Toast Sandwich

Welcome to the 2020 edition of my Advent Calendar of Curiosities! I've been collecting weird, unusual, and disturbing facts all year – here's what I found! We will question the boundaries of art! Debunk grotesque urban legends! Praise culinary anomalies! And more!

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Today's entry is the toast sandwich – an English sandwich made from two slices of bread, filled with… another slice of bread, which is buttered and toasted. A 1861 cookbook recommends adding salt and pepper to taste.

In 2011, in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007/2008, the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry calculated that the cost of a toast sandwich was as low as 0.10 USD, and published a recipe on their blog.

Banana art

In 2019, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan (known for provocative installations) taped a fresh banana to a wall at an art fair in Florida. This artwork (called "Comedian") was subsequently sold for 120,000 USD to an American couple. The work comes with a certificate of authenticity.

After it was sold, the performance artist David Datuna removed the banana from the wall and ate it – staging an art intervention himself. No legal action was taken against him, but he was asked to leave, and the banana was replaced by another one.

Atomic Gardening

In the 1950s and 1960s, people experimented with exposing plants to radioactive sources in order to create useful mutations.

The Atomic Gardening Society invited members to plant irradiated seeds in their garden, and report back on any interesting results. They also built "gamma gardens" – large, circular gardens with a retractable source of radiation in the middle, usually the isotope cobalt-60.

Two results that are persisting to this day is the resistance of a peppermint cultivar to a specific plant disease, and the Rio Star Grapefruit popular in Texas.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were artists known for their large-scale installations.

Since 1978, they attempted to get permission to wrap the German Reichstag building in fabric. Finally, the permission was granted in 1995, and it was wrapped completely for two weeks.

In 2005, they set up over 7000 orange gates in New York's Central Park, alluding to the tradition of Japanese torii gates. Again, getting permission to do this project took over 25 years.

They were also planning to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in 2020, but that was postponed to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, and Christo died in May 2020, but the project is still going to be realized.

Wow! Signal

In 1977, a radio telescope in Ohio picked up a strong signal, that appeared to come from the constellation of Sagittarius. The astronomer who discovered it was so impressed that he circled the printout of the data, and added "Wow!". It caused a lot of excitement among folks who were searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Even though astronomers searched for another signal like that, it was never detected again. The source of the signal is unknown. Theories include a military transmission that was reflected on a piece of space debris, but the best technical explanation appears to be a transmission actually originating from deep space, whatever the origin.

In 2012, on the 35th anniversary of the signal, astronomers beamed a transmission into the direction of Sagittarius that consisted of 10,000 Twitter messages written for this purpose.


Vantablack, developed by the UK company Surrey NanoSystems, is one of the darkest substances known, absorbing up to 99.965% of visible light.

"VANTA" is short for "vertically aligned nanotube arrays", hinting at how it works: when light hits the material, instead of being reflected, it becomes trapped between the parallel-aligned nanotubes, which are grown on a surface material using a vapor deposition process.

In addition to the grown variant, the company also sells sprayable paints, where the nanotubes are randomly oriented. It's used in the aerospace and defense sectors, and in art.

Soon after the material was announced, British Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor negotiated a contract with them saying that he was the only one allowed to paint using this substance.

(To be continued?)

The World's Pinkest Pink

Yesterday, we talked about Vantablack, and that Anish Kapoor had the exclusive license to use it in his art. The English painter Stuart Semple found that outraging! When he started selling an ultra-fluorescent pink pigment, the "World's Pinkest Pink", he made clear that this paint was to be used by anyone but Anish Kapoor. People who ordered it had to verify that they were not Anish Kapoor, and were not going to share the pigment with him.

Later that year, Anish Kapoor, posted the picture to the right on his Instagram account. Semple said he was sad and disappointed, and that Kapoor should apologize, but didn't seem to have any basis for taking legal action.

Sushi pizza

This is a Canadian dish from Toronto: a rice patty is fried until crispy, and then topped with avocado, fish, mayo, or other ingredients.

(When I talked to some Torontonians a few years ago, they were convinced that this was a traditional Japanese dish! :P)

Love is in the Bin

The anonymous England-based artist Banksy put the drawing "Girl with Balloon" up for auction in 2018. Immediately after it was sold (for over 1,000,000 USD), after emitting some beeping noises, the frame began to shred the canvas. Banksy had prepared this intervention in advance. The shredding stopped half-way, which was, according to him, unplanned.

The artwork was later renamed to "Love is in the Bin". It is now worth at least 2,000,000 USD.

Video of the artwork shredding itself

Ghost Apples

Because apples have a lower freezing point than water, under the correct temperatures, they can turn mushy and rot away, while the frozen coat of water surrounding them stays intact.

Several of these "ghost apples" wehre found in the winter of 2018/2019 in western Michigan.

How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare

This was a performance piece by the German artist Joseph Beuys, taking place in an art gallery in Düsseldorf in 1965.

The artist locked the gallery doors from the inside. Observers could then watch Beuys walking around the exhibit, and apparently talk to a dead hare on his arm about the artworks. His face was covered in honey and gold leaf.

The performance is considered one of Beuys' key works, and was later recreated by Marina Abramović in 2005.

Marina Abramović

Content warning: sexual assault, bodily harm

Abramović is a Serbian performance artist known for her extreme works related to the body and endurance.

In the 1974 performance Rhythm 0, she stood still next to a table with 72 objects, and a sign gave the following instructions:

There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired.
I am the object.
During this period I take full responsibility.

Duration: 6 hours (8 pm – 2 am).

Visitors started out gently, moving her limbs, or decorating her. But soon, people started cutting her clothes and her skin, sexually assaulted her and threatened her with the loaded pistol. She later said: "After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation."

In The Artist Is Present in 2010, she sat at a table in the Museum of Modern Art over the course of two weeks, inviting visitors to sit opposite to her. She would then look at them, silently. Most visitors only sat for a few minutes, but some sat for a full day.

If you want to learn more about her and work, I can recommend this documentary!

Panty Tree

Under some ski lifts, there are trees decorated with bras and panties – people riding the lifts seem to throw it there, and then it keeps growing by interesting social dynamics.

According to the Skiing Heritage journal, the practice might have begun in the 1950s.

See also: Schuhbaum (by the way, there's is now a shoe tree very close to where I live, and I'm really happy about that! :D)


The Fettecke (German for "fat corner") was a work of art by German artist Joseph Beuys, who, on several occasions, placed several kilograms of butter in the corners of rooms in museums.

He constructed a Fettecke in 1982 in a atelier room in the Art Academy in Düsseldorf. This particular installation achieved special publicity when the custodian of the Academy accidentally cleaned it up in 1986, nine months after Beys' death. Another artist discovered the remains in a trash can, and took ownership of it.

In 2014, an artist duo took the remains, distilled it, made a strong liquor from it, and tasted it. Allegedly, it tasted of parmesan cheese. The bottle of liquor itself was then exhibited.

Mari Lwyd

Mari Lwyd (possibly translating to "Holy Mary"), is a folk custom found in South Wales, which occurs around Christmas and New Year.

A group of people would hide under white blankets, and hold sticks with a horse's skull attached. This group would go from house to house and sing a song in which they requested entrance. The inhabitants would offer excuses why they could not let them in, and the party would sing a second verse. When the inhabitants ran out of excuses, the party would be let in, and be provided with drink and food.

Lavender Town Syndrome

Content warning: suicide

The early Pokémon games for the Gameboy included a village called Lavender Town, which has a calm chiptune background music, featuring deliberate atonality and binaural beats.

According to an urban legend, this music compelled the suicide of about 200 Japanese children in the spring of 1996. Allegedly, the music harmed children's brains in a way adult brains were immune to. Other alleged symptoms were nosebleeds, headaches, and becoming aggressive.

There is no proof for this legend. Nevertheless, Nintendo later changed the music to reduce high frequencies in the music.

Abstract Nonsense

The term "abstract nonsense" is used light-heartedly by mathematicians to describe abstract methods related to category theory, a field of mathematics that deals with mathematical structure on a very general level. Category theory can be used to formalize concepts like sets, rings, groups, and functions, and often, proofs involving category theory have little recognizable relationship to the more applied mathematical concepts.

Shanghai Fugu Agreement

In the 1984 coalition document of the German Social Democrats and the new Green Party, there is a mention of the "Shanghai Fugu Agreement", which was supposed to provide special regulations for chefs who were certified to handle the fugu fish.

While it's true that in Japan, chefs must have certification to handle the fish (parts of it are poisonous), the Agreement is fictional, and introduced into the document by the Green Party as a politial prank during a late-night negotiation of the coalition text. It took years before the joke was revealed.

The International Hair Freezing Contest

This is an annual sculpted hair competition taking place in Yukon, Canada each February. Participants sit in a hot spring and sculpt their wet hair. After a minute, the hair freezes and is then judged.

Phlogiston theory

The phlogiston theory, in the 17th and 18th century, postulated the existence of an element called "phlogiston", contained in explosive and burnable objects, and released during combustion. The name comes fom Ancient Greek "phlox" (flame).

The theory states that phlogisticated substances dephlogisticate when burned. Growing plants than absorb this phlogiston, and become phlogisticated themselves.

When the Scottish chemist Daniel Rutherford discovered nitrogen in 1772, he used the phlogiston theory to explain his results. Later, upon the discovery of oxygen, people believed it to be dephlogisticated air, which can support combustion for longer than ordinary air.


The Spreepark is an abandonded amusement park in Berlin.

Opened in 1969 in the GDR as the "Kulturpark Plänterwald Berlin", ownership was transferred to the Spreepark GmbH company after the reunification. The park soon had large debts, and declared insolvency in 2001. The owner moved to Peru, and brought six of the attractions with him in shipping containers. In 2004, he was sentenced to seven years in jail after attempting to smuggle cocaine back to Germany in the masts of the "Flying Carpet" ride.

At this point, the park is owned by the City of Berlin, which is offering guided tours through the abandoned landscape, and which is planning to open an art and culture park in 2026.

Fan death

In South Korea, there is a belief that when you run an electric fan in a closed room, it can cause death.

Proposed causes include better distribution of asbestos fibres in the air, or asphyxiation because of a shifted distribution between oxygen and carbon dioxide. The Korea Consumer Agency warned in 2007 that doors should be left open when sleeping with an electric fan turned on.

There is no proof for an actual causation. Probably, the deaths attributed to fans are heat strokes.

TV rock

This is a colorless mineral called ulexite, which has the unusual property of crystallizing in long, parallel fibers.

This gives it special optical properties: if you place it on top of a flat surface, the fibers will transmit whatever is on that surface to the top side, and display the image there – which is why ulexite is also known as TV rock.

It is mainly found in the eastern US, Chile, and Kazakhstan.

Monkey selfie copyright dispute

In 2011 the British nature photographer David Slater traveled to Indonesia. He set up a camera on a tripod, allowing some macaques come close to it, while he watched at some distance. The monkeys were apparently interested in how the lens sparkled, and pressed buttons on a remote shutter trigger several times, essentially taking "selfies".

When the photographs were published in The Daily Mail, a Wikimedia Commons editor uploaded them to that platform (which only accepts content under free licenses or in the public domain), claiming that there was no human author who could claim copyright, so the images were in the public domain.

This resulted in several legal battles, and experts' opinions on this case differ. Slater claimed that he lost a lot of money because the pictures were published on Wikimedia Commons, reportedly went broke in 2017, and is now considering a career as a dog walker or tennis coach.

Thanks for reading this year's edition of the Advent Calendar of Curiosities! :) Wish you a good start into 2021!