WASHINGTON, December 31, 2012 — From a hit TV-show cast blowing up someone’s front door to people riding invisible horses to a Korean pop song, 2012 was filled with surprising and captivating news stories. Inspired by these fascinating events, The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2013 has unveiled the Top “Offbeat News Stories of 2012.”
Sarah Janssen, The World Almanac senior editor, listed a new post-Napster religion and the first ever Internet Cat Video Film Festival as her highlights. Read all eight below and decide for yourself.
The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2013: “Offbeat News Stories ”
1. Cannonball Myth: Confirmed. The Discovery Channel’s MythBusters is known for two things: using scientific experiments to check the plausibility of physical phenomena and blowing things up. The cast members frequently note that they’re professionals and that most of their experiments shouldn’t be tried at home. But even professionals need to exercise caution, especially when explosives are involved.
A team from the show Dec. 6, 2011, was setting up an experiment to test whether a stone cannonball could penetrate a stone castle wall.They were firing cannonballs into water barrels at a Dublin, CA, police firing range to calibrate a homemade cannon when the muzzle lifted upon firing. The 30-lb cannonball banked off a safety berm and launched 700 yds into a suburban neighborhood. The runaway projectile hit the sidewalk, bounded through the front door of a house, and crashed through the wall of a second-story bedroom where a woman and her toddler were sleeping. The cannonball continued across a busy road and ricocheted off the roof of another house before coming to rest inside a minivan.
Luckily, no one was hurt. The MythBusters hosts apologized, promised to take more care in the future, and pledged never to air footage of the incident on the show.
2. Please Rise and Paste Hymn 1337. Intellectual property issues are increasingly central in today’s world, and Sweden has long been at the forefront of such issues. Popular file-sharing site The Pirate Bay is based in Sweden, and its political spinoff, the Swedish Pirate Party, has two seats in European Parliament. Now comes the world’s first religion for the post-Napster generation. The Swedish government officially recognized the Church of Kopimism—the name derives from “copy me”—as a religious organization in Jan. 2012.
Founded in 2010 by 19-year-old philosophy student Isak Gerson, the church posits that information is holy, that copying is a sacrament, and that all file-sharing should be legal. Sacred symbols include “Ctrl + C” and “Ctrl + V,” the keystroke shortcuts to copy and paste. The movement is spreading: the First United Church of Kopimism registered with the state of Illinois in Apr. 2012. Worldwide, the Church of Kopimism claims upward of 8,000 members and branches in 18 countries.
3. Spot the Pig. In hindsight, having prisoners work on elements of police cruisers might have been asking for trouble. The Vermont State Police logo is a modified version of the state’s seal and coat of arms. It includes a pine tree, some sheaves of grain, and a red Holstein cow. While the cow is supposed to be solid red, the cows on police vehicles have spots. A Vermont state trooper cleaning his patrol car Feb. 1, 2012, noticed that one of the spots on the cow was shaped like a pig. (“Pig” is a derogatory term for a police officer.)
Investigations found that the logo decals had been made at a print shop at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in 2009, and that an inmate had modified the computer file with the logo to add the pig. Despite a Facebook petition to “Save the Vermont Pigs” or auction the logo decals for charity, they were destroyed and replaced, at a cost of $780.
4. How to Live on $30 a Month. Eric Simons lived in AOL’s offices in Palo Alto, CA, rent-free for two months before anyone was the wiser. Simons, a 19-year-old with an educational software startup, participated in a 3½-month incubator program on the AOL campus. Simons didn’t have enough money for rent after the program was over, but he did still have an active AOL security badge. They had everything he needed: free food (cereal, ramen, and trail mix), a gym with showers, and even a laundromat.
During the day, he worked on his startup. Workers who saw him in the morning assumed he got there early; those who saw him at the end of the day figured he was working late. He spent only $30 during the first month of his residence, but eventually, word got out and he was expelled. By then he had made enough progress to get capital to cover the rent on a house in Palo Alto … where he promptly sublet the use of bunk beds to two other programmers.
5. Knight of the Elm. One might not expect a professional logger to become famous for saving a tree, but logger Frank Knight of Yarmouth, ME, didn’t fit preconceptions. While he made his living felling and selling trees, he also worked to protect trees in his neighborhood. He tried hardest to save a 110-ft-tall elm planted in 1793, nicknamed “Herbie.” In 1956, when Herbie and other Yarmouth elms were first threatened by Dutch elm disease, Knight came to the rescue. He carefully pruned the tree for decades, but by Jan. 2010, Herbie could no longer be saved.
Knight, then 101 years old, told the Associated Press that Herbie’s “time has come, and mine is about due, too.” Herbie’s wood was supplied to local artisans, who used it to make tables, ornaments, and even an electric guitar. Some of these items were auctioned off, raising more than $45,000 to pay for the planting of more trees in Yarmouth. Knight died May 14, 2012, at the age of 103 and was laid to rest in a casket made from Herbie’s wood. His son, Dick Knight, told the Boston Herald, “Frank cared for Herbie for 52 years, and now Herbie will care for Frank forever.”
6. Dust in the Wind. When thunderstorms meet desert sand, they can kick up massive dust storms, called “haboobs” by meteorologists. Comparable to a dust tsunami, a haboob can suddenly engulf an area. They’re quite dangerous: 48 vehicle crashes—including two fatalities and 41 injuries—were caused by dust storms in Arizona in 2010.
So the Arizona Dept. of Transportation started a campaign to convince drivers to pull over when a storm hits. They asked people to use Twitter to submit haiku (17-syllable poems in a 5/7/5-syllable pattern) about haboobs, like “Drive with care in dust / Pull aside and stay alive / Wait for dust to pass.” Hundreds submitted entries, even though there were no prizes (except bragging rights), and the “Pull Aside, Stay Alive” campaign was widely reported. The winning entry, announced June 29, 2012, came from Twitter user @Lisa4LFA, or Lisa Fullam: “Dust blows, swirls and grows / Roadways become danger zones / Pull over, lights off.”
7. Monkey Shines. Elías García Martínez painted a fresco of Jesus Christ known as “Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man) at the Santuario de Misericodia Church in Borja, Spain, around a century ago. Neither the artist nor the painting were particularly noteworthy, but the painting had sentimental value, and some of Martínez’s descendants arranged to have the fresco professionally restored. But when their expert arrived, it was too late: an 81-year-old parishioner, Cecilia Giménez, admitted to fixing the painting herself in Aug. 2012. Unfortunately, Giménez wasn’t a painter. The heartfelt but awful result was described as “a furry alien Neanderthal,” “Ewok Jesus,” and, ultimately, “Ecce Mono” (Behold the Monkey).
Martínez’s descendants and the church were distressed, but the story endeared the world to “Ecce Mono.” The image spread on social media and appeared on T-shirts, wine bottles, and coffee mugs. The church began charging admission to see the painting and took in more than $2,500 in just four days. By Oct. 2012, many questions remained unresolved: Could the “restoration” be undone? Could the top layer be lifted off to preserve both the original and Giménez’s work? Would Giménez be sued for ruining Martínez’s fresco? Could Giménez sue those making T-shirts and other merchandise—or even the church—for a cut of the profits? Who owns the rights to “Ecce Mono”? All parties have retained counsel.
8. Ev’rybody Wants to See a Cat. Cat videos are a mainstay of Internet culture, so they seemed to qualify for the Walker Art Center’s Open Field initiative for experimental public programming. The museum, in Minneapolis, MN, decided to host the first Internet Cat Video Film Festival, for which they winnowed 10,000 video submissions to 79. They wondered if the online community would really turn out for an offline event. But on Aug. 30, 2012, an estimated 10,000 people attended the festival—some in cat costumes, some with cats in tow. There were even a few dogs.
The “Golden Kitty,” a people’s choice award, went to “Henri 2, Paw de Deux,” a black-and-white short in which Henri the cat expresses his ennui in French (with English subtitles). The video—one of five starring Henri as of Oct. 2012—has led to sales of Henri-related merchandise, and Random House plans to publish a book starring the bored chat in 2013.
Jeff Barrett is a recognized leader in public relations, experiential marketing and social media. Co-Founder of Status Creative, 2011 PRNewswire Award Winner for “Best Use of Video In Social Media” and record holder for Most Strikeouts in Tee-Ball.
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