9 Insane Torture Techniques

So you think your mother-in-law is torturous? Or your boss with the lame sense of humor? Get a load of the following nine insane torture techniques used in different parts of the world to kill, dismember, or otherwise cause inordinate amounts of pain. We promise: you'll never use the word torturous the same way again.

1. Chinese Bamboo Torture

As you probably know, bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on earth. Although there's no real proof that it was used, Chinese Bamboo Torture took advantage of bamboo's propensity to grow quickly. How quickly? Well, some varieties in parts of China grow as much as three feet in a single day. In addition to ancient China, many believe that the Japanese used Chinese Bamboo Torture on POWs during WWII.

How it worked:

1. Tips of living bamboo were cut sharp to create a spear.
2. The victim was suspended horizontally above such a patch of bamboo.
3. The bamboo pierced through the victim's skin and continued to grow through his abdomen, ultimately causing one of the most painful deaths ever inflicted.

Watch the Mythbusters prove that Chinese Bamboo Torture is possible.

2. The Iron Maiden

Like bamboo torture, the Iron Maiden is sometimes thought to be fictional. But this torture technique, using an upright sarcophagus with spikes on the inner surfaces, definitely existed. Invented in the late 18th century, this is the device that the metal band Iron Maiden took their name from.

How it worked:

1. The victim was forced into the spiked sarcophagus and shut in.
2. The short spikes welded into the chamber weren't long enough to kill anyone, but did plenty of damage and inflicted enough pain that an interrogator on the outside was usually able to get a confession.
3. If not, nails and other sharp objects like knives, were inserted into the chamber, inflicting more pain.
4. Generally, between the spikes and the knives, victims would bleed to death after said confession, or sometimes before.
5. Some Iron Maidens also had spikes in place to puncture the eyes.

3. Scaphism (aka "The Boats")

The word scaphism comes from the Greek word skaphe, meaning scooped or hollowed. An ancient Persian method of torture, wherein the victim was eaten alive by bugs, scaphism was also known as "the boats" for reasons you'll understand momentarily.

How it worked:

1. A captive was stripped naked and chained to a pair of back-to-back narrow rowboats or hollowed out tree trunks.
2. The captive was then left to float on a stagnant pond.
3. He was then force fed copious amounts of milk and honey.
4. The victim would develop serious diarrhea, which would in turn attract insects.
5. The insects would then feed on the victim's exposed flesh.

4. The Choke Pear

The Choke Pear was popular during the Middle Ages. Crimes worthy of choke pear torture included blasphemy, lying, having a miscarriage, and homosexual intercourse. Depending on the crime, the torturer would insert the pear into a different part of the criminal's body. Women usually got it in the vagina, homosexuals in the anus, and liars and blasphemers in the mouth.

How it worked:

1. An instrument consisting of sharpened leaf-like segments was inserted into the victim's orifice.
2. The torturer turned a screw at the top, causing the leafs to open, slowly.
3. As the leafs separated, severe internal mutilation occurred.

5. The Brazen Bull

Designed in ancient Greece, the Brazen Bull was a hollowed brass bull statue designed and invented by Perillos of Athens, commissioned, if you will, by Phalaris, the tyrant of Acragas in Sicily.

How it worked:

1. Victims were locked into the hollowed brass bull.
2. A fire was lit under the bull.
3. The victim was roasted alive.
4. The design of the bull's head was such that the victim's screams were made to sound like the bull roaring.
5. The scorched remains were often made into bracelets and sold at market.

6. Rat Torture

One of the most widely recognized forms of bizarre torture, thanks in part to the movie 2 Fast 2 Furious, rat torture is thought to be an ancient Chinese technique. Below, however, we'll describe a particular form of rat torture developed by Diederik Sonoy, a leader during the Dutch revolt of the 16th century.

How it worked:

1. A prisoner was chained down naked on a table.
2. Large, heavy bowls with disease-infected rats were placed open-side down on the prisoner.
3. Hot charcoal was piled on top of the bowls, agitating the rats.
4. In an attempt to escape from the hot bowls, the rats would gnaw their way through the victim's flesh.

7. Judas Cradle

The Spanish Inquisition was known for its many torture devices, and the Judas Cradle was one of the most painful. Also known as the Judas chair, victims usually died of infection, as the seat was never cleaned between uses.

How it worked:

1. The victim was placed on top of a pyramid-shaped seat, with both legs tied together.
2. The chair's point was usually inserted into the anus or vagina, stretching the orifice.
3. The victim was slowly lowered via ropes.
4. The torture might last a few hours or, sometimes, a few days.

8. Crushing by Elephant

For thousands of years, crushing by elephant was a commonly practiced form of torture in Southeast Asia and India. Given the animals' sheer weight, intelligence and susceptibility to training (as we know from the circus), elephants were an obvious choice.

How it worked:

1. Victims were tied down on the floor.
2. Elephants were led into the room to stomp on the victim's head.
3. Often they prolonged the agony by first dismembering victims.

9. The Rack

What short list of torture techniques would be complete without the infamous rack? Consisting of a long wooden board and a couple of rollers, the rack was first used on early Christian martyrs like Vincent of Saragossa, who was tortured to death around the year 300. And, as we've seen all too often in bad Hollywood films, as interrogation assistance, simply forcing a prisoner to watch someone else suffering on the rack was generally enough to get him talking. Anyone who survived the rack was generally unable to use his muscles for the remainder of his life. Good times!

How it worked:

1. The victim was chained to rollers at both ends of the device's wooden frame and then pulled in opposite directions.
2. By ratcheting up the tension on the rollers, the victim's limbs were ripped out of their sockets.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Is It Illegal to Falsely Shout 'Fire' in a Crowded Theater?

Fortunately, nobody incited a stampede at New York's Metropolitan Opera House on this night in 1937.
Fortunately, nobody incited a stampede at New York's Metropolitan Opera House on this night in 1937.
National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If you asked a few random people to name a situation that wouldn’t be protected under the First Amendment’s “freedom of speech” clause, there’s a pretty good chance at least one of them would mention the example of someone shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater (when there’s no fire). Over the last century, the scene has been used far and wide to illustrate that if your “free speech” harms people, you can still end up in the defendant’s chair. But, as is so often the case when it comes to interpreting the law, it’s really not that simple.

Panic Room

The aftermath of the Iroquois Theatre fire.Fire-Truck.Ru, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

When people first started discussing human fire alarms at packed gatherings, it was less about constitutional debate and more about societal menace. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there were dozens of tragedies [PDF]—mainly in the U.S., but also abroad—where false shouts of “Fire!” provoked panic that resulted in multiple innocent, and avoidable, deaths. In 1913, for example, residents of Calumet, Michigan, held a Christmas party for the children of copper miners on strike. Hundreds of people gathered on the second floor of Italian Hall, and when an unidentified perpetrator (possibly motivated by anti-union sentiments) yelled “Fire!” they all rushed to the stairs. The stampede claimed 73 victims, most of whom were children.

The fear of fire wasn’t unfounded. Since not all buildings had sprinkler systems, neon exit signs, and capacity limits, plenty of fatal blazes occurred. More than 600 people died in Chicago’s Iroquois Theater fire in 1903, event though (ironically) that building was actually thought to be fireproof.

In short, shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater was an idea firmly entrenched in the public consciousness by the time judges co-opted the phrase for legal arguments on First Amendment rights.

Discussing Fire in a Crowded Courtroom

We mustache Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. a question about First Amendment rights.National Photo Company, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Wikimedia Commons // No Known Restrictions on Publication

The axiom became popular in legal spheres after Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. mentioned it during Schenck v. United States in 1919, but he wasn’t the first person to use it in court. As Carlton F.W. Lawson pointed out in a 2015 article in the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, U.S. attorney Edwin Wertz had uttered a lengthier version of it the previous year while prosecuting activist Eugene Debs. In fact, since Holmes ruled on Debs’s appeal the very week after the Schenck case, he may have even gotten the idea from Wertz.

Each case involved a violation of the Espionage Act of 1917, which essentially made it punishable to do anything that interfered with U.S. military operations—including speaking out against the draft. Debs, a pacifist who opposed World War I, was under fire for a speech he had given in Ohio; and Charles T. Schenck, the U.S. Socialist Party’s general secretary, landed in front of the Supreme Court for passing out pamphlets that encouraged men to refuse the draft.

Both defendants were convicted, and Holmes justified his ruling on the Schenck case with the explanation that “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a theater and causing a panic.” But while his analogy struck an emotional chord, it really had nothing to do with constitutional law.

“The ‘crowded theater’ statement in Schenck never amounted to any kind of binding standard or doctrine,” Nashwa Gewaily, a media and First Amendment lawyer, tells Mental Floss. “It was basically a bit of emotionally charged extra flair from Justice Holmes, outside the official legal determination of that case; a powerful image that endured outside its context ... It was not a high point in American jurisprudence.”

“Revengeance” Is Fine

What Holmes said after it, however, did become a standard for future free speech arguments. “The question in every case,” he said, “is whether the words are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

For the next 50 years, clear and present danger was the accepted—and slightly vague—metric for discerning if spoken or printed material was protected speech. Then, in 1969, the Supreme Court replaced it with something clearer. The case, Brandenburg v. Ohio, concerned a Ku Klux Klan leader named Clarence Brandenburg who had broken Ohio’s law against advocating “crime, sabotage, or unlawful methods of terrorism” for political purposes. (In his offending speech, he had mentioned the possibility of “revengeance” [sic] if the federal government didn’t stop “[suppressing] the white, Caucasian race.”)

Brandenburg appealed his guilty verdict all the way up to the Supreme Court, which overturned the ruling on the grounds that his threats were too ambiguous to “[incite] or [produce] imminent lawless action.” In order for something to qualify as imminent lawless action, it must: expressly advocate violence, advocate immediate violence, and relate to violence likely to occur.

As Gewaily explains, judges interpret this standard “far more narrowly than many would presume.” While individual institutions may condemn hate speech, for example, it’s technically protected under the law unless there’s “immediate violence” involved.

When Free Speech Is the Least of Your Worries

So, does falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater fall outside the conditions of imminent lawless action, and therefore fall under First Amendment protection? The short answer is that it depends on the circumstances. But here’s the long answer: If you get arrested for doing that, the charges brought against you might make the question of free speech totally irrelevant.

“The falsely shouted warning, while technically speech, could potentially violate a state's criminal laws against disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct, whether or not it provokes a stampede, for instance,” Gewaily says. And if there is a stampede in which somebody dies, you could be charged with involuntary manslaughter. In other words, there’s no law that explicitly prohibits you from crying “Fire” in a theater. It’s the other laws you’d have to worry about.

Shouting “Bomb!” or “Gun!” in public would put you in a similar situation. In May 2018, for example, officials had to evacuate part of Daytona Beach International Airport after a man ran naked through the building screaming about a bomb in the women’s bathroom. There was no bomb, but he was charged with “false report of a bomb,” “criminal mischief,” and “exposure of sexual organs,” among other things. In that case, no self-respecting lawyer would advise him to claim his actions were protected by the First Amendment.

That said, there’s good news for anyone whose panicked cry is an honest mistake. “Someone who shouts a warning in genuine error, with an intent to galvanize movement to safety, would not be properly punished for that speech,” Gewaily says.

And if Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. has taught us anything, it’s that not every word a Supreme Court Justice says automatically counts as constitutional doctrine.

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