Staten Island Ferry Disaster

Welcome to the 9th Advent Calendar of Curiosities! You can find all prior content on the main page! Subscribe to the feed, or simply follow me on Twitter or Mastodon to be notified of new content. I can do projects like this because of my wonderful patrons, occasionally throwing coins at me! <3 Enjoy! ^_^

A cast-bronze monument appeared at the southern tip of Manhattan in Fall 2016, just by the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, connecting to Staten Island: it depicted a ferry, being pulled underwater by a giant octopus. A plaque dedicated the memorial to the victims of that disaster, which allegedly happened on 1963-11-22.

The person who made the memorial, Joseph Reginella, when asked why no-one had ever heard of that giant octopus, says that the assassination of John F. Kennedy on the same day didn't give the press an opportunity to report on the event.

Illegal prime numbers

Back in the old days, when there were DVDs (some of my readers might be too young to remember), there was a copy protection algorithm called "CSS" (Content Scramble System). Naturally, people found ways to circumvent it, and one of the first programs to do that was called "DeCSS". There were several lawsuits against the authors of that software, and a legislative effort to stop the distribution of that software.

In response, there were several clever ideas to distribute descriptions of the DeCSS program, including Haikus, dramatic readings, and in 2001, mathematicion Phil Carmody found a prime number which, when written in hexadecimal, forms a .gzip file containing the program. At the time, it was one of the largest known prime numbers, worth publishing for that fact alone.

Dahala Khagrabari

Dahala Khagrabari was the only third-order enclave in the world. It was an Indian enclave within a piece of Bangladesh within a piece of India within Bangladesh. It measured 7000 square meters. It was situated in a complicated environment of India-Bangladesh enclaves, which allegedly once were used as stakes in card or chess games between two regional kings.

In 2015, the Parliament of India ratified an agreement which gave 51 enclaves to India and 111 enclaves to Bangladesh, simplifying the border situation. Dahala Khagrabari also was among the enclaves that were ceded to Bangladesh.

The 52-hertz whale

In the late 1980s, marine biologists started picking up a strange 52 Hz pitch. It was identified to be the call of a whale, but the frequency is very unusual – blue whales call at 10–38 Hz, and fin whales call at 20 Hz.

It seems to be the call of an individual whale, and the sound has been detected every year since, but its species couldn't be determined so far. Researchers think it could be a blue whale/fin whale hybrid, or that the animal could be malformed. Because there is only a single whale emitting this call, it has been called the "world's loneliest whale".


Mukbang is an entertainment format that became popular in 2010 in South Korea: it's a livestream of a person eating food, and interacting with their audience. The word is a portmanteau of mukneun ("eating") and bangsong ("broadcast"). The researcher Kim-Hae Jin suspects that this format satisfies "the vicarious pleasures of watching someone else cook and eat", combined with entertainment and chatting.

The streaming platform Twitch added a "Social Eating" category to its site in 2016.

Codex Seraphinianus

The Codex Seraphinianus was published in 1981 by the Italian artist Luigi Serafini. It resembles a manuscript, and depicts bizarre illustrations of flora, fauna, and foods.

Serafini used a writing system using a constructed language, which could not be decoded by linguists, until Serafini stated in 2009 that there was no meaning behind it. Instead, it was supposed to evoke the sensation children feel looking at books they cannot yet understand.

The Church Asylum of Den Haag

Starting in Fall 2018, the Protestant Church of The Hague held a non-stop worship service for almost 100 days, to grant church asylum to a refugee family that risked expulsion from the country. The effort involved about 1000 preachers.

In the beginning of 2019, an agreement was reached that allowed the family to stay, and they later received a permanent residence permit.

Dyeing Chicago River

Since more than 50 years, each year on St. Patrick's Day, the Chicago River is dyed green. The tradition arose from an accident, when plumbers used fluorescein dye to trace illegal discharges of polluted water. The event is still sponsored by the local plumbers union, but they are using environmentally safe vegetable dye.

Another interesting fact about the Chicago River is that the direction of its flow was reversed in 1900, using a series of canal locks, so that sewage and other pollution no longer flowed into Lake Michigan, the city's drinking water source.

Valonia ventricosa

Valonia ventricosa, also known as "bubble algae", is one of the largest unicellular organisms. It appears in tropical and subtropical waters, and has a diameter of up to 5 centimeters.

It reproduces by cell division.

The Chaos

The Chaos is a poem by the Dutch writer Gerald Nolst Trenité. Published in 1920, it demonstrates several hundred examples of irregular spelling in the English language.

The opening lines are:

Dearest creature in Creation,
Studying English pronunciation,

I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

It will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;

Tear in eye your dress you'll tear.
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer

. . .

And the closing lines are:

Finally: which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?

Hiccough has the sound of cup......
My advice is—give it up!

You can read the full text here. And here's an audio recording of it being read in British English! :D

Billiard-ball computer

In 1982, scientists Edward Fredkin and Tommaso Toffoli proposed the idea of a mechanical computer, which uses billiard balls in a friction-free environment to do computation. It's possible to build gadgets representing logic gates, and thus, a billiard-ball computer can be constructed for any computational task.

Eye Beams

The emission theory of vision states that visual perception is caused by "eye beams" emitted by the eyes. Early Greek philosophers like Plato believed in that theory, and argued that cats' eye beams must be stronger, so they can see in the dark.

A 2002 study found that over 50% of the adults in the studied group thought that emission from the eye was part of how humans see.

Space Coffee Cup

In 2015, the Oregon-based company IRPI designed a special drinking devices that uses capillary forces to guide liquid to the user's mouth in microgravity environments. Six of them were sent to the International Space Station, so that the astronauts didn't have to drink coffee out of bags anymore.

Grant Acedrex

Grant Acedrex is a medieval chess variant played on a 12x12 board, using pieces called king, aanca, rhinoceros, rook, lion, crocodile, giraffe, and pawn. Many of these pieces move like pieces in modern chess, but for example the giraffe moves one step forward and then two steps diagonally. A variant used dice to determine which pieces could be moved next.

Wikipedia hast a wonderful list of chess variants, including Hexagonal Chess, Infinite Chess, and "Racing Kings".

New York Second

The New York Second is a humorous unit of time, defined as the "duration between the traffic lights turning green, and the cab behind you honking". Many believe it to be the shortest unit of time in the multiverse.

Other humorous units include the microcentury (about 52 minutes), the warhol (fifteen minutes of fame, Andy Warhol himself had about 1 megawarhol), and the potrzebie (invented by Donald E. Knuth, equal to the thickness of issue 26 of the Mad magazine). Wikipedia has a list.


Nomic was invented in 1982 by philosopher Peter Suber. It's a game that starts with a given set of rules, but the players can change the rules over the course of the game, usually using some form of democratic voting. Some online variants exist, like Agora, which has been running since 1993.

Personally, I participated in Kamelopedia's Bürokratenspiel many years ago... ;-)


Starckdeutsch (translating to something like "Strrrong German") is a German variant created by the poet Matthias Koeppel. It uses old German word forms, and exaggerates phonetic traits in an impressionistic fashion. Koeppel started writing poems in this language, here's an example:

Harrlüch! – dönckst tu, gauffßt die rauten
Glantzind pfröschn Totumauten.
Duch peim Ößßn marckstde dunn,
dißß monn gurnüxx tschmarckn kunn;
Sünd’z nonn Gorcken, sünd'z Tumautn, –
Üst öss garr oin Heunarbrautn,
pfrösch oss Hullondt ümmporturt?
Hart monn düch woll arnngeschmuurt?

The Cluss Test

The Cluss Test was constructed by Louise Scott of Upper Iowa University to demonstrate that multiple choice tests often contain clues to the correct answers. She uses nonsense words to demonstrate her point, the clues being of grammatical or logical nature, or referring to patterns.


Disney theme parks prohibit adults from wearing costumes, in order to protect the authenticity of the characters – that way, only employees can embody Disney characters in the parks.

In 2011, blogger Leslie Kay popularized wearing causal clothing that resembled the style and color scheme of Disney characters, which wouldn't violate that rule. She called this practice "Disneybounding", using the name of her Disney fan blog, "DisneyBound".


The "Partei für Arbeit, Rechtsstaat, Tierschutz, Elitenförderung und basisdemokratische Initiative" – Party for Labour, Rule of Law, Animal Protection, Promotion of Elites and Grassroots Democratic Initiative – or short, the "PARTEI", is a German political satire party. It was founded in 2004 by editors of the satirical magazin Titanic.

The PARTEI satirically highlights loopholes in the political system, for example, when selling 100 Euro notes for 105 Euro – increasing their federal funding, because it was based on revenue, not profit, at the time. The party is also known for absurdist, satirical campaign posters.

In 2014, the PARTEI was the first satirical party to win a seat in the European Parliament.


Banksy is a street artist based in England, active since the 1990s. Their art (often stencils) typically features humorous or satirical images with anti-capitalist and anti-war messages. Until now, Banksy has remained anonymous.

Banksy is known for publicity stunts and interventions. In 2010, Banksy released the film Exit Through the Gift Shop, telling the story of a French street artist, who has widely been speculated to be a hoax. In a 2018 auction, one of Banksy's artworks shredded itself after it just had been sold for over 1 million GBP.

Microwave meals on Deliveroo

In September 2019, Josh Pieters registered his restaurant on the online food delivery company Deliveroo. The name? "Italian Stallion". The kitchen? His flat. The food? Microwaved ready meals.

He had written fancy descriptions for all the meals, and when an order came in, he hurried downstairs to a supermarket, got a microwave meal, heated it up, and handed it over to the delivery person. He included a envelope containing the full price of the meal in cash, and a letter explaining the experiment. After a day of successful business, Pieters closed his restaurant again.

The Tunguska event

In 1908, a large explosion occurred near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia, Russia. It flattened 2000 square kilometers of forest (that's over 80 million trees), and is generally attributed to an exploding meteoroid. Scientists believe that the meteoroid had an diameter between 50 and 200 meters, and that it didn't hit the earth, but exploded in a height of 5 to 10 kilometers.

The energy of the air burst was calculated to have been about 15 megatons of TNT, which is about 1000 times more than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II.

Getting to Philosophy

In 2008, Wikipedian Mark J. noticed that, when he opened a random Wikipedia article and kept clicking on the (non-parenthesized, non-italicized) link, he always ended up on the article "Philosophy" at some point. People quickly created software to find out that this phenomenon works for about 97% of all articles.

The first sentence of an article often defines the topic of the article, and points the reader to a broader subject, eventually reaching abstract topics like Mathematics, Science, or Philosophy.

And that concludes this year's edition of the Advent Calendar of Curiosities. Thanks for reading, and have a great 2020! <3