Massive chocolate spill closes German road

From the BBC:

“A ton of chocolate” has brought a local road to a standstill in Germany, according to local authorities.

The road was closed in the western town of Westönnen late on Monday after a tank of chocolate in a factory spilled and poured into the street.

The chocolate quickly solidified. About 10 sq m (108 sq ft) was cleared by 25 firefighters using shovels, hot water and blowtorches.

Left unanswered are many crucial questions, such as: does the five-second rule apply to spills of this magnitude?

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Happy Krampus Day

Fewer Christmas traditions are stranger than that of Krampus. Krampus, as you may or may not be aware, is St. Nicholas’s sinister (and lesser-known) demonic sidekick. If old St. Nick is the good cop who rewards well-behaved children with gifts of toys, then Krampus is his bad cop counterpart: he punishes naughty children by beating them with birch switches (and by terrifying them with his demonic visage). Truly unlucky troublemakers might be kidnapped away in the basket he carries strapped to his back! The tradition recalls the old trope of saints vanquishing demons through the power of God and forcing them into their thrall, but likely has deeper roots in pre-Christian Alpine customs.

Many Americans remain unfamiliar with Krampus, although his profile has grown in recent years (owing in part, no doubt, to the 2015 holiday horror film of the same name). But he is widely celebrated across several parts of Europe, including Austria, Bavaria, Hungary, and surrounding regions. According to Wikipedia, young men in these parts will traditionally “dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the evening of 5 December, and roam the streets frightening children with rusty chains and bells.” So grab your mask, hit the streets, and get in the Krampus spirit! Just be prepared for some weird looks, if you’re not in Europe.

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Man paddles world’s largest pumpkin boat down Yorkish river

Happy Halloween! The BBC brings good tidings from York:

A man has paddled down the River Ouse in a giant pumpkin boat.

Tom Pearcy, who works at York Maze, claims it is a world record for the largest pumpkin boat, weighing 619kg (1364lbs).

As there is currently no recognised world record for the largest pumpkin boat, York Maze have applied to Guinness World Records to have this achievement recognised.

You can see video footage of this magnificent vessel here, or watch below:

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Bakezōri, the wandering sandal-monster of Japanese folklore

A Bakezōri, or wandering sandal.

According to Japanese folklore, sandals that have been mistreated by their owners can turn into a Yōkai called a Bakezōri. Per Wikipedia, Yōkai are “a class of supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore.” Japanese animism holds that “spirit-like entities called (among other things) mononoke […] reside in all things.” These spirits can be malevolent or merely mischievous; in some cases, they may bring good fortune to those who encounter them. Some inanimate objects — household tools, for example — can develop or acquire such a spirit over time, becoming Tsukumogami.

By and large, these spirit-imbued tools tend to be harmless, although they may play occasional pranks or band together to take revenge on those who treat them poorly. The Bakezōri, described as a wandering sandal with two arms, two legs, and one eye, belongs to this class of Yōkai.

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Alligator found swimming in Lake Michigan

A kayaker on Lake Michigan spotted something shocking early Monday morning: a 4-foot alligator paddling in the water nearby. The Chicago Tribune reports:

The kayaking fisherman, David Castaneda, reported the animal to Waukegan’s Animal Control, the Lake County News-Sun reported. The animal had its mouth taped shut, and initially reports described it as a caiman, but the Wildlife Discovery Center later confirmed it was indeed an American alligator.

Dave Bernier, a general curator at Lincoln Park Zoo, suspects someone brought it to the area recently and that the gator hasn’t had to endure a Chicago January.

“It would never be able to survive the winter here,” Bernier said.

You can see the kayaker’s video of the encounter below:

This isn’t the first time gators have been spotted in Chicagoland: another small alligator was captured in the Chicago River back in 2010. Given that these cold-blooded creatures can’t survive winters at these latitudes, it is likely they were pets that escaped or were released into the wild.

Alligators aren’t the only exotic animals that are purported to sometimes lurk in Lake Michigan. Persistent urban legends tell of occasional shark sightings (including a supposed 1955 bull shark attack). (None of these instances have ever been confirmed, of course, and experts consider the aforementioned attack unlikely to have ever occurred.)

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Astronomers observe the hungriest black hole in the universe

Black hole quasar NASA
Black hole quasar NASA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll keep this post brief, but these numbers are pretty mind-boggling: Australian astronomers have detected a black hole that is 20 billion times the mass of our sun, one which eats the equivalent of a star every two days. Not only that, it is 10,000 times brighter than the galaxy it lives in, because it is growing so fast — that’s as luminous as 700 trillion suns. (This may make “black hole” seem like a bit of an oxymoron, but as the article explains: “they can only swallow so much, depending on their size; the rest of the matter gets splashed out across space, producing […] fireworks.”) No need to worry about it, though — it’s 12 billion light years away.

Check out the NYT article here, and the original research paper here.

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The earliest known use of the term “OMG”

…was not on some obscure Usenet system or bygone bulletin board. It occurred, according to the Smithsonian, in a letter to Winston Churchill dated September 9, 1917 (more than 100 years ago!). The letter, written by British admiral Lord Fisher, includes the now-famous acronym in its final line:

Apparently there are two exclamation points in “omg”!

Other internet acronyms are much more recent coinages. The first documented instance of “LOL,” for example, dates back to a May 1989 issue of an online newsletter (still available here). Said newsletter includes the following guide to “colorful communicating” on the internet:

     OLM  - On Line Message          OTW  - On The Way
     OIC  - Oh I See                 H    - HUH???
     BTW  - By The Way               LOL  - Laughing Out Loud
     ROTF - Rolling On The Floor     RAO  - Rolling All Over
     LMTO - Laughing My Tush Off     BRB  - Be Right Back
     AFK  - Away From Keys           BBL  - Be Back Later
     BAK  - Back At Keys             WLCM - Welcome
     BCNU - Be Seeing You            L8R  - Later
     ODM  - On De Move               OTB  - Off To Bed
     LTNT - Long Time No Type        TTFN - Ta Ta For Now
     RE   - Again (Greetings, as in "re-hi")
     LTNS - Long Time No See
     M/F  - Male or Female (also known as 'MORFING', as in
     "Oh no! I've been morfed!!")

Some of these terms, of course, are still in use, while others never really took off.

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The most common vertebrate is probably not what you’d think

There are approximately 7.6 billion people on earth.1

Somewhere between 19 to 24 billion chickens.2,3

But what is the most common vertebrate species on the planet? And how many of them are there?

The answer, it turns out, is the humble bristlemouth fish (Latin family name Gonostomatidae), and it numbers in the Hundreds. Of. Trillions. (And possibly, according to some estimates, in the quadrillions.)4 An unassuming family of fishes, the bristlemouths range in size from 1 to 11 inches5 and prefer the mid-ocean depths of about 0.5 to 1 mile down.6

You can read more about the bristlemouth fish in this fascinating expose!

Gonostoma bathyphilum
Gonostoma bathyphilum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(For the record: if you’re wondering what the most abundant animal of any kind is, it’s not an insect — it’s the nematode, which apparently accounts for 4 out of every 5 living creatures on earth.7)

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Massive superpods of dolphins sighted near South Africa

Bottlenose dolphins are social animals. Just as wolves live in packs, dolphins live in pods of generally 10-30 individuals (although groups of 50 or even 60 are not uncommon1). Researchers studying Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, however, have been documenting substantial increases in pod sizes off the coast of South Africa. From 2008 to 2016, pod size in the area increased from an average of 18 animals per group to an average of 76.2  On top of this, some of the largest pods ever reported have been observed in the area — with sightings of as many as 600 dolphins in a single group.

Scientists are unsure as to what might be causing pod size to swell. According to research published in Marine Mammal Science,

“neither season nor behavior had a significant effect on mean group size at both sites. Similarly environmental variables such as the depth and substrate type also had no influence on group size. It remains unclear which ecological drivers, such as predation risk and food availability, are leading to the large groups observed in this area, and further research on abundance and distribution of both predators and prey is necessary.”

Check out some video footage of a superpod, below:

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The strange Christmas custom of Tió de Nadal

Photograph of a typical contemporary Tió

Image via Wikipedia

There are many holiday traditions that might seem a bit unusual upon closer inspection, and Christmas has more than its fair share (see Krampus, for example). One of the most unique and bizarre Christmas customs comes from Catalonia, Spain: Tió de Nadal (the “Christmas log”), also known as the “Caga tió,” literally meaning “the pooping log.”

The Tió de Nadal, according to Wikipedia, is a popular character in Catalan mythology. Basically, it’s a small, hollow log, typically adorned with legs, a face, and a festive hat. Sounds cute!–but there’s more. Wikipedia goes on:

Beginning with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), one gives the tió a little bit to “eat” every night and usually covers him with a little blanket so that he will not be cold at night.

On Christmas day or, depending on the particular household, on Christmas Eve, one puts the tió
partly into the fireplace and orders it to “poop” (the fire part of
this tradition is no longer as widespread as it once was, since many
modern homes do not have a fireplace). To make him “poop”, one beats him
with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.

The tió does not drop larger objects, as those are brought by the Three Wise Men. It does leave candies, nuts and torrons.
Depending on the part of Catalonia, it may also give out dried figs.
When nothing is left to “poop”, it drops a salt herring, a head of
garlic, an onion or “urinates”. What comes out of the tió is a communal rather than individual gift, shared by everyone present.

Catalans even sing carols to the Tió de Nadal. Here’s one such song (translation included):

caga tió,

caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!”

poop log,

poop turrón,
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
poop log!

giving log,

give us treats,
give us sweets!
if you don’t want to give,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
give it up!

 

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