Rolls-Royce debuted the Wraith Kryptos in mid-2020. It was a very exclusive car (only 50 of them were made) with a unique gimmick. The car was decorated throughout with an encrypted cipher that, when solved, would reveal a message.
Of course, only a very few people have access to the puzzle in the first place. Though I imagine that the kind of person wealthy enough to afford the car might also have enough money to hire a cryptographer to solve the puzzle.
Mummy, unicorn's horn, and bezoars appealed to the imagination because of their unusual character, but even the most commonplace substances might develop supposedly medicinal virtues if they had unusual or gruesome associations. Usnea was a substance of this nature. It was moss; not ordinary moss, but moss scraped from the skull of a criminal who had been hung in chains. Usnea was an official drug in the pharmacopeia until the nineteenth century; it was carried by all apothecary shops, and the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica devoted a section to its curative properties. Usnea was present in the prescriptions of the best physicians over a period extending from the Middle Ages until well after the American Revolution. Source: Howard W. Haggard, Devils, drugs, and doctors (1929).
More info from Frances Larson, Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found (2014):
Paracelsus recommended the 'moss', or lichen, that grew on a dead man's skull for seizures and 'disorders of the head', and to bind wounds, on the basis that the 'vital spirit' released at death would be transferred from the skull into the lichen that started to grow on its surface. The fact that these skull-grown lichens were quite rare only increased the value of the cure. Skull moss seems to have been a particularly popular remedy in England and Ireland, perhaps because in these countries dead criminals were often left on public display until their flesh started to rot away and things began to grow on their bones. In 1694 it was reported that London druggists sold suitably mossy skulls for 8 to 11 shillings each, depending on the size and the amount of growth on them. . .
There were reports of people growing moss on stones and then spreading it onto the skulls of criminals, as a way of harvesting the tiny green plants for sale. In practice, apothecaries probably used anything that grew on skulls, and some things that did not grow on skulls, to maintain their supplies.
On August 20, 1975, the McQuilken siblings were hiking in Sequoia National Park when their hair started to stand on end. They paused to take a photo of the unusual phenomenon. The top photo shows the two brothers, Sean and Michael. The bottom one shows their sister Mary.
A few minutes after taking these photos, lightning struck Sean and Michael. Luckily, they both survived.
Suddenly, I was immersed in the brightest light I have ever seen. I moved my head from side to side and all I could see was bright white light, similar in appearance to arc welding light. This next part is strange. I distinctly remember feeling weightless, and that my feet were no longer touching the ground. For some reason, it felt like a number of seconds transpired, even though I realize that lightning strikes are instantaneous. A deafening explosion followed, and I found myself on the ground with the others. Sean was collapsed and huddled on his knees. Smoke was pouring from his back. I rushed over to him and checked his pulse and breathing. He was still alive. I put out the embers on his back and elbows and carried him down the path towards the parking lot, with the rest of the group following.
During World War I the British Navy attempted to train seagulls to reveal the presence of German submarines. The idea was to use a dummy periscope "from which at intervals food would be discharged like sausage-meat from a machine." The birds would, hopefully, learn to associate periscopes with food and would then fly around approaching German submarines, revealing where they were.
Initial tests were conducted by Admiral Sir Frederick Inglefield in Poole harbour in Dorset. Inglefield tried to train the birds not only to fly around periscopes, but also to poop on them.
Subsequent tests were briefly conducted in 1917, but then the Navy abandoned the idea.
One private inventor, Thomas Mills, refused to give up on the idea. In 1918 he patented what he called an "apparatus for use in connection with the location of submarines" (Patent GB116,976). It was basically a dummy periscope that disgorged ribbons of food.
Unfortunately for Mills, the development of sonar then made submarine-detecting seagulls unnecessary.
Peter Ackerberg, writing in the Minneapolis Star (Nov 17, 1979), described the unusual legal case of Wolfe v. Feldman, which was heard in 1936:
Charlotte Wolfe had three rotten teeth, so she went to Max Feldman, a dentist specializing in oral surgery, to have them pulled. When the surgery was over, however, Wolfe complained of pain in a strange place: the pinky finger of her right hand. It turned out to be a possible fracture, and she sued Feldman.
Feldman countered that it wasn't his fault, and he told the judge this story:
Wolfe was strapped to the dentist's chair (apparently a common procedure then), and was given nitrous oxide, an anesthesia better known as laughing gas. What happened next was no laughing matter.
Defendant's story is that plaintiff was strapped to the operating chair; that a short time later, after plaintiff was in the excitement stage of nitrous oxide anaesthesia and as he moved closer to the chair to adjust the suction aspirator, plaintiff, despite the limited movement of the strapped wrist, clutched his testicles with a painful grip, which required the use of great force to release.
So the patient, while under the influence of laughing gas, managed to grab hold of the dentist's testicles, and in the process of freeing himself the dentist fractured her little finger.
Nevertheless, the judge ruled in favor of the patient for $650, saying:
It was incumbent on him, during the time the patient was in the so-called 'fighting stage' reached by patients undergoing anesthesia by nitrous oxide, not to place his body in such a position as to permit plaintiff's hands to interfere with him to such an extent as to require the application of force sufficiently severe to cause her physical injury.
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
Chuck is the purveyor of News of the Weird, the syndicated column which for decades has set the gold-standard for reporting on oddities and the bizarre.
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