answer, it turns out, is: not very. But the genesis of the concept and how milk cartons came to be the vessel of choice for spreading the word about missing children makes for a wonderful read. —JMW

The Mysterious Bronze Objects That Have Baffled Archaeologists for Centuries

Any story about a mysterious artifact that confounds experts instantly has my attention. This piece doesn't give a definitive explanation for dodecahedrons—the intricate, 12-sided objects that have been dug up across northern Europe—but it does offer some plausible theories that don't involve extraterrestrials. —Michele Debczak, Senior Staff Writer

How Lewis Keseberg Was Branded the Killer Cannibal of the Donner Party

Portrait of Donner Party member Lewis Keseberg
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Most people are probably familiar with the horrific tale of the Donner Party, but this part of the story—in which Lewis Keseberg was accused of not just cannibalism, but of murder—I was not familiar with. Michele Debczak does a great job telling a story that's fascinating and tragic in equal measure, and a must read for those who love history. —EM

The Most Influential Parasite in History

Erin McCarthy talked to a boatload of malaria experts and pieced together this great feature detailing just how acutely malaria has changed the course of world history—it’s changed human evolution, it’s changed America’s government, and it’s now helping drive scientific research in directions that are beyond our wildest imaginations. This thoroughly reported piece is enlightening. —LR

The Time Congress Banned the Braille Edition of Playboy

Sometimes I just want to open up Jake Rossen’s brain so I can see where he gets all of his ideas. He always finds the most unusual and unbelievable stories to tell! Usually, they sound like the set-up to a weird joke. Take this one: "Did you hear about the time a politician who crusaded against an edition for Playboy made for blind people?" It sounds too wacky to be true. But, alas, here it is. —LR

12 Reasons We Love True Crime, According to the Experts

A television with a person in a hazmat suit pulling yellow tape that reads "police line do not cross."
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Images: iStock.com/Customdesigner (TV), iStock.com/D-Keine (crime scene)

Who among us hasn’t paused our binge-watch of Making a Murderer to wonder whether the current deluge of true crime content is healthy? Erin McCarthy’s breakdown of the psychology behind our addiction to morbid subject matter is both reassuring and informative. There’s nothing wrong with getting lost in a criminal narrative. There’s even a case for an evolutionary benefit to hearing these disturbing tales. —JR

The 19th Century "Gang of Ghosts" That Terrorized Chicago's North Side

I love a good ghost story, and this one by Shaunacy Ferro—featuring a Chicago ghost gang, a man of the cloth, a lawsuit, and a hilariously angry New York newspaper that declared "Chicago is not old enough to have ghosts"—is a good one. —EM

The Bloody History of Fangoria

In many ways, I owe my career to Fangoria. The legendary horror movie magazine—which recently made a comeback—was a must-read for any serious horror movie fan back in the 1980s and 1990s. And while its covers made it clear that blood and guts were on the menu, its dedication to going behind the scenes of the movies they covered—to speak not just with the actors and directors, but the special effects and makeup teams and the many other artists who were essential in bringing these films to life—instilled in its readers a serious appreciation for the moviemaking process as a whole (which too few magazines do today). The magazine has gone through a few different iterations, and Jake Rossen took the time to speak with several of the people who were there and make it all happen. Also: Props to my brother for allowing me to dig into his full collection of mint-condition copies for a few photo ops. —JMW

14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Haunted House Actors

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, so it was fun to learn about what’s actually happening behind the scenes at a haunted house. I have newfound respect for these actors, who work extremely hard and wear themselves out scaring the crap out of their patrons (quite literally, as you’ll see in fact #8). —EP

The Most Dangerous Job: The Murder of America's First Bird Warden

Birds in the Everglades
iStock.com/NicolasMcComber

Not everyone knows this, but Lucas Reilly is an alchemist: You can give him a one-page scan of a book, or an old newspaper article, and he'll turn it into gold. This beautifully written story is ostensibly about a murder of a man in the Everglades, but what you feel most deeply (at least I did) is the murder of all the birds the man was sent to protect. All of Lucas's stories have these layers, which are always revealed at just the right moment. This one is also a sadly timely story given the rollback in protections for migratory birds, not to mention other species, and a reminder that humans are the most dangerous animal of all. —BL

Alone in the Dark: An Oral History of MTV's Fear

As a teen, there were few things I found scarier than MTV’s Fear—so I naturally loved this oral history about how the show came together (and, frankly, ended way before it should have). Some of the stories included in it are as scary as the show itself! —EM

Does a Realtor Have to Disclose That a House Is Supposedly Haunted?

If you asked me if I believe in ghosts, I’d probably say “no.” But, perhaps contradictorily, I somehow believe that houses can be haunted. And am pretty sure that I’ll be the person who one day buys one. Thanks to Michele Debczak, I now know which states must disclose if a house is “stigmatized” and have learned that a site called DiedInHouse.com exists, so am feeling much better about my chances of not moving into a Poltergeist situation. —JMW

Mary Frith, 17th-Century London's Smoking, Thieving, Foul-Mouthed "Roaring Girl"

It's easy to fall into the idea that women of the past were always obedient homemakers. Then comes along someone like Mary Frith, who in 1600s England was dressing in men's clothing, smoking, stealing, singing, having plays written about her, and generally doing whatever she pleased. I love how Meg Van Huygen resuscitates her story and tells it even with its complexity (some of her biography may be invented) and gaps. It's a reminder that history is messy, non-linear, and often so much more interesting than we've been taught. —BL

How the World's Only Feudal Lord Outclassed the Nazis to Save Her People

Dame Sibyl Hathaway
Housewife, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

I was lucky enough to visit Sark and interview Dame Sibyl’s great-grandson and current Seigneur, Michael Beaumont. I admit I’ve never interviewed a feudal lord before. He invited me into the Seigneurie, the feudal mansion, and we chatted in the same plush personal library that the Dame used. Afterward, the seigneur gave me a tour of the house and casually showed me the centuries-old, yellowing charters that granted Sark its fiefdom—all signed by long-dead monarchs! It was surreal to explore the building where Dame Sibyl confronted the Nazis. —LR

The Story Behind Keith Richards's Most Famous Birthday Gift

I'm always looking for “flossy” music stories to run, and when a Rolling Stone gets to celebrate a birthday, wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of his most famous accessory all on the same day? I just couldn't resist. —Erika Berlin, Senior Editor

6 Explosive Fart Controversies

At Mental Floss, we sometimes write sweeping features about defeating Nazis. We sometimes write about fun facts and trivia, or useful how-tos that allow our readers to live smarter. And sometimes, we write about fart-based controversies. You can’t tell me this isn’t the best job in the world. —EM

Every New Movie, TV Series, and Special Coming to Netflix in October

Charles Baker as Skinny Pete in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019).
Charles Baker as Skinny Pete in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019).
Courtesy of Netflix

It has been six years since Breaking Bad fans last caught a glimpse of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), as he sped away from Albuquerque and the men who held him captive there for so long (Walter White included, at least in a metaphorical sense). While we've longed to see what happened next, and what Jesse might be up to today, that it would ever become a reality seemed unlikely ... until earlier this year, when Vince Gilligan confirmed that he had secretly shot a Breaking Bad movie titled El Camino, that will catch us up on the man formerly known as Cap'n Cook.

In addition to that October 11th premiere, Netflix has plenty of other movies, shows, and specials coming your way in October.

October 1

Carmen Sandiego: Season 2
Nikki Glaser: Bangin’
93 days
A.M.I.
Along Came a Spider
Bad Boys
Bad Boys II
Blow
Bring It On, Ghost: Season 1
Charlie’s Angels
Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle
Cheese in the Trap: Season 1
Chicago Typewriter: Season 1
Crash
Exit Wounds
Good Burger
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Honey 2
House of the Witch
Lagos Real Fake Life
Men in Black II
Moms at War
No Reservations
Ocean’s Thirteen
Ocean’s Twelve
One Direction: This Is Us
Payday
Rugrats in Paris: The Movie
Scream 2
Senna
Signal: Season 1
Sin City
Sinister Circle
Supergirl
Superman Returns
Surf’s Up
The Bucket List
The Flintstones
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas
The Island
The Pursuit of Happyness
The Rugrats Movie
The Time Traveler’s Wife
Tomorrow with You: Season 1
Trainspotting
Troy
Tunnel: Season 1
Unaccompanied Minors
Walking Out

October 2

Living Undocumented
Ready to Mingle (Solteras)
Rotten: Season 2

October 3

Seis Manos

October 4

Big Mouth: Season 3
Creeped Out: Season 2
In the Tall Grass
Peaky Blinders: Season 5
Raising Dion
Super Monsters: Season 3
Super Monsters: Vida’s First Halloween

October 5

Legend Quest: Masters of Myth

October 7

Match! Tennis Juniors
The Water Diviner

October 8

Deon Cole: Cole Hearted
The Spooky Tale of Captain Underpants Hack-a-ween

October 9

After
Rhythm + Flow

October 10

Schitt’s Creek: Season 5
Ultramarine Magmell

October 11

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
The Forest of Love
Fractured
Haunted: Season 2
Insatiable: Season 2
La influencia
Plan Coeur: Season 2
The Awakenings of Motti Wolenbruch
YooHoo to the Rescue: Season 2

October 12

Banlieusards

October 15

Dark Crimes

October 16

Ghosts of Sugar Land
Sinister 2

October 17

The Karate Kid
The Unlisted

October 18

The Yard (Avlu)
Baby: Season 2
Eli
Interior Design Masters
The House of Flowers: Season 2
The Laundromat
Living with Yourself
MeatEater: Season 8
Mighty Little Bheem: Diwali
Seventeen
Spirit Riding Free: Pony Tales Collection 2
Tell Me Who I Am
Toon: Seasons 1-2
Unnatural Selection
Upstarts

October 19

Men in Black

October 21

Echo in the Canyon
Free Fire

October 22

Jenny Slate: Stage Fright

October 23

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Dancing with the Birds
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy

October 24

Daybreak
Revenge of Pontianak

October 25

A Tale of Love and Darkness
Assimilate
Brigada Costa del Sol
Brotherhood
Dolemite Is My Name
Greenhouse Academy: Season 3
The Kominsky Method: Season 2
Monzon
Nailed It! France (C’est du gâteau!)
Nailed It! Spain (Niquelao!)
Prank Encounters
Rattlesnake
It Takes a Lunatic

October 28

A 3 Minute Hug
Little Miss Sumo
Shine On with Reese: Season 1

October 29

Arsenio Hall: Smart & Classy

October 30

Flavorful Origins: Yunnan Cuisine

October 31

Kengan Ashura: Part ll
Nowhere Man
Raging Bull

10 Intriguing Friends Fan Theories

Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images
Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images

Friends is a classic sitcom about twentysomethings navigating life, love, and work in New York City. Or at least that’s one theory about the beloved sitcom, which premiered on September 22, 1994. Here’s another: Friends is a glimpse inside a mental ward, where six disturbed patients are working through their personality disorders. In the 25 years since it made its debut, Friends has inspired a ton of wild fan theories on Reddit and Twitter. Here are a few of the strangest (and be careful: Mr. Heckles’s murderer is still at large).

1. Rachel dreamed the whole thing.

In the summer of 2017, this photo of the Friends season four DVD box ignited a fan frenzy. The image on the box shows the titular pals snoozing side by side. Ross, Phoebe, Monica, Chandler, and Joey all have their eyes shut, but Rachel—resting right in the middle—is wide awake and looking directly at the camera. Why is she the only one with her eyes open? Some fans suggested Rachel was plotting something sinister, or secretly very “woke.” But plenty more insisted it was proof the whole show was Rachel’s dream. According to one Twitter fan, Rachel fell into an anxiety-fueled dream the night before her wedding to Barry and imagined her own group of hip New York friends to cope with her frustration and dread. Except she woke up to reality the next morning, as shown on the DVD cover, where she’s surrounded by her dream friends.

2. Phoebe hallucinated the show.

Another popular theory suggests that Friends was all in Phoebe’s head—only this take is much darker. The basic premise is that Phoebe never got off the streets. She was a lonely, homeless woman with a meth addiction who peered into the window of Central Perk one day. She noticed five friends laughing over coffee, and imagined herself as part of the gang. In this fantasy, her pals didn’t always get her weird sense of humor, but they loved her anyway. In reality, the twentysomethings in the window were wondering why that “crazy lady” was staring at them. This theory gained so much traction that a journalist asked Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman about it at a television festival. She quickly threw water on the whole thing. “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard,” Kauffman replied. “That’s a terrible theory. That’s insane. Someone needs a life, that’s all I’m saying."

3. It was one long promotion for Starbucks.

The cast of 'Friends'
Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images

According to one manic Facebook rant, Friends was not a sitcom at all. It was actually a 10-year marketing ploy, designed to make Starbucks the new go-to destination for young people. Why else do the characters spend so much time in a coffee shop? True, the shop is not called Starbucks, but the subliminal evidence lies in Rachel’s last name (Green, like the Starbucks company color) and hair (styled like the mermaid in the Starbucks logo). Then there’s Ross and Monica’s last name, Geller, which is close to the German word gellen. It means “to yell,” just like the Starbucks baristas calling out customer names. The case only gets flimsier from there, but if you really want to read about how Chandler and Moby Dick are connected, you can dive down that particular rabbit hole here.

4. Ross lost custody of Ben because he was a bad dad.

Ross’s son Ben arrives in the very first season of Friends, in the aptly titled episode “The One with the Birth.” He’s a constant character for several seasons, but as the show goes on, Ross seems to spend less and less time with his kid. Ben disappears after the eighth season, and never meets his half-sister Emma onscreen. There’s one explanation for this drop-off: Ross lost custody of his son due to increasingly disturbing behavior.

The blog What Would Bale Do lays out a bunch of examples: Ross sleeps with his students, tries to hook up with his cousin, and asks a self-defense instructor for help scaring his female friends. He’s also generally pretty jealous and possessive. According to this theory, Ross’s ex-wife Carol hit a breaking point and took full custody of their son, which is why Ben stops coming around his dad’s apartment in the later seasons.

5. Mr. Heckles was murdered.

Rachel and Monica’s mean old neighbor dies of natural causes in season 2—or at least that’s what they want you to think. By one Redditor’s account, Mr. Heckles was killed in cold blood. Moments before he dies, Mr. Heckles shows up at Monica and Rachel’s door, complaining that their noise is disturbing his birds. (He does not have birds.) Monica says they’ll try to keep it down and as Mr. Heckles leaves, he says he’s going to rejoin his “dinner party.” Minutes later, he’s dead. Ergo, his dinner party guest killed him. Of course, the likelier explanation is that Mr. Heckles was a crazy old man who wasn’t even having a dinner party. But where’s the fun in that?

6. There's a reason why the gang always got that same table at Central Perk.

The cast of 'Friends' chats with talk show host Conan O'Brien
Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images

How did the gang manage to snag the coveted center couch at Central Perk every single time? Simple: Gunther reserved it for them. It was all part of his ongoing campaign to win Rachel’s affections, and it explains why the group never had to fight for seating space. Well, except that one time.

7. There's a Parks & Recreation crossover.

In “The One With All the Candy,” Rachel insists she doesn’t sleep with guys on the first date, only for her friends to immediately call her out. Monica rattles off three names: Matt Wire, Mark Lynn, and Ben Wyatt. Could she be talking about the same Ben Wyatt from Parks and Recreation? According to Reddit, their ages check out. Ben would’ve been 26 at the time of the episode, making him a perfectly acceptable one-night stand for 29-year-old Rachel. But how does Leslie Knope feel about this?

8. Monica was the product of an extramarital affair.

Ross and Monica’s mom doesn’t even try to hide her favoritism. Judy Geller thinks Ross is a genius and Monica is, well, trying. (But could be trying harder.) One bonkers (and since-deleted) fan theory suggests Judy’s preference stems from a family secret: At some point in her marriage to Jack Geller, she had an affair, one she could never forget because it spawned Monica. Judy’s shame over this tryst is what causes her to lash out at Monica and praise Ross, her one 'legitimate' child.

9. There's all in a psych ward.

David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, and Matt Leblanc in 'Friends.'
Getty Images

What if Central Perk wasn’t a coffee shop at all, but rather the cafeteria at a mental institution? As one theory goes, all six main characters are suffering from personality disorders. They’re confined to a facility for treatment, and can only shuffle between their rooms (i.e. their “apartments”) and the cafeteria (i.e. “Central Perk”). This situation also explains why the group is so hostile toward new people. They’re not actually teasing Monica’s new boyfriend; they’re attacking anyone who tries to take one of the friends out of the mental hospital.

10. Joey really wanted some pancakes.

This very silly—but very solid—fan theory is centered on Joey’s love of food. In “The One With Ross’s Library Book,” Joey has a one-night stand with a woman named Erin. He doesn’t want to see her again, and asks Rachel to break the news to her over pancakes. Apparently Chandler used to do this when he lived in the apartment. He’d even save extra pancakes for Joey. Rachel refuses to be a part of this, but once she’s left alone with Erin, she feels bad and offers to cook. Things escalate over the episode and pretty soon, Joey is the one who’s too clingy for Erin. Rachel has to tell him and, feeling bad yet again, she offers pancakes. Reddit claims this was all just a plot for pancakes. It kind of adds up: Joey can’t cook but likes to eat, and he has enough soap opera money to pay an actor (Erin) to play a part in this conspiracy. So he cons his roommate into making pancakes, twice, in a ruse that’s both delicious and diabolical (and, yes, a little bit silly).

This story has been updated for 2019.

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