12 Things We Learned About Unsolved Mysteries from the Creators' Reddit AMA

Today, the creators of Unsolved Mysteries, Terry Dunn Meurer and John Cosgrove, sat down for a Reddit AMA to discuss their delightfully creepy show, which started as a series of specials and ran from the late '80s to 2002 with Robert Stack as host. (The show was revived in 2008 and ran until 2010; Stack, who died in 2003, was replaced by Dennis Farina.) Here are a few things we learned.

1. THE CREATORS KNEW WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING FOR IN AN UNSOLVED MYSTERIES STORY.

Meurer and Cosgrove wrote that they were looking for “a good mix of stories, murders, missing, wanted, paranormal, etc.” when deciding what to put on the show. Beyond that mix, they wanted mysteries that had more than one suspect or theory. Finally, they wrote, “we focused on stories we thought the show might be able to solve.”

2. THEY USED A NEWSPAPER CLIPPING SERVICE TO FIND STORIES.

Though the stories featured on the show came from a variety of sources—“we had viewers who sent in cases, law enforcement would contact us with cases, and we had a team of researchers constantly looking as well,” the duo said—they also used a newspaper clipping service with some grim keywords. “When we were producing the show, the internet didn't exist yet, so we had a newspaper clipping service that would send us articles from around the country keying off of words like ‘murder’ ‘missing’ ‘ufo’ ‘ghost’ etc.,” they wrote.

3. THE CALL CENTER FEATURED IN THE SHOW WAS REAL.

Unsolved Mysteries filmed host Stack in locations all over Los Angeles, including Griffith Park and the Hollywood Dam. Some shots also featured Stack walking through a call center. “That was a real call center with real people!” Meurer and Cosgrove revealed. “Cases actually did get solved during the broadcast of the show.”

4. A FEW CASES NEVER MADE IT ON THE AIR BECAUSE THE SHOW’S RESEARCHERS SOLVED THEM.

“Sometimes when our researchers would start investigating a story, they would solve the case themselves, especially a lost love type story,” the duo wrote. “So those cases were abandoned before they aired.”

5. THEY WERE DUPED BY HOAXSTERS ONCE.

Meurer and Cosgrove wrote that “Our researchers did a great job vetting stories to weed out the ones that seemed suspicious.” But that didn’t mean their process was foolproof; at least one fake story made it past them. “We did a UFO story in which 30 people did drawings that looked like the same UFO, and it was a very convincing argument they made,” Meurer and Cosgrove revealed. “Months later we found out that one of the key proponents had a made a model of the UFO and photographed it against a highway. All those people were fooled by it, and so were we.”

6. SOMEONE SENT THEIR MOTHER’S LUNG TO THE PRODUCERS.

When one Redditor asked for “any funny stories or WTF moments while working on the show,” Meurer and Cosgrove came back with a whopper. “Someone sent their mother's lung to us in the mail. He believed his mother had been murdered, and he wanted us to send the lung out for testing,” they wrote. “On the lighter side, one of our directors was absolutely convinced that they were being haunted during the filming of one of the stories.”

7. A FUGITIVE FROM ONE OF THE CASES WAS ON SET FOR FILMING.

When asked about “creepiest thing that ever happened to you over the course of filming a segment,” Meurer and Cosgrove responded with a story that will send chills down your spine: “There was a case where the wanted fugitive was on the set while we were filming the reenactment and no one knew initially. No one on the crew had seen his photograph yet.”

8. SOMETIMES LAW ENFORCEMENT ASKED THEM TO OMIT DETAILS FROM THE SEGMENTS.

Featuring active investigations on the show sometimes meant that Meurer and Cosgrove couldn’t reveal everything they knew. “Law enforcement would often ask us to hold back clues in a case that they could use to help identify a suspect's innocence or guilt,” they said. And sometimes, in interviews, Meurer and Cosgrove could tell who was lying: “We can't name names, but there were often prime suspects that we interviewed whose interview was in direct contradiction with what witnesses and law enforcement were saying. In many cases the people we interviewed were later convicted.”

9. SELLING THE SHOW TO SPIKE TV MEANT MAKING SOME STYLISTIC CHANGES.

Meurer and Cosgrove rebooted Unsolved Mysteries with host Dennis Farina in 2008. The pair explained that because Spike “appealed to a younger, male audience,” the network “requested a version of the show that might better suit their audience. There was an effort made to try to update the show with more contemporary elements.” That meant new music and high-tech elements like shots of Google Earth. “We were glad to have the opportunity to update the show,” they wrote. “It was sad that Bob had died, but we felt that Dennis would be a good choice. He was a wonderful man to work with.”

10. THEY BECAME CLOSE WITH THE PEOPLE FEATURED ON THE SHOW.

It might seem strange that family members would participate in TV segments about crimes involving their loved ones, but Meurer and Cosgrove pointed out that “when family members participated, it was a cathartic experience for them. And they felt good about doing something active to help solve the case. That was reason enough.”

“We got to know people very well when we did their cases, and we became attached to them,” Cosgrove said. The duo reached out to those featured on the show to update their cases, but that’s not where the contact ends: “I still get a Christmas card from a woman in England who had given up her baby for adoption, and Unsolved Mysteries helped reunite her with her daughter,” Cosgrove wrote.

11. FOR LEGAL REASONS, SOME SEGMENTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THE SEASONS THAT ARE STREAMING.

“We have a legal staff that keeps track of the cases to make sure that we do not infringe on anyone's rights,” Meurer and Cosgrove explained. “Sometimes a statute of limitations on a case has passed. We always try to be as respectful as we can be to the people who were featured in the segments.”

12. THEY’RE ACTIVELY TRYING TO GET UNSOLVED MYSTERIES BACK ON THE AIR.

“We are in the process of reaching out to networks to see if there is interest in ordering new shows,” Meurer and Cosgrove wrote. “Let's keep our fingers crossed!”

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

Protective Masks with Patterns.
Triple7Deals

This four-pack of washable cotton face masks comes in tie-dye, kids patterns, and even a series of mustache patterns, so you can do your part to mask germs without also covering your personality.

Buy it: $20 for four (50 percent off)

2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

A woman putting on a protective mask.
BetaFresh

You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

Buy it: $50 for 10 (50 percent off)

3. Three-Ply Masks; $13 for 10

Woman wearing a three-ply protective mask.
XtremeTime

These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

Buy it: $13 for 10 (50 percent off)

4. Disposable masks; $44 for 50

A batch of disposable masks.
Odash, Inc.

If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

Buy it: $44 for 50 (41 percent off)

5. Polyester Masks; $22 for 5

Polyester protective masks.
Triple7Deals

These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

Buy it: $22 for five (56 percent off)

6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

Protective mask case.
Triple7Deals

You're going to need to have a stash of masks on hand for the foreseeable future, so it's a good idea to protect the ones you’ve got. This face mask protector case is waterproof and dust-proof to preserve your mask as long as possible.

Buy it: $15 for three (50 percent off)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

10 Things You Need to Know About 'The Star-Spangled Banner'

The actual star-spangled banner is displayed at the National Museum of American History.
The actual star-spangled banner is displayed at the National Museum of American History.
National Museum of American History, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1814, Francis Scott Key saw the tattered remains of the American flag still blowing in the breeze after Maryland's Fort McHenry had been bombarded by the British navy all night. Here are a few facts about Key's poem (yes, poem) that we know as the American national anthem today.

1. There really is a specific star-spangled banner.

It's the actual flag Francis Scott Key saw when he was watching Fort McHenry in Baltimore being bombarded during the War of 1812. His tale goes just like the song: after gunfire and rain all night, the flag was still standing when the sun rose. Inspired, Key wrote down what he was feeling—but when he wrote it, it was simply a poem called “Defense of Fort McHenry.” It became a song when Key’s brother-in-law discovered the poem perfectly fit the tune of a popular song called “The Anacreontic Song” (see #3).

Although the song was played at public events and on patriotic occasions from that point on, it wasn’t officially named as the national anthem until after Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe it or Not! noted in his cartoon that “Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem.” John Philip Sousa rallied for "The Star-Spangled Banner" to become the new national anthem, and on March 3, 1931, Herbert Hoover signed a law making it so.

The actual star-spangled banner that Key observed is now displayed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

2. There were other contenders for the national anthem besides "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Other candidates included “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Hail Columbia,” and “America the Beautiful.”

3. The national anthem's tune is based on a drinking song.

Before it was a national anthem, the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner" belonged to a popular British drinking song. The anthem takes its melody from “The Anacreontic Song” or “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a British drinking song sung by members of London’s Anacreontic Society.

4. Francis Scott Key wrote alternate lyrics for "The Star-Spangled Banner."

One version of the lyrics, handwritten by Francis Scott Key himself in 1840, changes the version we all know so well. It’s a subtle change, though: "Whose bright stars and broad stripes, through the perilous fight" was written as "Whose bright stars and broad stripes, through the clouds of the fight.” This version is now housed in the Library of Congress.

5. The lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner" are surprisingly difficult to remember.

It’s a hard song to sing musically because it stretches vocals an octave and a half, but it’s apparently a hard song to remember lyrically as well—at least for some people. In 1965, Robert Goulet sang the national anthem before the big Sonny Liston-Muhammad Ali fight. The crowd wanted to fight him, however, when he botched the lyrics right from the start: “Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early night.”

"I walked into that town and I was a hero. Then the fight lasted a minute and half and I walked out of town and I was a bum," he said.

In 2009, Jesse McCartney was asked to sing the famous song before the NASCAR Pepsi 500. He went right from “Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,” to “Whose broad stripes and bright stars." McCartney chalked it up to stage fright.

6. A fifth stanza was added to "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the Civil War.

It’s little known today, but it appeared in songbooks and sheet music in 1861. It goes like this:

When our land is illumined with liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strikes a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that tries to defile
The flag of the stars, and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained,
Who their birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

You might be surprised that there’s a fifth stanza—in fact, you might be surprised that there’s a second, third and fourth. The others are rarely played, but you might hear them on really formal occasions. You’ll almost never hear the third stanza, though, which is pretty anti-British. Here are the lyrics to the song in their entirety.

7. Francis Scott Key's grandson was imprisoned in Fort McHenry.

Ironically, Francis Scott Key’s grandson was jailed in the very place that inspired his granddad to write “The Star-Spangled Banner." In 1861, residents of Baltimore who were deemed to be pro-South were held in Fort McHenry.

8. Other countries have played "The Star-Spangled Banner" to support the American people.

The song inspires all kinds of emotions in a lot of people, but there’s one instance where it really tugged at the heartstrings of the world. On September 12, 2001, the Buckingham Palace band played the American national anthem during their Changing of the Guard. The gesture of solidarity and show of support was repeated for Spain (with their national anthem, of course, not “The Star-Spangled Banner”) in 2004 after the bombings in Madrid.

9. "The Star-Spangled Banner" wasn't always played before baseball games.

The tradition of playing the national anthem before a baseball game wasn't standard until WWII. Before that, the song was typically reserved for the seventh-inning stretch.

10. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is really hard to sing.

Our national anthem is so difficult to sing well that radio host Garrison Keillor started a campaign to transpose the song to a more congenial key, G major. He argued that most singers are able to tackle that key with ease, unlike A flat major, the key in which it's typically sung today. So far, obviously, he has been unsuccessful.

A version of this story first ran in 2010.