Revenge of the Food Chain

A human sacrifice to a carnivorous tree, as described in the South Australian Register, 1881:

The slender delicate palpi, with the fury of starved serpents, quivered a moment over her head, then as if instinct with demoniac intelligence fastened upon her in sudden coils round and round her neck and arms; then while her awful screams and yet more awful laughter rose wildly to be instantly strangled down again into a gurgling moan, the tendrils one after another, like great green serpents, with brutal energy and infernal rapidity, rose, retracted themselves, and wrapped her about in fold after fold, ever tightening with cruel swiftness and savage tenacity of anacondas fastening upon their prey.

Unfortunately, years of subsequent investigation — including the enchantingly titled Madagascar, Land of the Man-Eating Tree (1924) — have failed to find such a tree, or even the Mkodo tribe that purportedly feeds it. Nice try, though.

“Up in the Air”

“This gentleman had an idea that he could fly by the aid of this ingenious machinery. You will see that his wings are arranged so that they are moved by his legs, and also by cords attached to his arms. The umbrella over his head is not intended to ward off the rain or the sun, but is to act as a sort of parachute, to keep him from falling while he is making his strokes. The basket, which hangs down low enough to be out of the way of his feet, is filled with provisions, which he expects to need in the course of his journey.

“That journey lasted exactly as long as it took him to fall from the top of a high rock to the ground below.”

— Frank R. Stockton, Round-About Rambles in Lands of Fact and Fancy, 1910

Rat Kings
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Every so often someone finds a bunch of rats whose tails are knotted together. It’s called a rat king. (This one, with 32 rats, was found in a German miller’s fireplace in 1828.)

The rats are usually dead when they’re discovered, and no one has suggested a natural cause, so presumably humans are involved somehow.

Typically the rats are fully grown adults, so they’re not born this way, and their tails are often broken and callused, which means they’ve survived in this state for some time, fed by humans or by other rats.

Why would anyone do this? Who knows?

The Flynn Effect

Are we getting smarter? IQ scores around the world have been going up by about three IQ points per decade.

Suggested reasons include improved nutrition, smaller families, better education, and the stimulating modern environment, but no one really knows what’s causing it.

It’s called the Flynn effect, after New Zealand political scientist who discovered it.

She Ain’t Heavy

Kailashgiri Brahmachari is carrying his mother across India. They left the northern village of Piparia eight years ago and hope to reach Varanasi in 2013.

He says it’s the will of God.

“He is a nice son, but I am getting tired,” his mother told the BBC. “I sometimes feel like ending the journey and getting back home.”

The Cottingley Fairies

In 1920 two English cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, produced a series of photos that seemed to show them cavorting with fairies and gnomes.

The images were published in The Strand and convinced Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. In The Coming of the Fairies (1922), he wrote: “It is hard for the mind to grasp what the ultimate results may be if we have actually proved the existence upon the surface of this planet of a population which may be as numerous as the human race, which pursues its own strange life in its own strange way, and which is only separated from ourselves by some difference of vibrations.”

But see Fairies Unmasked.

I Say, 007!

Blue Peacock was the sexy code name of a secret British plan to salt the Rhine with nuclear mines in the 1950s, in case of war.

Less sexily, they planned to put a live chicken in each one, to keep the electronics from getting cold.

When the file was declassified on April 1, 2004, this was taken to be an April Fool’s joke, but it’s true. Fortunately, the project was canceled.

Hemingway’s Cats

Ernest Hemingway’s former home in Key West, Fla., contains a colony of six-toed cats.

The author had a sailor’s love of polydactyl cats — their extra toes are considering good luck at sea, giving them superior abilities to climb and to hunt shipboard rodents.

So when Hemingway received a six-toed cat from a ship’s captain, he provided for its descendants in his will. There are currently about 60 cats at the Key West house, and about half of them have extra toes.