Last year, University of Queensland psychology undergraduate Sean Murphy was collecting images of faces while preparing an experiment. As he skimmed through them, he noticed that they began to appear grotesque and deformed, though when viewed individually they appeared normal and even attractive. (The demonstration above uses photographs of celebrities.)
“The effect seems to depend on processing each face in light of the others,” writes grad student Matthew Thompson, who published the result last year with Murphy and Jason Tangen. “By aligning the faces at the eyes and presenting them quickly, it becomes much easier to compare them, so the differences between the faces are more extreme. If someone has a large jaw, it looks almost ogre-like. If they have an especially large forehead, then it looks particularly bulbous. We’re conducting several experiments right now to figure out exactly what’s causing this effect.”
(Tangen, J. M., Murphy, S. C., & Thompson, M. B. (2011). Flashed face distortion effect: Grotesque faces from relative spaces. Perception, 40, 628-630.)
On Sept. 12, 1952, three West Virginia boys saw a floating reddish sphere drop behind a hill, where it emitted a steady glow. As they went to investigate, they were joined by a local beautician and three others boys.
A dog ran ahead of the group, barked furiously at something, and fled with its tail between its legs. The first boys to reach the site saw a “big ball of fire” among a foul-smelling mist to their right. To their left were two points of light. When one boy turned his flashlight on them, the group saw a grotesque, armless creature with a head shaped like the “ace of spades,” with a circular window through which two pale blue beams of light played.
The creature, which was more than 6 feet tall, glided toward the group at first, then turned toward the glowing ball as the group fled. When a reporter from the Braxton Democrat arrived at the scene, he noticed an unusual odor in the grass that irritated his nose and throat.
No one knows what the group saw that night, but the most likely explanation seems to be a meteor and a startled barn owl. Flatwoods held a “monster festival” in September 2002, on the 50th anniversary of the event; the alien, if that’s what it was, failed to attend.
In October 1956, Los Angeles mentalist Jack Swimmer declared that he would predict the exact number of votes that President Eisenhower would receive that year in the nation, in California, and in Los Angeles County. A small box containing his predictions was placed in a larger box, which was locked in a county safe on Oct. 10, and Swimmer deposited $5,000 with the county board of supervisors, saying they could give it to charity if he failed.
On Nov. 13, a week after Election Day, the supervisors opened the smaller box and found a tiny roll of paper on which were written three numbers:
These corresponded exactly to the published totals. The board returned Swimmer’s money, and he donated it to charity anyway, saying he was happy with his “small part in bringing out the vote.”
Swimmer wouldn’t say how he had accomplished the feat, though he said there was nothing supernatural about it. “Some of the spectators later said the tiny roll of paper on which the figures were written could have been hidden in a hollow key and injected into the box when it was unlocked,” noted a UPI account. “But by the time they thought of it, the key was no longer available for inspection.”
The nephew of British composer George Lloyd discovered this among his papers — a Christmas carol written as a “tabletop double canon” that can be read simultaneously by singers facing north, south, east, and west.
A printable PDF is available here.
(Thanks, Steve and Bill.)
At 6:03 on the morning of Aug. 16, 1942, U.S. Navy blimp L-8 ascended from Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay to conduct an anti-submarine patrol along the coast of California. Aboard were pilot Ernest Cody and ensign Charles Adams. The flight proceeded uneventfully until 7:42, when Cody reported that they’d spotted an oil slick and were going to investigate.
At 11:15, caddies at a seaside golf club saw the airship float in from the sea, its motors silent. Descending, it struck some telephone lines and the roofs of several homes before coming to rest in Daly City. The first person to reach the downed ship, volunteer fireman William Morris, was surprised at what he found: “The doors were open and nobody was in the cabin.”
There was no trace of Cody or Adams. Though most of the fuel had been dumped, the parachutes and life raft were stored appropriately, and the radio was in working order. Only the crew were missing.
After a search, the Navy declared itself certain that “the men were NOT in the ship at any time it traveled over land.” Two fishing vessels near the oil slick testified that they’d seen the blimp descend to investigate, but nothing had fallen or dropped from it.
That’s all. A Coast Guard search found nothing. Cody and Adams were both declared missing, then pronounced dead a year later. No one knows what became of them.
- A pound of dimes has the same value as a pound of quarters.
- The French word hétérogénéité has five accents.
- 32768 = (3 – 2 + 7)6 / 8
- Can you deceive yourself deliberately?
- “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” — Thomas Paine
In 2000, Guatemalan police asked Christmas revelers not to fire pistols into the air. “Lots of people die when bullets fall on their heads,” National Civilian Police spokesman Faustino Sanchez told Reuters. He said that five to ten Guatemalans are killed or injured each Christmas by falling bullets.
On visiting the Gold Pavilion Temple in Kyoto, Douglas Adams was impressed at how well the 14th-century structure had weathered the passage of time. His Japanese guide told him that it hadn’t weathered well at all; in fact it had burned to the ground twice in the 20th century.
“So this isn’t the original building?” Adams asked.
“But yes, of course it is.”
“But it’s been burned down?”
“Of course. It is an important and historic building.”
“With completely new materials.”
“But of course. It was burned down.”
“So how can it be the same building?”
“It is always the same building.”
“I had to admit to myself that this was in fact a perfectly rational point of view, it merely started from an unexpected premise,” Adams wrote. The essence of a building is its design, the intention of the builder. The materials may decay and be replaced, but these are only instantiations of a persistent idea. “I couldn’t feel entirely comfortable with this view, because it fought against my basic Western assumptions,” Adams wrote, “but I did see the point.”
From Last Chance to See. John Locke asked: If I keep patching holes in my sock until none of the original material remains, is it the same sock? And see Ship Shape.
On April 23, 1982, the Florida keys seceded from the Union. Frustrated that a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint was obstructing the main artery to the mainland, Key West mayor Dennis Wardlow opted for a lighthearted public relations campaign: He proclaimed his “Conch Republic” a separate nation, declared war on the United States, surrendered one minute later, and applied for $1 billion in foreign aid.
Since then the republic has maintained an uneasy peace with its giant neighbor. On Sept. 20, 1995, when an Army reserve battalion forgot to notify Key West of local training exercises, Wardlow mobilized for war. He sent letters to Bill Clinton, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and secretary of state Warren Christopher, and his militia engaged La Dichosa Bakery to bake Cuban bread with which to pelt the convoy (“our historic weapon of choice for dealing with Federalist Forces”) and Key West Lager “to provide the beer.”
By 10:50 p.m. they had received a fax from the battalion’s leaders stating that they had “in no way meant to challenge or impugn the sovereignty of the Conch Republic.” An official surrender ceremony was held two days later.
Above is a photo of the Indian city of Jodhpur. Below, seemingly, is a detailed scale model of the same scene.
In fact it’s the same photo, altered so that the foreground and background are out of focus. This narrow depth of field is most familiar from close-up photographs of miniature scenes, so the eye assumes that’s what it’s seeing.
On April 10, 1818, John Cleves Symmes Jr. of Ohio issued the following challenge:
To All The World. — I declare the earth to be hollow and habitable within; containing a number of concentric spheres, one within the other, and that their poles are open twelve or sixteen degrees. I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the concave, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking.
I ask one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia, in autumn, with reindeer and sledges, on the ice of the Frozen Sea; I engage we find a warm country and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals, if not men, on reaching about sixty-nine miles northward of latitude 82; we will return in the succeeding spring.
Kentucky senator (and future vice president) Richard M. Johnson proposed that Congress fund two vessels for the expedition, but Congress voted this down. But we have an account of the voyage anyway: An anonymous hoaxer published Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery under Symmes’ name in 1820.