Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Perforating Mexicans

I will soon be spending some time in Paris. While there, I intend to investigate (and hopefully join) a group known as the Perforating Mexicans. (Also known as the Mexican Perforation and La Mexicaine De Perforation.)

In 2004, French police were training in an uncharted section of the Paris Catacombs when they happened upon a secret room deep beneath the city. Unlike most chambers in the catacombs, which are filled only with dirt and ancient bones, this had been turned into a movie theater and restaurant, complete with electricity and a couscous maker.

It seems a group of enterprising Parisians had combined their love of subterranean spaces with their passion for the cinema and created a movie theater in a forbidden part of the catacombs. When the authorities finally arrived for a formal investigation, they found nothing left but a note that read, “Do not try to find us.”

No one has heard from The Perforating Mexicans since, but I have a hunch that they haven’t abandoned the catacombs altogether.

For more information, see the Wikipedia entry, which includes an interesting picture of the secret society at play.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Map Thief Pleads Guilty

Amazing as it may seem, Dr. Lyle Mayhew, Columbia University's resident map thief, hasn't been the only criminal stealing valuable items from libraries across the US. Yesterday, a map dealer by the name of E. Forbes Smiley III (you can't make up a name like that!) pled guilty to stealing almost a hundred rare maps. Thirty-two of the maps were stolen from the New York Public Library alone.

While no one was watching, the respectable-looking Mr. Smiley would cut the maps from antique books and hide them under his jacket or inside his briefcase. Over the years, he managed to abscond with more than three million dollars worth of materials, which he then sold to wealthy collectors around the world. It wasn't until a security camera at a Yale University library caught him in the act that Mr. Smiley's career as a thief came to an abrupt end.

Thankfully, most of the stolen maps will soon be returned to their rightful owners. The authorities have given up on only five of them, though Kiki Strike thinks she may know where they might be. Soon E. Forbes Smiley III will be hauled off to jail, and we can only hope that Dr. Lyle Mayhew will be following close behind him.

For more information on the case, check out this article from the New York Times.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

If You Want to Win, Wear Red

A recent study by British scientists has revealed a fascinating fact. In sports, wearing the color red can give you a distinct advantage. The study clearly showed that when two teams or opponents are equally skilled, those in red athletic gear are more likely to win.

No one knows exactly why the color has this amazing effect, but the powers of red have long been recognized by a wide range of people, including bullfighters, feng shui masters, politicians, and the people who design stop signs. For centuries, it has been the color of power, passion, and danger. It’s even been scientifically shown to grab people’s attention, make their hearts beat faster and their blood pressure rise. Oddly enough, the color red is also known to make people hungry. (Think of it—how many fast food restaurants and junk food brands have red logos?)

So the next time you’re competing for something—whether it’s attention or a trophy—try adding a little red to your wardrobe. It couldn’t hurt. (After all, that’s why presidents wear red ties, certain street gangs love red bandannas, and most female villains sport huge ruby rings.)

For more information on the history and powers of the color red, click here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

New York is Being Eaten Alive!

When most people visit New York, they know to watch out for our legendary rats. And anyone who shrieks at the sight of a cockroach would be well advised to steer clear of Manhattan altogether. But these days, a long forgotten menace is once again threatening the greatest city on Earth. And it’s hiding where you’d least expect it. In your bed.

Until 2005, it had been decades since most New Yorkers had come across a bed bug. Then, last year, the creepy little bloodsuckers decided to stage a comeback. Carried into homes on pant legs and pets, they crawled into mattresses all over town and waited for nightfall. Soon, students in rundown apartments on the Lower East Side and socialites in Fifth Avenue mansions began waking up with the same red welts all over their bodies. Little specks of blood spotted their sheets and pillowcases. Within days, exterminators across the city had received thousands of frantic calls. One thing was clear: The people of New York were being consumed by bed bugs.

Some of the nastiest, most disgusting pests on the planet, bed bugs are tiny, flat insects that feed only on blood. Small enough to hide in the joints of bed posts and the seams of mattresses, they are almost impossible to kill. In New York, the problem has gotten so bad that many of our finest hotels are now infested, but other cities around the world are now beginning to show signs of similar bed bug epidemics.

For tips on winning the war against bedbugs, click here.
For more information, and some truly nasty photos, click here.

The Whistled Language

Most people believe that all languages have one thing in common—words. As usual, most people are wrong. There are several languages that contain no “words” at all. One is Silbo Gomero, which is spoken entirely in whistles.

A language invented by shepherds who lived on the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain, Silbo Gomero allowed the islands’ inhabitants to communicate across great distances. (It can even be heard from miles away!) When Spanish settlers arrived in the 17th century, they also adopted the language, and for centuries it could be heard from valley to valley.

In recent years, however, it looked as if Silbo Gomero might become extinct. But now the language is required learning for many children on the Canary Islands.

To hear a little Silbo Gomero, click here. Two more samples (along with English translations) can be heard here on the University of Washington's website.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mongolian Death Worm

Stretching across much of northern China and southern Mongolia, the Gobi Desert is one of the least hospitable places on Earth. It’s hot, barren, and there are few places to pick up a slurpee. Home only to nomadic tribes and their hardy livestock, the Gobi is seldom visited by outsiders. (In fact, until the late 1980’s the communist governement didn’t allow visitors.) For this reason alone, it’s not unthinkable that a desert-dwelling animal might have escaped the scrutiny of modern science.

Ask most residents of the Gobi what creature terrifies them the most and you’re likely to get a single answer—the allerghoi khorkhoi or intestine worm. (So called because it resembles the intestine of a cow.) Though its never been captured on film, Mongolians describe the creature as two feet in length and several inches wide. It has no visible mouth or eyes. Not very frightening, you say? Well the Mongolian Death Worm boasts two special talents. It squirts a deadly, acid-like venom with remarkable accuracy and can release an electric shock powerful enough to kill a camel. Needless to say, it’s not very friendly.

For decades, Western travelers have heard tales of the allerghoi khorkhoi, and many have left the desert believers. But despite countless reputable eyewitnesses, many outside of the Gobi will refuse to believe the stories until the beast is finally filmed in action.

(Image by painter Pieter Dirkx)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Human Hobbits Discovered in Asia

2004 was certainly a banner year for freaks of nature. Only a few short months after Hogzilla’s untimely death, archaeologists working inside a cave on the remote Indonesian island of Flores came upon an unusual set of bones. They looked very much like the bones of an adult human being—with one exception. They were shockingly tiny.

For the past two years, scientists around the world have been battling over the true identity of the Hobbit Humans of Indonesia. (Named after the diminutive hobbits in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.) But despite the debate, one thing remains certain: Thousands of years ago, human-like creatures no larger than a modern three-year-old lived in the jungles of Southeast Asia, hunting pygmy elephants and dining on huge rodents. The question is—who were they?

The archaeologists who discovered the bones believe the three-foot-tall beings to be a previously unknown species of humans who may have lived alongside our distant ancestors. Other scientists claim that the bones belonged to a group of humans born with a genetic disorder than made their brains and bodies unusually small. However, stone tools too old to have been created by our ancestors were recently found in a cave on Flores, seeming to back up the argument that the Hobbits must have been a separate species.

Perhaps most intriguingly, some residents of Flores believe that the little creatures may not have disappeared thousands of years in the past. Island folklore tells of tiny men who, not long ago, lived in the dense, unexplored jungles and emerged from time to time to kidnap and eat a human or two.

Click here to see a National Geographic image gallery of the Hobbit Humans.
Click here to listen to an NPR radio story about the discovery.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Hogzilla on the Loose

In 2004, a freak of nature stepped out of the woods near Alapaha, Georgia, less than two hundred miles south of Atlanta. Fortunately, Chris Griffin was there to shoot it. When "Hogzilla" made his national debut, in photographs posted all over the Internet, many believed the story was a hoax. “Experts” around the world claimed the image was doctored, and many implied that Griffin was a liar.

Now, after two years and a little DNA testing, Chris Griffin has been vindicated. Hogzilla was exactly what Griffin claimed—a monstrous wild hog that stretched more than 8 feet long and weighed 800 pounds. (OK, Griffin exaggerated a little bit. He originally claimed the beast was 12 feet long and weighed half a ton.) Of course, for anyone sitting in safety on the fifth floor of a Manhattan apartment, this discovery is pretty exciting. But the problem, for anyone wandering the Georgia woods these days, is that Hogzilla might not be the only wild pig to be reckoned with.

You see, pigs are smart—extremely smart. They’re far smarter than dogs, cats, ferrets, or any other domesticated animal. As a result, wild pigs have managed to colonize every continent other than Antarctica. And when large, domesticated pigs escape from their pens, they often mate with the wild hogs nearby. The resulting offspring are huge, frighteningly intelligent, mean, and willing fight anyone for food. Hogzilla may have been the first monster roaming the swamps and forests of North America—but you can bet he won’t be the last.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Green Men are Everywhere

Looking for a way to amuse yourself while riding a city bus or strolling down the street? Try searching the buildings above your head for the Green Man. (Not to be confused with “Little Green Men.”) It doesn’t matter whether you’re in London, Paris, Buenos Aires, or New York—once you’ve spotted a Green Man, you’ll begin to see him everywhere. All over the world, he looks down from windows, watches over churches, and peeks out from garden walls. (The Green Man shown above once guarded a doorway in Argentina.)

Thought to be of Celtic origin, the mysterious Green Man is perhaps one of the most ancient deities in the Western world. Some Green Man carvings are more than a thousand years old. Usually depicted as a man’s face sprouting leaves or other vegetation (though there are a few Green Women, too), the Green Man represents the power and the presence the natural world. He comes in thousands of shapes and sizes, and his personality can range from jolly to severe.

Even on short walks through Manhattan, I’ve counted dozens of Green Men. Sometimes it’s a little creepy to spot him looking down at me. He’s hidden all over the city, but unless you have a sharp eye, you may never know he’s there.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Can YOU Hear It?

Did you know there are sounds that only young people can hear? As humans grow older, it seems, they lose the ability to hear some high-pitched tones.

According to Luz Lopez, not long ago, a company in Britain designed a new technology that was intended to rid malls and shops of unruly teenage crowds. The invention emits a high-pitched blast of noise that drives young people crazy, but doesn't bother nearby adults. (Sound familiar, anyone?)

Fortunately, the company's original plans appear to have backfired, and these days young people's auditory skills are once again working to their advantage. "Mosquito," a ring tone that makes use of the new technology can now be downloaded onto any cell phone. When the phone rings, young people can hear it, but adults (including parents, teachers, and random authority figures) cannot.

Hmmm. I wonder what you could do with that?

Monday, June 12, 2006

New York's Underground Rivers

A reader recently sent a note that reminded me of one of the most fascinating subjects I can think of: Manhattan’s underground rivers and streams. (If any other readers have interesting tidbits to share, please feel free do so!)

Over a century ago, before the island at the center of New York City was flattened and covered in asphalt, Manhattan was a fairly soggy place. Much of downtown was marshland, and dozens of creeks and small rivers trickled all over town.

As the city grew, ponds and swamps were drained, and New York’s streams were buried beneath its streets. But these “subterranean waterways” never dried up. They’re still there, flowing beneath our feet. (A good sign that you’re near one is the presence of a weeping willow tree.) There’s only one problem: very few people today know where they are. And if you start building on top of a forgotten spring, you’re going to end up with nothing more than a damp pile of bricks.

Fortunately, there’s a map that can tell you where to find all of Manhattan’s invisible waterways. Created by an engineer named Egbert Ludovicus Viele and first used in 1874, the “Sanitary & Topological Map of the City and Island of New York” (otherwise known as the Viele Map) has been the saving grace of countless developers. Over five feet long and remarkably detailed, it shows all the rivers, streams, and ponds that no one has seen in a over a hundred years. (Including Minetta Creek, which flows under the street pictured above!)

Click here for a closer look at the map or—if you have a spare $15,000—to buy a copy.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Hidden Manhattan

I want to introduce you to one of my favorite websites, Forgotten New York. The site is packed with fascinating information about the history of the city. You'll also find and photos of crumbling mansions, ancient stables, abandoned subway stations, little known cemeteries (make sure you check out the Marble Cemetery), and other secret places.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Icelandic Elves

I'm happy that there are still places in the world where strange and unusual beings are thought to exist. In Iceland, for instance, a high percentage of the population believes they share their country with elves—a race of tiny people who live in the rocky outcroppings that pepper the Islandic landscape.

In Iceland, elves are no joking matter. Roads are sometime diverted in order to avoid damaging their homes, and many reputable and reliable citizens claim to have had encounters with the wee folk. There’s even an Elf School, which teaches students to communicate with the many different types of elves and hidden people who populate the land.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

A Ghost That Isn't Camera Shy

I’ve always been intrigued by the subject of ghosts. In fact, I guess you could say I’m a believer. But I’ve often wondered why more ghouls and specters aren’t caught on camera, especially these days when even cell phones can snap pictures.

So imagine how pleased I was a few years back when a very authentic-looking ghost was filmed at Hampton Court Palace in England. For weeks, the caretakers of the palace had been frustrated by a set of fire doors that were being flung open by an invisible force. Finally, a security camera captured the culprit. As you'll see in the video, it was a man dressed in old-fashioned (very old-fashioned) attire. The palace workers later swore that there was no such person on the premises at that time.

Some paranormal enthusiasts have boldly suggested that the ghost is King Henry VIII himself. After all, Hampton Court is said to house the ghosts of several of Henry VIII’s wives. But I would point out that the spirit in question looks quite svelte, while Henry was a bit of a porker.

Of course, there are also those who believe the video is merely a hoax. Watch the film for yourself, then take a look a this story from CNN, and feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Monday, June 5, 2006

It's Giant Squid Day!

While the Irregulars’ are waiting for the media frenzy surrounding Dr. Mayhew’s arrest to die down, I thought it would be a fabulous idea to share information on some of my favorite topics, starting with . . . giant squid.

I’m proud to say that I took the photo above. It’s a giant squid that was discovered (dead) off the coast of Japan, then frozen in a block of ice and exhibited in an aquarium in Australia. It was the first time I’ve personally come face-to-face with Architeuthis, and I have to say the experience was well worth waiting two hours in line beneath the unrelenting Australian sun.

Shortly before this picture was taken, Japanese scientists achieved what many had deemed impossible. They captured video images of a living, fully-grown giant squid attacking a piece of bait. Until last year, only dead adult Architeuthis had ever been discovered.

(You can see photos and video of the giant squid here.)

Those of you planning a trip to the beach should know that the elusive giant squid, which can reach 60 feet in length, is not even the largest squid in the ocean. That honor belongs to Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, the so-called “Colossal Squid,” which lives in the ocean depths surrounding Antarctica. In fact no one knows just how big the creature is able to grow. Only one dead specimen has ever been discovered intact.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

DeeDee's New Boyfriend

(Sorry to tease, DeeDee)

On Friday, Dalton Noble finally emerged from his coma. His doctors say he’ll be fine, though it’s unlikely he’ll ever remember his days as a sticky-fingered zombie.

The first thing Dalton requested was a meeting with the girl who'd saved his life in the library. His parents, who would make excellent detectives, managed to track down DeeDee. Once Kiki assured her that the meeting wouldn’t compromise the Irregulars’ cover, DeeDee decided to drop by the hospital.

According to Betty, who went with DeeDee for moral support (disguised as DeeDee’s grandmother), Dalton and DeeDee hit it off immediately. (They do have an awful lot in common, I suppose.) And Betty seems to think Dalton is quite handsome. (She’s never been a good judge of such things, either!)

Dalton and DeeDee planned their first date for Thursday, when Dalton will be released from the hospital. I’d tell you what happens, but now that DeeDee knows how to whip up a zombie potion, I think I’ll try to stay on her good side and let her private life stay private.

Let's just hope Dalton never finds out why he glows at night!

Thursday, June 1, 2006


Dr. Lyle Mayhew was arrested at five o’clock this morning, just as the New York Times was being delivered to newsstands around the city. The contents of Mayhew’s diary are front-page news, and everyone’s talking about the mad scientist and his coed zombies.

Mayhew’s building has been evacuated for safety reasons, and I’ve been watching the NYPD and the FBI stream in and out all afternoon. DeeDee attended a press conference that was held this morning on the Columbia campus, and she says the authorities insist they’ll uncover the names of the people who were interested in purchasing Mayhew’s drug. They’ve also assured the citizens of New York that the maple syrup smell that has periodically engulfed the city since last October has not appeared to have any negative health effects. (Tell that to the Anorexic Chef!) And they’ve promised to return all of the books that were stolen from Butler Library.

As for the source of the information that led authorities to Dr. Mayhew, the NYPD is being typically tight-lipped. But some reporters are already suggesting that Kiki Strike may have played a part in the investigation. That means Irregulars will have to lay low for a while. Betty called a moment ago to say she’s already working on a new disguise for Kiki. I told her to take her time. I’m sure Kiki would agree that all of us could use a little rest.