Weird Universe Blog — June 20, 2017

Zzyzx Road

If you ever drive from LA to Las Vegas, you'll encounter Zzyzx Road just outside of Baker, CA.

Many people wonder about the origin of this name. It came about, indirectly, because of the invention of the telephone, which led to the publication of phone directories, which then led people to want to have either the first or last name in the directory.

Entrepreneur Curtis Springer decided he wanted to be the last name in the directory, so when he opened a health spa at a natural springs in the Mojave Desert he called it Zzyzx Springs, so he could promote it as "the last word in health." By 1965 he had convinced the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to rename the road running to the springs Zzyzx Road. (It used to be Soda Road).

However, it turned out that Springer didn't own the land on which he built his health spa. He was squatting there illegally. And after 30 years of legal action, the Bureau of Land Management finally succeeded in kicking him off it. Since then, the land around there has been managed by California State University, which uses it as a Desert Studies Center.

It's been noted elsewhere on WU that several movies have been named after Zzyzx Road, including the record-holder for the lowest-grossing Hollywood movie ever.

More info: wikipedia

Los Angeles Times - Nov 20, 1945

Springer wasn't the only person who used the name Zzyzx to be last in the directory. There was also a Jack Zzyzx in Albuquerque, and Isadore Zzyzzx in Madison, Wisconsin. Vladamir Zzyzz took last position in the Pittsburgh directory.

I think that the Internet has made it less popular to invent z-themed last names, since not many people use phone directories any more. Sometimes one will be dropped on my front door step, and I just throw it in the trash.

Albuquerque Journal - Dec 3, 1988

Posted By: Alex - Tue Jun 20, 2017 - Comments (4)
Category: Odd Names

Follies of the Madmen #318

I don't get it. Is "nimble as an ox" good or bad, the before or after status of fueling up with their gas?

Original ad here.

Posted By: Paul - Tue Jun 20, 2017 - Comments (4)
Category: Animals, Business, Advertising, Products, 1950s, Cars

June 19, 2017


March 1985: Sgt. Joseph Mitlof of the NYPD realized that the 30 cups of coffee a day he was drinking might have been contributing to his anxiety problems. In fact, he was suffering from "caffeinism."

Tallahassee Democrat - Mar 20, 1985

I had never heard of such a thing as "caffeinism," but it turns out the term is over 100 years old. A 1979 article in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis offered the following definition:

Caffeinism describes a set of behavioral and physiological symptoms caused by the excessive consumption of caffeine-containing substances. The symptoms include nervous irritability, tremulousness, occasional muscle twitchings, insomnia, sensory disturbances, tachypnea (an abnormally rapid rate of breathing), palpitations, flushing, arrhythmias (an alteration or abnormality of normal cardiac rhythm), diureses, and gastrointestinal disturbances. Individuals suffering from caffeinism are sometimes misdiagnosed as anxiety neurotics because of the similarity of the symptoms. The deleterious effects of caffeine on humans also may include increasing the possibility of coronary heart disease in susceptible persons, promoting the progress of atherosclerosis and affecting chromosomal structure or action.

Burlington Daily Times - Mar 5, 1968

I only drink one cup of coffee a day, first thing in the morning. I think I'm good.

Posted By: Alex - Mon Jun 19, 2017 - Comments (3)
Category: Drugs, Health

Art Pays Off!

Original story here.

Posted By: Paul - Mon Jun 19, 2017 - Comments (3)
Category: Art, Crime, 1930s

June 18, 2017

News of the Weird (June 18, 2017)

News of the Weird
Weirdnuz.M532, June 18, 2017
Copyright 2017 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved.

REMINDER: I am retiring in two weeks (but in reality, all
the columns are in the can already). My announcement is here.

Lead Story

Advertisers Are Coming For You: The New York Times reported in May that the "sophistication" of Google's and Facebook's ability to identify potential customers of advertisements is "capable of targeting ads . . . so narrow that they can pinpoint, say, Idaho residents in long distance relationships who are contemplating buying a minivan." Facebook's ad manager told the Times that such a description matches 3,100 people (out of Idaho's 1.655 million). [New York Times, 5-14-2017]

Government in Action!

Harry Kraemer, 76, owner of Sparkles Cleaning Service in London, Ontario, was alone in his SUV recently and decided to light up a cigarette based on his 60-year habit, but was spotted by "Smoke-Free Ontario" officers and cited for three violations. Since his vehicle was registered to his business, and the windows were up, the cab constituted a "closed" "workspace." It took a long legal fight, but in May, the Provincial Offences Court cut Kraemer a break and dismissed the tickets. [National Post, 5-8-2017]

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finally prevailed in federal appeals court in February, in its Endangered Species Act designation that wetlands in Louisiana's St. Tammany Parish should be preserved as a safe habitat for the dusky gopher frog. Landowners barred from developing the land pointed out that no such frogs have been spotted there for "decades" but have been seen elsewhere in the state and in Mississippi. FWS concluded that St. Tammany area could be a place that dusky gopher frogs might thrive if they decided to return. [The Daily Caller, 2-14-2017]

The Job of the Researcher

From the abstract of Teresa Lloro-Bidart, in an April academic paper, comparing behaviors of native-California western gray squirrels and disruptive (to residents' trash cans) eastern fox squirrels: "I juxtapose feminist posthumanist theories and feminist food study scholarship to demonstrate how eastern fox squirrels are subjected to gendered, racialized, and speciesist thinking in the popular news media as a result of their feeding/eating practices [and] their unique and unfixed spatial arrangements in the greater Los Angeles region . . .." The case "presents a unique opportunity to question and re-theorize the ontological given of 'otherness' that manifests in part through a politics" in which "animal food choices" "stand in" for "compliance and resistance" to the "dominant forces in [human] culture." [New York Observer, 5-12-2017]

The Continuing Crisis

Japan is in constant conflict over whether to become more militarily robust (concerned increasingly with North Korea) even though its constitution requires a low profile (only "self- defense"). When the country's defense minister recently suggested placing females into combat roles, constitutional law professor Shigeaki Iijima strongly objected, initiating the possibility that Japan's enemies might have bombs capable of blowing women's uniforms off, exposing their bodies. The ridicule was swift. Wrote one, "I saw something like that in Dragon Ball" (from the popular comic book and TV productions of Japanese anime). [Japan Today, 5-26-2017]

Took It Too Far: Already, trendy restaurants have offered customers dining experiences amidst roaming cats (and in one bold experiment, owls), but the art house San Francisco Dungeon has planned a two-day (July 1st and 8th) experimental "Rat Café" for those who feel their coffee or tea is better sipped if rats (from the local rat rescue) scurry about the room. Pastries are included for the $49.99 price, but the rats will be removed before the food comes. (Sponsors promise at least 15 minutes of "rat interaction," and the price includes admission to the Dungeon.) [, 5-18-2017]

Bright Ideas

Organizers of northern Germany's Wacken Open Air Festival (billed as the world's biggest metal music extravaganza) expect the 75,000 attendees to drink so much beer that they have built a nearly-four-mile-long pipeline to carry 105,000 gallons to on-site taps. (Otherwise, keg-delivery trucks would likely muck up the grounds.) Some pipes were buried specifically for the August 3rd-5th festival, but others had been used by local farmers for ordinary irrigation. [Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 5-23-2017]

Smooth Reactions

(1) Robert Ahorner, 57, apparently just to "win" an argument with his wife, who was dissatisfied with their sex life, left the room with his 9mm semi-automatic and fired four shots at his penis. (As he said later, "If I'm not using it, I might as well shoot it off.") Of course, he missed, and police in Elkhorn, Wis., said no laws were violated. (2) In a lawsuit filed against an allegedly retaliating former lover, Columbia University School of Public Health professor Mady Hornig said her jilted boss tried repeatedly to harm her professional standing, even twice calling her into his office, dropping his trousers, and asking her professional opinion of the lesion on his buttock. [GazetteExtra (Janesville), 5-15-2017] [New York Post, 5-20-2017]

Fine Points of the Law

Convicted murderer John Modie, 59, remains locked up (on an 18-to-life sentence), but his several-hours-long 2016 escape attempt from Hocking Correctional Institution wound up unpunishable--because of a "technicality." In May 2017, the judge, lamenting the inflexible law, found Modie not guilty of the escape because prosecutors had, despite numerous opportunities, failed to identify the county in which Hocking Correctional Institution is located and thus did not "prove" that element of the crime (i.e., that the court in Logan, Ohio, had jurisdiction of the case). (Note to prosecutors: The county was "Hocking"). [Athens Messenger via WOAB-TV (Athens), 5-24-2017]

Bluffs Called

(1) In May, Charles Nichols III, 33, facing charges in Cheatham County, Tenn., of sex with a minor, originally was tagged with a $50,000 bail--until he told Judge Phillip Maxie to perform a sex act upon himself and dared Maxie to increase the bail. That led to a new bond of $1 million, then after further insubordination, $10 million, and so on until the final bail ordered was $14 million. (2) Jose Chacon, 39, was arrested in Riviera Beach, Fla., in May after allegedly shooting, fatally, a 41-year-old acquaintance who had laughed at Chacon's first shot attempt (in which the gun failed to fire) and taunted Chacon to try again. The second trigger-pull worked. [WKRN-TV (Nashville), 5-19-2017] [Palm Beach Post, 5-15-2017]

Drugs--Is There Anything They Can't Do?

(1) Sheriffs' deputies in Dade City, Fla., nearly effortlessly arrested Timothy Brazell, 19, for trespassing in May. Brazell (high on methamphetamine, he said) attempted to commandeer a stranger's car by hot-wiring it (but only by uselessly connecting the wires of a voltage meter--and even though the key was already in the car). According to the owner, the door lock was jammed, and Brazell could not figure out how to open it. (2) On May 19th, Carl Webb and his wife left a nighttime barbecue festival in downtown Memphis and headed home. They drove 14 miles on an Interstate highway before a police officer pulled them over to ask if Webb knew there was a body on his trunk. The man was clinging to the lip of the trunk but was still unconscious (from drinking) and had to be jarred awakened. [WFLA-TV (Tampa), 5-7-2017] [WHBQ-TV (Memphis), 5-19-2017]

People With Issues

In May, Douglas Goldsberry, 45, was charged in the Omaha, Neb., neighborhood of Elkhorn with paying prostitutes to do his erotic bidding ("75 times," he used them, according to a police report)--to come strip, baring their breasts while standing on the front porch of his neighbors across the street while Goldsberry watched and masturbated. [Omaha World Herald, 5-13-2017]

A News of the Weird Classic (December 2013)

Slick Talker: A young woman, accosted by a robber on Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill in October [2013], told the man she was a low-paid intern--but an intern for the National Security Agency and that within minutes of robbing her, the man would be tracked down by all-seeing, all-knowing NSA surveillance. Said she, later (reported the Washington Examiner), the man just “looked at me and ran away [empty-handed].” [Washington Examiner, 10-15-2013]

Thanks This Week to Caroline Lawler and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

Posted By: Chuck - Sun Jun 18, 2017 - Comments (4)

First Movie on American TV

What was the first full-length movie shown on American TV? A number of sources, such as Paleofuture, claim it was a 1932 detective movie, The Crooked Circle, which Los Angeles station W6XAO-TV broadcast in its entirety in 1933, even though the movie was still playing in local theaters.

But other sources, such as the Official Couch-Potato Handbook, claim it was the 1932 movie The Heart of New York, about the invention of the washing machine. ( offers this review of it: "Per minute, The Heart of New York may have more dialogue in it than any other movie I’ve seen. The characters don’t pause for breath. Look– I watch Lee Tracy movies. Heart of New York is nuts.")

The Crooked Circle seems to have the better documented claim, since I can't find any source that says exactly when The Heart of New York was broadcast on TV. Either movie can now be viewed in its entirety online.

Posted By: Alex - Sun Jun 18, 2017 - Comments (0)
Category: Movies

Joan Lowell and CRADLE OF THE DEEP

In 1929, Joan Lowell published an autobiography, Cradle of the Deep, published by Simon & Schuster, in which she claimed that her sea captain father took her aboard his ship, the Minnie A. Caine, at the age of three months when she was suffering from malnutrition. He nursed her back to health. She lived on the ship, with its all-male crew, until she was 17. She became skilled in the art of seamanship and once harpooned a whale by herself. Ultimately, the ship burned and sank off Australia, and Lowell swam three miles to safety, with a family of kittens clinging by their claws to her back. In fact, the book was a fabrication; Lowell had been on the ship, which remained safe in California, for only 15 months. The book was a sensational best seller until it was exposed as pure invention.[1] The book was later parodied by Corey Ford in his book Salt Water Taffy in which Lowell abandons the sinking ship (which had previously sunk several times before "very badly") and swims to safety with her manuscript.

Her Wikipedia page.

An article on the hoax.

Read the book here.

Posted By: Paul - Sun Jun 18, 2017 - Comments (2)
Category: Hoaxes and Imposters and Imitators, Movies, Oceans and Maritime Pursuits, 1920s

June 17, 2017

Swarming: Its Control & Prevention

From the Barnsley Beekeepers Association:

The Snelgrove method was first described by Leonard E Snelgrove in his 1934 book, “Swarming - It’s Control and Prevention”. It follows on from decades of hive manipulation using various kinds of board to separate queen from brood. Leonard Snelgrove introduced his specific design of board that makes use of entrances above and below the board to “bleed” bees from one box to another.

However, what Snelgrove (I assume that's him) is demonstrating on the cover is Bee Bearding. I'm guessing that you need to master swarming control before attempting bee bearding, but I don't think he reveals the tricks of bee bearding in his book, which you can download here if you're curious to read it.

Posted By: Alex - Sat Jun 17, 2017 - Comments (0)
Category: Insects, Books

Pass That Peace Pipe

"Why can't we all just get along?"

"Pass that peace pipe, bury that tomahawk/Like those Chichamecks, Cherokees,/Chapultepec's do..."

Posted By: Paul - Sat Jun 17, 2017 - Comments (4)
Category: Music, Stereotypes and Cliches, 1940s, Native Americans

June 16, 2017

Eating Infinite Jest

Comedian Jamie Loftus recently posted a video commemorating the first year of her plan to eat an entire copy of the novel Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, one page at a time. She's never read it. She's just eating it.

This caught my attention because, as it turns out, I've got a folder on my computer where I've been filing examples of people who eat books, aka bibliophagia.

I've already posted one of the examples here on WU. It was the case from 1926 of the boy who was eating his family's Bible.

Then there's a report from 1936 of a schoolboy who, in order to win a bet of 20 cents, ate all 138 pages of "The Mountain Garland," a dramatic poem by Petar Petrovic Njegos.

The Uniontown Morning Herald - May 5, 1936

And a bunch of examples can be found in The Excursions of a Book-Lover by Frederic Rowland Marvin:

In 1370 Barnabo Visconti compelled two Papal delegates to eat the bull of excommunication which they had brought him, together with its silken cord and leaden seal. As the bull was written on parchment, not paper, it was all the more difficult to digest.

A similar anecdote was related by Oelrich in his "Dissertation de Bibliothecarum et Librorum Fatis," (1756), of an Austrian general who had signed a note for two thousand florins, and was compelled by his creditor, when it fell due, to eat it.

A Scandinavian writer, the author of a political book, was compelled to choose between being beheaded or eating his manuscript boiled in broth.

Isaac Volmar, who wrote some spicy satires against Bernard, Duke of Saxony, was not allowed the courtesy of the kitchen, but was forced to swallow his literary productions uncooked.

Still worse was the fate of Philip Oldenburger, a jurist of great renown, who was condemned not only to eat a pamphlet of his writing, but also to be flogged during his repast, with orders that the flogging should not cease until he had swallowed the last crumb.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Jun 16, 2017 - Comments (5)
Category: Food, Books

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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2016 by the author of the post, which is usually either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.

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