Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy hosts "The List Show."
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If you've ever played a game of bingo in North Carolina, you may have been a party to a crime without even knowing it. And if you've ever eavesdropped on a neighbor in Oklahoma and shared any of that juicy gossip, you might just want to go ahead and turn yourself into the police.
From coast to coast, America is full of bizarre laws that you've probably broken at one time or another. Join Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy as she digs into the history of 23 of the strangest of them—like why you can't eat fried chicken with a knife and fork in Gainesville, Georgia. You can watch the full episode below.
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Get your gullibility cap on. Here are 34 hoaxes—from alien autopsies to left-handed Whoppers—that people actually believed.
1. The One-Question Psychopath Test
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While at her mother's funeral, a girl meets a guy whom she doesn't know; she falls in love with the guy on the spot, and then a few days later, that girls kills her own sister. What is her motive for killing her sister? If you answered that she was hoping that guy would appear at her sister's funeral, you think like a psychopath, as proven by a genuine psychological test conducted by a famous psychologist. The only problem is it isn't a question from a genuine psychological test conducted by a famous psychologist. It's just an internet hoax you probably got in a forwarded email.
2. A Televised Alien Autopsy
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In 1995, Fox Television played a film featuring the dismantling of an alien corpse whose UFO had allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. The culprit was Ray Santilli, an English filmmaker whose false footage was the basis of Fox's extraordinarily popular broadcast. Later, Santilli and his partner fessed up that their footage was merely a "re-enactment" of a real alien autopsy, which they didn't capture on camera, because, you know, reasons.
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So pretty much every vlogger here on the Internet owes a lot to a fake, homeschooled teenage girl video blogger named Bree, whose family just happened to be members of a murderous cult. Lonelygirl15 blew up in 2006, quickly gaining over 100,000 YouTube subscribers, which back then was a lot. But a sting operation by some of her fans revealed a connection between the project and a talent agency in Hollywood. It turns out that Bree was a 20-year-old actress named Jessica Rose, and the entire series was scripted. It ran for two more years after its cover got blown, proving that its popularity wasn't solely because people thought it was real.
4. The Cardiff Giant
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In 1869, a 10-foot-tall stone giant was uncovered while workers were digging a well in Cardiff, New York. The owner of the New York farm, William Newell, started charging tourists $.50 apiece to view this spectacle, which was later discovered to be a hoax, orchestrated by his cousin, a cigar-maker named George Hull. In reality, this so-called petrified giant was just a hunk of gypsum carved in the shape of a man that cost Hull around $3000 to make.
Hull attempted to deflect blame at the time by telling one newspaper that the scheme was necessary to make some money for his family. But despite the deceit, he did score some money from the whole thing, eventually selling the fake giant for around $23,000 (Newell scored $9500 for his share). That wasn't even Hull's only brush with forgery: He would later pull off a similar, but less successful, stunt in Colorado with the help of P.T. Barnum involving a fake of Darwin's "missing link."
5. Jarno Smeets Flies
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Jarno Smeets uploaded a video to YouTube in March 2012 in which he donned wings and then flew through the sky. Turns out, Smeets was not a bird-man, but actually an animator named Floris Kaayk who later admitted to the hoax on Dutch TV.
6. Camel Spiders
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So when the second War in Iraq was just beginning, a photo emerged of a gigantic camel spider—this was sent around in emails, asking for sympathy for the troops. This email claimed that flesh-eating spiders were tormenting U.S. troops, could run 25 miles per hour, and jump 3 feet in the air. These spiders do exist, and they are big, but not quite that big. Also, they don't run that fast, and they can't jump at all. Rest easy, arachnophobes.
7. Napoleon Crashes the Stock Market
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In 1814, during the Napoleonic Wars, a man dressed as a colonel went around London claiming that Napoleon was dead, and that the Bourbons had won the war. The news resulted in British stock prices rising, before falling back to normal, when it was revealed that Napoleon was not dead. Lord Thomas Cochrane, the man who benefited from the stock fraud, was subsequently arrested for fraud.
8. Microsoft Buys The Catholic Church
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People went wild in 1994 when an internet press release made the rounds stating that Microsoft had acquired "the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for an unspecified number of shares of Microsoft common stock." The press release was, of course, phony, but Microsoft had to come out with an official statement, assuring that they were not going to make sacraments available online anytime soon.
9. Fairy Bones
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A widely circulated email in 2007 claimed that an 8-inch mummified fairy was found in a garden in Derbyshire, England, with descriptions of wings, teeth, hollow bones, along with pictures. Many people were hopeful that we had finally located Tinker Bell, but it was a hoax perpetrated by a professional illusion designer.
10. Fairy photos
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That's not the first fairy hoax, either; perhaps the most famous was the Cottingley Fairies, which were pictures taken by two young girls "proving" the existence of fairies in 1917. The fairies turned out to be cardboard cutouts, because, you know, no Photoshop.
In the 1800s, in Hungary, the Mechanical Turk amazed everyone with its ability to play clever chess against human opponents, often winning. It even beat Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon. But it was a hoax—turns out, there was a man inside controlling it the whole time.
12. The Fiji Mermaid
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The Fiji mermaid, allegedly discovered by an English doctor (known only as "Dr. J. Griffin"), was a widely discussed hoax in the mid-1800s. Many came to see it and were immediately disappointed by its non-beauty, which makes sense, considering that the mermaid was just a papier-mâché'd monkey connected to a fish bottom.
13. Not The Missing Link
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In 1912, Charles Dawson found a bunch of skull fragments which were put together by his team to reveal the Piltdown Man. This completed skull would essentially serve as proof of evolution by fitting the description of half-man, half-ape. The scientists were right to be skeptical: the Piltdown Man skull was actually comprised of the bones of three different species.
14. Marathons Made Easy
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In 1904, Frederick Lorz won the marathon at the Summer Olympics...sort of. Lorz stopped after nine miles, got a car ride from his manager for the next 11, and when the car broke down, he walked back to the Olympic stadium and still wound up winning the marathon. Then he went on to claim that it was all a big joke, but only once people started to accuse him of not actually running the entire race.
15. Crop Circles
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Alien crop circles are pretty common hoaxes these days, including in M. Night Shyamalan movies. That's all thanks to Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, who cut the first of many flying saucer nests in an English wheat field in 1976.
16. The War of the Worlds
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In 1938, Orson Welles went on CBS Radio, reading from The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, but in a standard news format. Confused listeners believed that they were listening to a report of an actual alien invasion occurring in the United States, and this unintentional hoax was so believable that some people initially tried (but failed) to sue CBS for mental anguish.
Ready for a double hoax? The accepted knowledge that people panicked because of the broadcast might not be real.
17. Operation Copperhead
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A hoax was actually used to help ensure D-Day's success in World War II. Ten days before the fighting began in Normandy, the British used actor-soldier M. E. Clifton James, a general Monty Montgomery lookalike, to distract the Germans by doing high-profile appearances in Gibraltar. It's not clear whether the deception had much impact beyond confusion, but M. E. Clifton James later played both himself and Montgomery in a movie dramatizing the hoax.
Did Burger King announce a Whopper specifically for hungry people with dominant left hands? Yes. That was a real hoax that had right-handed Whopper-eaters up in arms. Burger King said they were rotating condiments 180º for their left-handed customers, but that turned out to be an April Fool's Day joke, despite customers showing up and asking for it.
19. Hitler's Diaries
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Those Hitler Diaries, purchased by a German news magazine for $6 million? Hmm...not Hitler's diaries, in fact.
20. Pope Joan
A shrine to the nonexistent Pope Joan in Rome.
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And I'm sorry, everyone, but Pope Joan, the pope who casually went into labor during a procession, is a hoax, deriving from folklore. There has never been a female pope.
21. Home Remedies for Burns
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Despite what you've heard on the internet: egg whites, flour, and butter do not heal burns. In fact, butter helps trap heat in the skin, which is really not good for burns. These ingredients do, however, make for delicious baking, if you want to turn your burns into cookies.
22. Balloon Boy
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Balloon Boy was up in the attic the entire time his family claimed that he was on a crazy balloon ride. The wildest part? They pulled the stunt to try to score a reality TV show.
23. A Font Predicting 9/11
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Repeat after me. The Wingdings computer font did not predict 9/11. Typing in "Q33" NY does give you an airplane, towers, a skull, and a Star of David. And no, Q33 was not the flight number of either of the planes.
24. Triple WaterSpouts
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There's no such thing as triple waterspouts. The photo from Hurricane Lili was doctored.
25. Andy Kaufman Is Still Alive
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He's not. Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Tupac, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison are also definitely dead.
26. And Paul McCartney is Dead
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He's alive! Despite the perennial hoax machine revving up to mourn people who are still with us, the Beatles bassist is still alive and kicking and having a wonderful Christmas time. So are Gene Simmons, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Garth Brooks, Eddie Murphy, Tony Danza, Justin Bieber, and Dave Matthews.
27. The Masked Marauders
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Speaking of Paul McCartney, the Masked Marauders—an album featuring a collaboration between him, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and John Lennon—was the subject of a satirical article in Rolling Stone, much to the disappointment of many fans.
28. Charging Your iPod With an Onion
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You can't charge your iPod using electrolytes. That YouTube video was a hoax; stop asking Yahoo! Answers and plugging your iPod into onions!
29. The Blair Witch Project
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Groundbreaking in fusing advertising with its film, the cinematic tale of a trio going into the woods to find a witch made everyone wonder if the found footage was the real deal.
30. Paranormal Activity
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It's surprising that a movie could pull it off years after Blair Witch, but a lot of audience members bought it wholesale, which is probably because it's still terrifying even when you know it's fiction.
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The original horror reality fake-out. Broadcast to unwitting British viewers in 1992 as a live, in-progress investigative report, Ghostwatch borrowed from War of the Worlds and used the news format to trick people into thinking ghosts were very, very real.
32. Youtube is shutting down
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YouTube is not shutting down to select a winner of all-time best video; that was an April Fool's Day prank. Besides, we all know Mental Floss would win.
And lastly, this should really go without saying: Do not trust any website offering to sell you a device for at-home, do-it-yourself LASIK surgery. Maybe don't buy something online that will shoot lasers into your eyes. Just appreciate Lasik@Home as a joke, everybody.
For more hoaxes that fooled the public, check out the full video below.
Millennials might just be the most studied generation in history. In 2012, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation declared that no other generation has likely been as closely analyzed—or scrutinized—as Millennials, which are generally defined as individuals born between the years of 1981 and 1996. While they've gotten a lot of flak for killing off everything from mayonnaise and shopping malls to Big Macs and top sheets, they also might be changing that disastrous "one out of every two marriages will end in divorce" stat America has been dragging around.
In this edition of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief—and, yes, Millennial—Erin McCarthy is putting down her avocado toast and logging off Instagram just long enough to share 100 fascinating facts about her fellow Gen Y-ers.
For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!