Mental Floss

The Weird Week in Review

Miss Cellania
Sheila Sillery-Walsh
Sheila Sillery-Walsh / Sheila Sillery-Walsh

Woman Photographs Alcatraz Ghost

Sheila Sillery-Walsh of Birmingham, England, took a tour of the former prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. She snapped a quick picture of a cell block with her iPhone 5C. When she checked the picture, there was a dark figure of a female in the window of the cell door. Looking up to the real cell door, Sillery-Walsh saw no one there. The image in the photograph doesn’t resemble any of the many reported ghosts that haunt Alcatraz, and the apparition was dismissed by Alcatraz park officials. They’ve seen and heard it all before.

Firefighters Rescue Cat and Cat Rescuer

Firefighters in Erie, Pennsylvania, rarely respond to calls about a cat stuck in a tree these days. They normally tell the caller to let the cat come down by itself. But on Sunday, they responded to such a call, because a woman was also in the tree. Tara Dennis estimates she had gone 40 feet up the tree to rescue a cat that had been crying for a couple of days, but then found she couldn’t get back down. Dennis had entered the tree by climbing up on a roof first.

"I got the cat," she said. "I put it in my shirt." She began coming down but reached a point at which she couldn't go any farther. That's when neighbor Marty Tirak called 911. Firefighters responded a little before 1 p.m. and first carried the cat down and then assisted Dennis. Carroll said all were safe.

The report does not specify who owns the cat.

Spiders Can Catch and Devour Fish

Spiders catching fish? It happens more than you think! Entomologist Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland and ecologist Bradley J. Pusey have collected reports and images of fish-eating spiders into one study. The spiders are not necessarily closely related, and they are found eating fish on every continent except Antarctica. Spiders can use surface tension to walk on the water’s surface and wait for prey, while others dive into the water or swim to chase their prey. Although the fish caught are tiny, they are still about twice the size of the spiders that eat them.

Boy Finds Mummified Body Hanging in Closet

A twelve-year-old boy went into an overgrown and abandoned house in Dayton, Ohio, to explore. He opened a closet and found a mummified body hanging by a belt! At first he thought it was a dummy, but it was the body of Edward Brunton, who hanged himself there five years ago. The boy summoned his mother, who took a look and then called police. Neighbors thought the house was abandoned, and had no idea that someone who lived there was still there. The low humidity and protection of the closet caused the body to mummify instead of decomposing. Brunton’s estranged brother identified the body, which was still recognizable.

The Birthday Paradox at the World Cup

The Birthday Paradox states that in a group of just 23 people, the odds that two of those people will have the same birthday is 50%. If the size of the group goes up to 70 people, there is more than a 99% chance that two or more of them will share a birthday -and it is likely that more than one pair will have shared birthdays.

But perhaps the best data-set of all to test this on is the football World Cup. There are 32 teams, and each team has a squad of 23 players. If the birthday paradox is true, 50% of the squads should have shared birthdays. Using the birthdays from Fifa's official squad lists as of Tuesday 10 June, it turns out there are indeed 16 teams with at least one shared birthday - 50% of the total. Five of those teams, in fact, have two pairs of birthdays. The list is: Spain, Colombia, Switzerland (x2), USA, Iran (x2), France (x2), Argentina (x2), South Korea (x2), Cameroon, Australia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Russia, Netherlands, Brazil, Honduras and Nigeria. One of Argentina's pairs, Fernando Gago and Augusto Fernandez, share the same actual birth date - 10 April 1986.

The fact that soccer players were born in the same year is not at all surprising, considering the narrow age range for world-class athletes, but finding the exact results predicted by the Birthday Paradox is rather neat. BBC magazine has more details.

Bunny Rabbit Sent to Weight-loss Boot Camp

When Ian Crump and his family, of Rainham, East London, UK, adopted Snowball, the dwarf rabbit was underweight. But the family spoiled him, and now he weighs 3.65 kg (8 pounds)! That makes the 5-year-old bunny 35% overweight and a candidate for the PDSA Pet Fit Club, which accepted him for a six-month lifestyle overhaul. Seventeen pets -dogs, cats,and rabbits- are competing to be the “top slimmer” in the program. The winner will receive a year’s worth of pet food -which won’t be as much as they ate last year.