10 The Orwigsburg Clowns
On the afternoon of July 18, 2014, Robert Gilnitz, age 42, had just returned home from work and was checking his mailbox. Then a clown came out of nowhere and pulled Robert’s pants down.
Without thinking, the big man swung a haymaker at his attacker, only to see the clown backflip onto Robert’s truck, gambol across his yard, and vault over his fence and out of sight. “I couldn’t believe it,” Robert would later recount. “He was dressed in a complete clown getup, and he went over my fence like a monkey.”
Robert’s encounter wasn’t an isolated incident. For about 20 minutes that afternoon, the small town of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, was suddenly and inexplicably invaded by dancing, pantsing clowns. Every clown-costumed perpetrator appeared to be proficient in parkour.
The incident was captured by a handful of surveillance cameras around town. Each video showed the same thing: A clown would sneak up behind a passerby, pull the victim’s pants down, and then quickly flee.
No one could stop them. Hedges, fences, and walls did nothing to slow the parkour clowns’ movements but were enough to stymie anyone attempting pursuit. A police officer attempted to Tase one of the clowns, but he missed and ended up pantsed himself. There were unconfirmed reports of townspeople shooting at the clowns, but none were hit.
As quickly as the spectacle began, it ended. The clowns were nowhere to be found. In total, 32 people were pantsed. Authorities couldn’t determine how many clowns were involved, though they believe there were at least 15. Accurate descriptions of the suspects were impossible, given their clown suits and makeup.
A security camera at the local grocery store captured one van releasing four clowns, not enough to account for all the pantsings. Despite the fact that many people were returning home from work at the time, no one reported seeing the van otherwise, nor were any cars containing clown-suited drivers or passengers seen.
The events of that day appear to have been one of the most coordinated pranks ever captured on video. Nothing was stolen, nothing was damaged, and no one was physically hurt. They were only pantsed. Locals, however, were not amused. “This stunt was a crime and no laughing matter,” police told reporters.
The clowns were never identified or apprehended, and no similar incidents have occurred since.
9What Are Shadows?
Until recently, scientists considered darkness to simply be the absence of light. However, new research indicates that can’t be the case. Albert Einstein famously proved that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. If darkness was really the absence of light, then it should “travel” at exactly the same speed, with darkness appearing as soon as light disappears. But the weird thing is that darkness often appears to move faster than light.
Hold your hand up so that it casts a shadow on a wall and then wave it quickly. Notice how the shadow seems to move at the same speed as your hand. Now stand further away from the wall and wave your hand again. Your shadow will be larger but will still move at the same speed as your hand, even though the larger shadow has to cover a larger distance. Now imagine using a bright lamp to cast the shadow of your hand on the Moon at night. The shadow will still move at the same speed as your hand, even though it’s covering thousands of miles to reach the surface of the Moon. If you wave your hand fast enough, its shadow will move faster than the speed of light.
So how can darkness move faster than light? Einstein’s theory of special relativity holds that faster-than-light travel would be equivalent to time travel, since it would result in information being received before it was sent. But special relativity also holds that it would require infinite energy to send an object faster than the speed of light, which is impossible. However, darkness is not a physical object made up of matter and therefore uses no energy to travel. In other words, it might be possible for darkness to travel through time without violating the laws of physics.
To test this hypothesis, scientists from MIT are currently monitoring the shadows on the surface of the Moon. In six months, the same scientists will encode the results of the 2016 Olympics into shadows and cast them onto the surface of the Moon. The best part of the experiment is that it will be very cheap, since if the scientists don’t receive the results before the Olympics, then the experiment didn’t work and they won’t bother casting the shadows onto the Moon in the first place.
8The Window-Licking Alchemists Of Magoria
In 2015, archaeologist James Marigold uncovered a mystery as old as the glaciers themselves. Deep in an icy cavern just west of Hankleburg, Tennessee, he unearthed the remains of a 20,000-year-old cult which he calls the window-licking alchemists from the lost civilization of Magoria.
The find consisted of six mummified individuals—four men, one woman, and one that “might be a bear”—lying in a semicircle around a stone altar covered with artifacts. They’d been naturally preserved by the conditions in the cave.
“The stuff on the altar was your basic alchemy stuff,” Marigold explained. “Bowls, mugs, forks, resurrection spells carved on the wishbones of crippled geese. A bear. Real basic stuff.” What really intrigued Marigold were the mummified bodies, some of which were missing limbs. In accordance with window-licking doctrine, the cult had apparently undergone what he called “the big lick.”
There are no written or oral records of the secretive window-lickers, and until now, no one knew that they even existed. According to Marigold, who wrote his college thesis on interspecies breeding among dinosaurs (“Stega-score-us!”), practitioners of the newly discovered cult didn’t lick actual windows. That’s a myth he’s trying hard to dispel. They saw what they were doing as a metaphor—they were licking the windows of the soul “like a puppy stuck on the back patio trying to get inside the house, where all the lights are on and everybody’s laughing.” Soul-window licking never caught on, although “it did have its disciples. I know because I found them. They’re in the cave right there, behind the bear.”
“They assumed the postures that would carry them through the transition to the other side. The ‘pane’ of death.” Marigold chuckles. “That’s why their mouths are open, see, like they died screaming. But they’re really sticking their tongues out, licking salvation. After some kind of mystic alchemical ritual, they scattered themselves haphazardly around the cave and waited to die. Not a lot of people went through with it. There was also that bear.”
Describing the partially devoured bodies, Marigold said, “One guy had his hands in the air, fingers spread, facing the bear, as if he was telling me, ‘Hey, Marigold, you found us.’ Real calm, real serene.”
Marigold stumbled across the groundbreaking discovery while chasing a tetherball that had come untied. He said that at first it was all “super mysterious” and admitted that he was “just mega baffled,” but once he came up with a theory that discounted the bear, all the pieces came together naturally.
7This Rock Right Here
Archaeologists investigating a site in Shaftsbury, Vermont, came upon an unusual find in June 2014. Nestled among smaller pebbles and a collection of dead twigs was a rock measuring 15 centimeters (6 in) across and almost 2.5 centimeters (1 in) wide. Even more than a year after the rock’s discovery, its true origin and purpose remain completely unknown.
The rock may be anywhere from 2,300 to 3.8 billion years old. While investigators have yet to weigh the rock, estimates claim that it might tip the scales at as much as 400 grams (14 oz). The interior of the rock, it is speculated, may consist of multiple layers ranging in color and density, but there is no way to confirm this without splitting the rock open, which experts say could undermine its structural integrity.
It’s possible that the rock was used as a weapon by Ardipithecus ramidus, an early human ancestor. If this murder was acknowledged and punished by other proto-humans, this would be the earliest example of legal procedure. Another strong possibility is that the rock had religious significance, involved in sacrificial rites and in the crushing of grapes for sacramental wine. Anthropologists have not ruled out that the rock may itself have been worshiped as a god, and its use as a navigational tool or precursor to modern GPS devices cannot be overstated.
Many theories exist about its actual nature, but no one knows for certain.
6The Frozen People Of Grand Central Terminal
Mass hysteria refers to shared delusions that make a group of people act in a similar manner, as when whole villages exhibit symptoms of the same disease, even though none of the villagers are actually sick. There are plenty of historical instances of such collective hysteria. Thanks to YouTube, contemporary cases of mass hysteria can be captured and analyzed like never before. Yet, to this day, researchers haven’t offered a better explanation as to why they happen beyond an exasperated shrug.
The most famous episode of mass hysteria in recent memory happened at the Grand Central Terminal in New York on February 24, 2007. At exactly 2:30 PM, no fewer than 200 people found themselves frozen in place. They quite literally ceased all movement, maintaining the same position while the world around them carried on. The “mass freeze” lasted about five minutes, after which the affected people went on with their lives without any apparent side effects.
Experts haven’t been able to identify what triggered the incident or why only certain visitors were affected. Grand Central Terminal is not the only recent example of mass hysteria. From a spontaneous song-and-dance routine at the Antwerp Central Station, Belgium, to a sudden lightsaber brawl in Bristol, England, group hysteria continues to baffle researchers and doctors alike.
Behavioral scientist David Foolery at the University of Southern Fiji speculates that the majority of modern mass hysteria stems from social media interactions and something he calls Mico Vulgus (loosely translated as “mob of flashes”), which is when a wider group involuntarily mimics the actions of a limited number of initial patients. The truth is, we may never be able to fully explain this curious group phenomenon.
5The Killing Of Albert Smith
On October 7, 1983, police received a phone call from a neighbor about a possible shooting at a residence in Palos Hills, Illinois. When officers arrived at the house, they were let in by Evelyn Smith, 34, who appeared distraught. After investigating the home, the officers discovered the body of her husband, 36-year-old Albert Smith, on the floor of one bedroom. The man was dead, killed by multiple gunshots.
The building showed no signs of forced entry. Interviews with neighbors turned up no evidence of unusual visitors to the area, and area surveillance footage suggested nothing unusual.
A thorough search of the premises turned up the murder weapon, a double-action revolver owned by Evelyn and purchased, ironically, for home protection. The gun contained no fingerprints other than the owner’s, offering no clue as to the shooter’s identity. The culprit had hidden the gun in a drawer of Evelyn’s containing socks and personal items before leaving the building through unknown means. Most mysteriously, the killer had evidently entered, done the deed, and exited without arousing the wife’s attention.
Suspicion quickly turned to Albert’s mistress, 26-year-old Nadine Rice. Albert had been planning to abandon his marriage and live with Nadine and allegedly planned to tell his wife this decision sometime that week. But Nadine had an ironclad alibi, visibly working the evening shift at busy diner at the time of the murder.
Evelyn Smith would have been left destitute by the loss of her husband, but an insurance policy recently taken out on his life offered her a reasonable payment. More than three decades after the death of Albert Smith, investigators have yet to find a viable suspect, and the murder remains unsolved.
4A Bizarre, Deadly Celestial Force
According to scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, our planet is currently being bombarded by mysterious rays originating from the very center of the solar system. These largely electromagnetic rays vary between visible and invisible and may have a profound effect on Earth’s future.
These strange rays (dubbed “s-rays”) continuously hit our fresh water reserves, converting them to an unusable form. Effects have been observed on our crops as well: Though most plants have some level of adaptation to s-rays, the aggregate impact on all vegetation cannot be calculated. Man-made works, meanwhile, have proven far from immune. Artistic masterpieces, experts say, degrade in the presence of s-rays, and even mobile phones and motor vehicles become more difficult to use after periods of s-ray exposure.
The effect of these rays on humans, while not fully understood, is serious and even deadly. A great many cases of cancer can be directly linked to contact with the invisible components of the rays. Even when cancer does not result, lengthy exposure routinely leads to visible organ damage. Doctors recommend adopting some kind of barrier on an individual basis, perhaps even using topical medication to assist in this.
Confoundingly, parts of the planet at any given time receive no s-rays at all, yet there is never a time when the entire Earth is spared. The precise schedule of s-ray bombardment is calculable by NASA and is available in government facilities.
Though many argue that we must study s-rays to understand their nature and avert disaster, it is likely that they will remain a mystery for the foreseeable future. Scientists warn that any attempt to observe the rays’ source for more than a few seconds can lead to permanent damage, including irreversibly impaired vision.
3The Waterloo Foo Fighters
In 1942, Alan Damian O’Henry was working at his father’s auto shop in Waterloo, Ontario, when he reported hearing strange sounds and seeing mysterious lights in the sky. Before long, several other locals came forward to report that they had also seen unusual lights in the sky at night. This phenomena is not unknown (see Norway’s famous Hessdalen lights) but the Waterloo incident was even stranger because several locals reported unusual noises.
These reports soon attracted the attention of the Canadian government, who commissioned the University of Toronto’s Jeff Threeny to investigate. The plan was that Threeny would produce a report debunking the growing UFO rumors, calming the situation and refocusing the media on the war effort. But in a sensational turn, Threeny himself reported “unearthly blinking lights in the sky at night,” adding that he “could see no natural explanation” for them.
Threeny’s report is now considered one of the most famous pieces of evidence for the existence of UFOs. Paranormal blog Automatic Polygons even ranks it as the most credible sighting of all time. The Canadian government took the story seriously enough to order special monitoring flights from the recently built Waterloo airfield, but sightings only increased until the end of the war, when they tailed off. Government monitoring was ceased in 1946; no further reports are known of since then.
2 Do We Truly Enjoy Happiness?
Do humans truly enjoy being happy? The answer would seem to be an obvious “yes,” but can that be empirically proven? Professor Bryan Shannon of Penn State’s John Meadows School of Psychology sought to find out.
Such an undertaking was easier said than done. “Happiness” had to be operationally defined, and a method of measuring both happiness and one’s enjoyment of happiness had to be formulated. Shannon ultimately chose to assess participants’ self-reported life satisfaction and compare it with their average daily stress levels.
A convenient sample of Shannon’s students and graduate assistants was used, totaling 108 people ages 18–42. Participants were informed of the nature of the correlational research and agreed to wear equipment that monitored their vital signs for a period of two weeks, removing it only for bathing and sleeping. They also completed a 50-question life satisfaction survey. The students received extra credit as compensation for their time.
The fantastically expensive study was inconclusive. Participants who reported greater life satisfaction had a slight tendency toward greater stress levels, but the correlation was small and not statistically significant.
Shannon admitted that life satisfaction may not have been the most valid measure of happiness. He stated that future research could benefit from a better measure of happiness as well as better controlling for mitigating circumstances, such as having conducted the study during midterms.
However, according to Shannon:
Our study represents an early step into uncharted territory—scientifically proving the seemingly unprovable. The future of psychology is in turning away from mere supposition and inference and instead documenting, with instrumentation, emotional states and some day, even cognitions. More research is needed; hopefully our efforts have helped to point the way.
Shannon received tenure soon after.
1 The Secret Code Of The US Civil War
During the US Civil War, the three most legendary names in the US were Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and Esther Pettifor. Unlike Lincoln and Davis, Miss Pettifor didn’t take sides. Her mission was to bolster the morale of all the Civil War troops—and the men loved her for it.
Of course, she was only one woman, and there were a lot of war-weary men. So Miss Pettifor, by all accounts an extremely generous woman, wrote a book to encourage women across America to join her cause.
It was a slim volume, but Miss Pettifor’s Guide to Private Pleasures became an instant best seller. It was said to surpass the Kama Sutra, especially Miss Pettifor’s secret in chapter five that made her simply irresistible to the troops.
However, advisers to President Lincoln began to suspect that Miss Pettifor was actually a spy for the Confederacy and that her guide was really a codebook containing Union military movements disguised as sex acts.
But before they could bring her in for questioning, a consumption epidemic killed her, the printer, and all the men who allegedly knew her secret.
So the feds confiscated as many copies of Miss Pettifor’s book as they could and took them to the White House for examination. President Lincoln was waiting with his best code breaker (whose name was known only to Lincoln) when the agents arrived with the books.
“Gentlemen, this could be the key to winning the war,” Lincoln said.
As he wanted to confer privately with his advisers, Lincoln instructed the code breaker to work quietly in the adjoining room with the door closed. A trusted female secretary was also there to make an official record when the code was cracked.
The president and his advisers had been discussing this latest military development for only a few minutes when they were interrupted by the secretary’s moans of delight coming from the adjoining room. Suddenly, there was the loud thud of a body hitting the floor and then the code breaker’s scream of pain.
“Sir, are you okay? Are you okay?” the secretary shrieked.
A moment later, the door to the adjoining room opened. The code breaker used one arm to drag his body across the floor into the president’s office. His shirt was in shreds, and his face showed only intense pain.
As the president’s advisers rushed over to the code breaker, Lincoln peered over his desk with concern. “Sir, what happened?” Lincoln asked.
The code breaker lifted his head a few inches off the floor. “Misprint—page 37,” he gasped.
His head fell back to the floor. And that’s how Miss Pettifor’s secret became the greatest unsolved mystery of the US Civil War.