5 Guinness World Records Controversies

daveynin, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
daveynin, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Since 1955, the Guinness World Records has been keeping track of some of the most impressive—if not bizarre—feats humanity has embarked upon. Whether you want to know who has the fastest 100-meter dash in history, the longest fingernails on Earth, or how many jars of mayonnaise a person can eat in three minutes (frankly, one is too many), it’s all been chronicled by this one organization.

But for the workers behind the records, it’s not always a peaceful job. At its core, these records are about competition, and no one wants to lose on a stage like this. That’s inevitably led to some records falling into dispute over the years through cheating, miscalculations, or just some fuzzy rules on Guinness’s part. In honor of the 65th anniversary of the publication of the first Guinness Book of Records on August 27, here are five of our favorite controversies.

1. Billy Mitchell’s Donkey Kong Records

For decades, Billy Mitchell has been the face of joystick dominance. He set his first Donkey Kong high-score record back in 1982 with 874,300 points. In June 2005, he became the first player to ever score more than 1 million points in the game, an accomplishment that was chronicled in the 2007 documentary King of Kong. Mitchell continued to top his own world record in the years after, scoring 1,050,200 points in 2007 and 1,062,800 in 2010. All of these scores made him a Guinness mainstay over the years, but murmurs about their legitimacy have been around for just as long.

In 2018, Twin Galaxies—an organization that judges video game high scores and verifies them for Guinness—determined that Mitchell had been racking up his records on modified versions of the arcade cabinets, theoretically allowing him to tweak certain in-game mechanics to make his runs easier. Once Twin Galaxies stripped Mitchell of their titles, Guinness followed suit, erasing Mitchell from the record books and beginning their own investigation.

Mitchell threatened legal action against both parties, but in June 2020, Guinness reversed its decision, re-establishing Mitchell’s world records (all of which have been topped over the years). This came after months of investigation, with Guinness even going so far as to reach out to Robbie Lakeman, the current Donkey Kong record holder, to examine Mitchell’s gameplay videos to spot any form of modification.

After getting the all-clear from Lakeman and other sources, Guinness editor-in-chief Craig Glenday announced the reinstatement of Mitchell’s scores on June 17, 2020, saying, “there just wasn't sufficient evidence to support the disqualification across the board.” For his part, Mitchell provided the world with 156 pages of evidence he hoped would clear his name in September 2019. As far as Twin Galaxies is concerned, though, Mitchell's scores remain erased from history.

2. Jessica Anderson’s Fastest Marathon Time While Dressed as a Nurse

Not all record controversies stem from perceived cheating or a disputed score. In April 2019, Guinness itself sparked debate by simply being behind the times. That year, Jessica Anderson, a nurse at the Royal London Hospital, tried to set a new mark for the fastest marathon time while dressed like a nurse by taking part in the London Marathon in a pair of scrubs, her typical work uniform. When she completed the run in three hours, eight minutes, and 22 seconds, she thought she had the record well in hand. Unfortunately, Guinness had different ideas about how a nurse should dress.

According to the organization, a nurse should be decked out in a blue and white dress and white hat. Scrubs, on the other hand, were (apparently) just for doctors. This sparked an immediate outrage, highlighted by a #WhatNursesWear social media campaign designed to let Guinness and the world know how nurses really dress.

Guinness was quick to recognize its mistake, awarding Anderson the record just days after the race. In a statement, Samantha Fay, senior vice president of Guinness World Records, said the organization’s views "were outdated, incorrect and reflected a stereotype we do not in any way wish to perpetuate.”

3. Ali Reda and Joe Girard's Feud Over the (Now Defunct) Car Salesman Record

If you needed a car in the Detroit area in the 1970s, you went to Joe Girard. Known for being able to sell 1000 cars per year, Girard hit his high watermark in 1973, when he totaled 1425 sales for Merollis Chevrolet in East Detroit. This was good enough for a place in the Guinness books until 2017, when a Dearborn, Michigan, salesman named Ali Reda claimed to have topped Girard with a sales total of 1530 new cars and 52 used models. Things got ugly soon after.

Girard immediately went to his lawyers in an attempt to audit Reda’s totals. This eventually led to Girard suing Reda, alleging that his reputation and potential earnings—speaking engagements and book sales—were hurt after Reda went around claiming he beat the record. During this time, Guinness was communicating with Reda about verifying his numbers, but finding an independent body to corroborate Reda's numbers posed a challenge. They couldn’t use GM’s records, since GM would have a stake in the whole affair, and there’s no independent national organization that keeps track of these numbers like there was back in Girard's day.

Reda was going to hire a private auditing firm to run the numbers, but then Guinness reach its own conclusion: The organization opted to do away with the best car salesman category. Girard would remain the historic record holder, but the record itself would no longer be active. By the end of 2018, Girard dropped his lawsuit. The prolific salesman passed away at the age of 90 in February 2019.

4. Elizabeth Llorente's Burpee Record

Doing 20 burpees is enough to make most gym goers wave the white flag, so when it was reported that Australian trainer Elizabeth Llorente did 1490 of them in an hour and shattered a world record in the process, it seemed unbelievable. But once people started watching the video, the awe turned into doubt—because, by burpee standards, Llorente’s form raised some questions.

Instead of doing traditional burpees from start to finish—in short: kick out, push up, and jump back up with your hands in the air—Llorente seemed to do a far more abbreviated version of the move. There was no pushing up, very little jumping, and absolutely no hands over her head. The internet, as it does, was quick to discredit the (still incredibly impressive) total—but technically, Llorente was within the guidelines of what Guinness considers a burpee. So while this version of a burpee may not fly with your personal trainer, it’s good enough for Guinness.

5. Jeanne Calment’s Disputed Age (And Identity)

Jeanne Calment’s Guinness World Record doesn't involve doing 7600 pull-ups in 24 hours or eating 28,788 Big Macs during her lifetime, but her accomplishment is perhaps the most impressive in the organization’s history. That’s because Calment is the oldest person Guinness has ever authenticated, living to the age of 122 years and 164 days. She was born on February 21, 1875, and died on August 4, 1997—but some people believe she was far younger than she claimed. And that Jeanne wasn’t really Jeanne.

It gets complicated, but, in short, a pair of Russian researchers—gerontologist Valery Novoselov and mathematician Nikolay Zak—believe the woman in the record books was actually Yvonne, Jeanne’s daughter. The theory is that Jeanne died in 1934, which is when Yvonne is said to have succumbed to pleurisy. From there, Yvonne usurped her mother's identity to avoid an inheritance tax, according to CBS. Their findings were included in a paper in 2018.

The researchers’ claims focus on the discrepancies in Jeanne's physical appearance from over the years—eyes that went from black to gray and a height that never changed, even as a centenarian—along with the fact that Calment apparently had younger photos of herself burned once she gained notoriety. Plus, it’s just really, really hard to live to 122, with mathematician Zak saying the odds are “infinitesimally small.”

But for Guinness, while controversy may surround Calment’s mark, her record is secure. And they certainly have no time for the doubts Novoselov and Zak raised. “These are bad guys, playing nasty games,” Robert Young, a consultant for Guinness World Records and a director of the Gerontology Research Group, told The New Yorker. “This is a manufactured controversy—we don’t even consider the case to be disputed.”

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

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

6 Punctuation Marks Hated by Famous Authors

F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a fan of the exclamation mark.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a fan of the exclamation mark.
ChristianChan/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Punctuation marks are not the most important tools in a writer's toolkit, but writers can develop some strong opinions about them. Here are six punctuation marks that famous authors grew to hate.

1. The Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, inspires passionate emotions on both sides, but more frequently on the pro side. James Thurber, a writer for The New Yorker and author of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, made a case against the Oxford comma to his editor Harold Ross, in a discussion of the phrase “the red, white, and blue.” Thurber complained that “all those commas make the flag seemed rained on. They give it a furled look. Leave them out, and Old Glory is flung to the breeze, as it should be.”

2. The Comma

Gertrude Stein had no use for the Oxford comma, or any kind of comma at all, finding the use of them “degrading.” In her Lectures in America, she said, “Commas are servile and they have no life of their own … A comma by helping you along and holding your coat for you and putting on your shoes keeps you from living your life as actively as you should lead it.”

3. The Question Mark

The comma wasn't the only piece of punctuation Stein took issue with; she also objected to the question mark [PDF], finding it “positively revolting” and of all the punctuation marks “the completely most uninteresting.” There was no reason for it since “a question is a question, anybody can know that a question is a question and so why add to it the question mark when it is already there when the question is already there in the writing.”

4. The Exclamation Point

In Beloved Infidel, Sheilah Graham’s memoir of her time with F. Scott Fitzgerald in his later years, she describes the things she learned from him about life and writing. In a red-pen critique of a script she had written, he told her to “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

5. The Apostrophe

Playwright George Bernard Shaw thought apostrophes were unnecessary and declined to use them in words like don’t, doesn’t, I’ve, that’s, and weren’t. He did use them for words like I’ll and he’ll, where the apostrophe-less version might have caused confusion. He made clear his disdain for the little marks in his Notes on the Clarendon Press Rules for Compositors and Readers, where he said, “There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli.”

6. The Semicolon

Kurt Vonnegut, in his essay “Here Is a Lesson in Creative Writing” (published in the book A Man Without a Country), comes out forcefully against the semicolon in his first rule: “Never use semicolons.” He insults them as representing “absolutely nothing” and claims “all they do is show you’ve been to college.” Semicolon lovers can take heart in the fact that he may have been kidding a little bit—after using a semicolon later in the book, Vonnegut noted, “Rules take us only so far. Even good rules.”