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Surf’s Up


The supertanker Esso Languedoc was weathering a storm off Durban, South Africa, in 1980 when an enormous wave struck it from behind and washed over the deck. This photo was taken by first mate Philippe Lijour. That mast is 25 meters tall, which means the wave was the size of a four-story building.

So-called freak waves were once thought to be legendary, but now it appears that rogue waves even three times this size, 100 feet tall, can occur spontaneously in the middle of the ocean, sometimes in perfectly clear weather. No one’s sure why.


“The only man, woman or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors is dead.” — e.e. cummings, on the death of Warren G. Harding

Pearl Curran

In 1913, Chicago housewife Pearl Curran was messing around with a Ouija board when she claimed to receive the message “Many moons ago I lived. Again I come. Patience Worth my name. If thou shalt live, so shall I.”

On investigating the name, she claimed to find that a Patience Worth had lived in Dorsetshire, England, in either 1649 or 1694. Through the Ouija board Patience told Curran that she had moved to the United States and been murdered by Indians. “From England across the sea. Could I but hold your ear for the lessons I could teach!”

So Pearl/Patience began to publish novels, stories and poetry. Critics pointed out that a 17th-century spirit shouldn’t be able to produce a Victorian novel, as Patience did, but supporters argued that the language she used was beyond Pearl’s normal abilities.

That may have spelled the end of their partnership, actually. Apparently frustrated with the intelligence of her host, Patience clammed up, except for the occasional sarcastic comment. She’d gone silent by the time Pearl died in 1937 … and, presumably, joined her.

Next Stop …

Hell is in Norway, it turns out. The tiny village has a population of 352. This is the train station (curiously, “Gods Expedition,” or godsekspedisjon, means “cargo handling office”).

And, yes, in winter the temperature can drop below zero.

Low Billing

The word eternity occurs only once in the King James Bible (in Isaiah 57, verse 15).


In July 1808, 100 kilometers east of the Montana Rockies, Lewis and Clark wrote, “We have repeatedly heard a strange noise coming from the mountains. … It is heard at different periods of the day and night … and consists of one stroke only, or of five or six discharges in quick succession. It is loud and resembles precisely the sound of a six-pound piece of ordnance.”

They were leading the first overland expedition of the United States territory, so it wasn’t a cannon. The sounds have never been explained.

Snow Miser


The world’s tallest snowman was Angus, King of the Mountain, built in Maine in 1999. He stood 113 feet 7 inches tall.

In Lithuania, a snowman is called “a man without brains.” Last winter, protesters made 141 snowmen in their capital — one for each member of parliament.

In a Word

n. an instrument of torture for crushing the fingers


In 1658, French admiral Etienne de Flacourt reported a curious legend among the natives of Madagascar. They described a creature, called tretretretre, that was as big as a 2-year-old calf, with a round head, a human face and ears, an ape’s feet, a short tail, and frizzy fur.

That description matched nothing on the island, so the Europeans dismissed it. But since then, fossils have been unearthed of a giant lemur, Megaladapis, that may explain the myth. It had been thought to become extinct thousands of years ago, but now zoologists think it may have survived into the sixth century, when humans came to the island, and entered their folklore.

A few Megaladapis may even have survived into the 16th or 17th century, so perhaps Flacourt was witnessing the birth of a legend.


These structures were discovered off the Japanese island of Yonaguni in 1985. Are they man-made? They resemble the pyramids of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Mexico, and Peru, but analyses showed one was 8,000 years old, which would make these the oldest ruins in the world.

If that’s so, historians can’t explain who would have built them. And archaeologists have suggested that the plates may have formed naturally. For now, the jury’s out.