1501: Mysteries

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1501: Mysteries

Postby Al-pocalypse » Fri Mar 20, 2015 8:00 am UTC

Image

URL: http://xkcd.com/1501/

Title Text: At the bottom left: the mystery of why, when I know I needed to be asleep an hour ago, I decide it's a good idea to read through every wikipedia article in the categories, 'Out of place artifacts', 'Earth Mysteries', 'Anomalous weather', and 'List of people who disappeared mysteriously'.
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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Envelope Generator » Fri Mar 20, 2015 8:05 am UTC

Where on this graph would you place "Absence of Taman Shud from this Graph"?

I thought I'd read all the same articles Randall says he did but somehow I'd missed the lead masks. edit: as well as the one about putting ice cream in a fridge.
I'm going to step off the LEM now... here we are, Pismo Beach and all the clams we can eat

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby sfmans » Fri Mar 20, 2015 8:19 am UTC

At the top left: why lots of people are going to take the opportunity of this thread to expound every possible whacko conspiracy theory about MH370, the wow signal, etc. etc. ...

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby DanAxtell » Fri Mar 20, 2015 8:38 am UTC

As a PeakBoomer (b. 1957), I especially appreciate this perspective. Anything below a slope of -1 through the origin (y=-x), I'm done thinking about. I was done with DB Cooper long ago, so I'd flip the y value to negative on that one. The chart curiousifies me about the unfamiliar stuff above y=-x. I do hope a kind XKCDer will post a glossary of the upper right stuff before I die and/or put ice cream in the fridge.

Edit: I note that, in my haste, I misused the "and/or" conjunction, except that I like the image of my happily putting ice cream in the fridge when I die. In modern times, unhappy death rules.
Last edited by DanAxtell on Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:36 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby rhomboidal » Fri Mar 20, 2015 8:42 am UTC

sfmans wrote:At the top left: why lots of people are going to take the opportunity of this thread to expound every possible whacko conspiracy theory about MH370, the wow signal, etc. etc. ...

Too true. And while we're on the topic... I don't get the terrorist hijacker theory behind MH370, since it's not clear what they'd gain by making a plane disappear. Unless the terrorists were followers of Cthulhu with the goal of inflicting the violently bewildering inexplicability of existence upon the world, in which case, objective achieved.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby niauropsaka » Fri Mar 20, 2015 8:44 am UTC

The Voynich Manuscript is in the lower left quadrant? Clearly neither of the middle lines is zero, because that is definitely >0 weird and >0 unclear.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby da Doctah » Fri Mar 20, 2015 8:48 am UTC


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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Djehutynakht » Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:07 am UTC

I'm not sure I entirely agree with everything he put here.

Though I wish he put more.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Eoink » Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:09 am UTC

niauropsaka wrote:The Voynich Manuscript is in the lower left quadrant? Clearly neither of the middle lines is zero, because that is definitely >0 weird and >0 unclear.


It was solved about 6 years ago...

http://xkcd.com/593/

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Wooloomooloo » Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:12 am UTC

Well, this is clearly an intimately personal thing - I for one would put most of those in entirely different quadrants. Beyond what one considers weird, it goes to show how fragile our concept of "thing being explained" is - nothing more than blind faith either accepting or rejecting some of the explanations proposed...

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Hiferator » Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:15 am UTC

I was expecting gravity in the top right quadrant.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Caesar » Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:51 am UTC

niauropsaka wrote:The Voynich Manuscript is in the lower left quadrant? Clearly neither of the middle lines is zero, because that is definitely >0 weird and >0 unclear.


And what, exactly, does 0 weirdness or 0 clarity mean?

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby hobbseltoff » Fri Mar 20, 2015 10:04 am UTC

I'm curious to hear what peoples theories on UVB-76 are. "Number stations" are a big topic of interest for me.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby orthogon » Fri Mar 20, 2015 10:05 am UTC

I have my own theories on the Simonean Paradox. To recap: The person whom the song is about would be correct to think the song was about them, hence this supposition would not represent pure vanity as Ms Simon suggests. But what if the first you is plural and the second singular? In that case she would be addressing a collection of current/former lovers, and the statement should be interpreted as "[all of] you probably think this song is about you [in particular]", the point being that it isn't, its about them generally, as a category, and the vanity lies in assuming they are the only person to invoke her ire.

Pseudo-edit: having looked at the lyrics to the verse, we have to assume that each of Ms Simon's previous partners possesses a Lear jet and apricot-coloured scarf apiece. This is pretty specific. Perhaps my initial idea, that the song is a kind of Buddhist Koan (like "the statement on the other side of this paper is false"), was closer to the mark.

Also, relevant to today:

Carly Simon wrote:Then you flew your lear jet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby DanAxtell » Fri Mar 20, 2015 10:10 am UTC

Hiferator wrote:I was expecting gravity in the top right quadrant.

Yeah, gravity is there, but way upper right--out in parody land. We're all Bozos on this bus.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby pduthie » Fri Mar 20, 2015 11:12 am UTC

orthogon wrote:we have to assume that each of Ms Simon's previous partners possesses a Lear jet and apricot-coloured scarf apiece


You mean you don't have a Lear jet and an apricot coloured scarf?? You are definitely in the top right quadrant of the graph.
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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby armandoalvarez » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:06 pm UTC

The Wikipedia article for the Kentucky Meat Shower doesn't make it seem like the explanation is clear at all. "Out of the many theories for an explanation of this phenomenon, one suggested by locals is that the meat was disgorged by buzzards 'who, as is their custom, seeing one of their companions disgorge himself, immediately followed suit.'" Is that the explanation or is that just something some "local" said?

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Flumble » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:09 pm UTC

DanAxtell wrote:
Hiferator wrote:I was expecting gravity in the top right quadrant.

Yeah, gravity is there, but way upper right--out in parody land. We're all Bozos on this bus.

Gravity is in superposition and is observed either in the upper right corner or lower left depending on your interpretation of "explanation" and "weird". If you're not a physicist, it's probably in the lower left.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby 16characters » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:14 pm UTC

That song is about ME.

What is the Salish Sea fleet?

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby functoruser » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:24 pm UTC

16characters wrote:What is the Salish Sea fleet?


I wondered the same thing, until I realized it says "Salish Sea feet".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salish_Sea_human_foot_discoveries

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby PCB-Mike » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:29 pm UTC

I think skeptoid had the best explanation of the Lead Masks.
Even if he himself says it's unresolved, the big picture seems to be summed up in the article.
In short " it was a cult "

I would totally link to a website, IF MY POST WASN'T CONSTANTLY FLAGGED FOR SPAM BECAUSE OF IT!!

Spam bots have ruined the internet.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Eutychus » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:44 pm UTC

Well, I'd never heard of a body farm before clicking on the link in the above post.

Which should in and of itself figure on the graph somewhere in my view.
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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby SecondTalon » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:47 pm UTC

armandoalvarez wrote:The Wikipedia article for the Kentucky Meat Shower doesn't make it seem like the explanation is clear at all. "Out of the many theories for an explanation of this phenomenon, one suggested by locals is that the meat was disgorged by buzzards 'who, as is their custom, seeing one of their companions disgorge himself, immediately followed suit.'" Is that the explanation or is that just something some "local" said?

That's common vulture behavior. One pukes, the flock pukes.
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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Bolo » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:49 pm UTC

Selected mysteries from the graph sorted by their approximate popularity (operationalised as the number of language editions of Wikipedia on a given topic):

129 John_F._Kennedy
69 Amelia_Earhart
58 Malaysia_Airlines_Flight_370
56 Loch_Ness_Monster
50 Voynich_manuscript
44 Bigfoot
38 Zodiac_Killer
36 Wow!_signal
28 Mary_Celeste
28 D._B._Cooper
24 Jimmy_Hoffa
22 Roanoke_Colony
21 Dyatlov_Pass_incident
19 UVB-76
16 Taman_Shud_Case
16 Oak_Island
6 Lindbergh_kidnapping
5 Toynbee_tiles
4 Lead_Masks_Case
3 Salish_Sea_human_foot_discoveries
1 Kentucky_meat_shower
0 Absence_of_the_Taman_Shud_Case_from_xkcd_1501

Mind the word "approximate". Lidbergh baby is underestimated (in some language editions the kidnapping is described in articles on Lindbergh), while JFK might be overestimated.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Neil_Boekend » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:50 pm UTC

Not just vultures. If I see someone puke I get the urge too. Even stronger when I smell it. It makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint: usually everybody ate from the same thing.
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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Blake'sTiger » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:54 pm UTC

Since someone asked for a glossary, my recollection of what these are, in no particular order. Details vary wildly.

Carly Simon- She had a song called "You're so Vain," which included the lyrics, "I bet you think this song is about you, don't you," or something like that. She refuses to tell us who it was about, leading us all to wonder, are we really that vain?

Lindbergh Baby- It was kidnapped. And then maybe never found again? I'm pretty sure Lindbergh is as in Charles Lindbergh, the aviator and general jerk.

UVB 76- a radio signal in Russia consisting of a buzzing noise, occasionally interrupted by cryptic voice messages.

Toynbee Tiles- Some tiles containing confused messages referencing 2001: A Space Odyssey, that someone kept sticking in the ground in... Philadelphia, I think?

Jimmy Hoffa- Union official with ties to organized crime who vanished.

Voynich Manuscript: A Manuscript consisting of what looks a lot like a language, but which no one has been able to translate, with pictures of non existent plants and animals.

JFK- He was an American president, who was assassinated.

Oak Island Money Pit- A pit on Oak Island, in which some treasure has been found, but which floods every time you dig beyond a certain point. May be booby traps, or may just be due to the geology of the island.

Randall Munroe's tendency to put his ice cream back in the fridge instead of the freezer- A method for communication by intelligences vast and peculiar.

Bigfoot- Large, hairy, humanoid cryptid in the United States and Canada.

Loch Ness MOnster- Large aquatic cryptid in Loch Ness, Scotland.

Amelia Earheart- Aviatrix who vanished during a flight over the Pacific Ocean.

Zodiac Letters- Letters written by the Zodiac Killer, allegedly providing clues as to his identity.

Lost Colony- I would expect a reference to Roanoke, a British Colony off North Carolina that mysteriously vanished, leaving only the word Croaton, which happened to be the name of a nearby island whose inhabitants they were friendly with, and which would, in later generations, be noted to contain the occasional oddly pale native.

Kentucky Meat Shower- I... am unfamiliar with this one. I would assume that it was a shower of meat, in Kentucky.

Dyalatov Pass Incident- The death of nine skiers, under unclear circumstances, in the Dyatlov Pass.

Mary Celeste- a ghost ship whose chemical makeup you should compare with those wood chips in your front hallway.

Salish Sea Feet- presumably those feet that keep washing up in Canada? Notable for not being attached to legs anymore- if they ever were!

The Wow Signal- a signal that lasted only about a minute, but which bore most of the traits one would expect of a signal of extra-solar origin.

DB Cooper- Hijacked a plane, parachuted out with a bunch of stolen cash, later made The Room.

Lead Masks Case- I want to say a case in Brazil? A couple of engineers went up onto a hill, put on lead masks, and then took some kind of poison pills. I want to say that they had a paper with instructions to do these things.

MH 370- A Malaysian Airlines flight which disappeared mid flight.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby mathmannix » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:56 pm UTC

I was wondering about the vertical placement of several of these events (why they were south of the X-axis - especially the Kentucky Meat Shower, Dyatlov Pass Incident, and Voynich Manuscript) when I realized that the two labels on the Y-axis don't really seem to be opposites to me. "[Randall] has no explanation" and "Explanation seems pretty clear" don't seem like opposites, but then I realized this is all from Randall's perspective. He has, as someone above pointed out, come up with an explanation for the Voynich Manuscript, for example. There are explanations for many of the things on here, including the Kentucky Meat Shower, Dyatlove Pass, and Bigfoot south of the X-axis, and DB Cooper and the Salish feet north of the X-axis. They can be found on Wikipedia (or Cracked) - and usually there are several competing explanations. If you accept one of these explanations, then for you personally, the event moves to the bottom of the chart, but this can vary wildly from person to person.

Bottom line is, many of these incidents will never have explanations that can be completely proven (unless time travel becomes a reality) because we only have so much evidence, so many eyewitness accounts, and we will never have more. Yes, people, even experts, decades later can say "oh, the famous Bigfoot video is a fake", but we can't actually PROVE it, so it will never be settled for everybody.
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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby laxrulz777 » Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:00 pm UTC

What's his obvious explanation for the Dyatlov Pass Incident. The wikipedia makes reference to premature (radiation induced?) aging but also having their skulls crushed... So... Radioactive Yeti?

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Spaceman_Spiff » Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:02 pm UTC

Another odd thing that isn't well known is the Dancing Plague (not linked because the spam filter doesn't like it, but you can look it up on wikipedia). In the middle ages, hundreds of people would dance uncontrollably for days, sometimes until they died.

Does anyone else have any other good ones not already listed?

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby PCB-Mike » Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:19 pm UTC

Spaceman_Spiff wrote:Another odd thing that isn't well known is the Dancing Plague (not linked because the spam filter doesn't like it, but you can look it up on wikipedia). In the middle ages, hundreds of people would dance uncontrollably for days, sometimes until they died.

Does anyone else have any other good ones not already listed?


Bermuda Triangle?

Atlantis? (although i have this feeling that we're really close to a mundane, unicorn killing answer to this one)

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby TomPace101 » Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:20 pm UTC

Yeah, for me UVB-76 has a much lower y-value. It's probably some variant of a numbers station (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbers_station). It isn't in the usual format, but it probably serves the same purpose ultimately. Maybe Randall knows something I don't that makes that explanation less likely.

I'll never forget the first time I heard a numbers station while playing around with a short wave radio. I had no idea what could cause such insanity. That, and the first time I heard a radio beacon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-directional_beacon) broadcasting the same three letters in morse code, over and over again. And those letters just happened to spell someone's name. Very surreal experiences. I had some other eye-opening encounters with that radio as well. This was all back in the days before the internet. I'm sure a lot of the weirdness has migrated since then.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby armandoalvarez » Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:33 pm UTC

Spaceman_Spiff wrote:Another odd thing that isn't well known is the Dancing Plague (not linked because the spam filter doesn't like it, but you can look it up on wikipedia). In the middle ages, hundreds of people would dance uncontrollably for days, sometimes until they died.

Does anyone else have any other good ones not already listed?

I'd add the Shroud of Turin and have it in the upper right hand quadrant. I've heard that the image isn't consistent with painting, so whatever technique was used to create it was very unconventional and some of the theories propose crazy stuff like a medieval photographer. Which I guess some alchemist could have figured out, but then he decided this was a cool thing to do with his newly discovered technique. And it's unconventional in the image in that depictions of Jesus's crucifixion in that era would almost always show him crucified through his palms but the shroud of Turin shows him crucified through his wrists, which seems to be more historically accurate. I think the leading hypothesis on image formation is that if you take a cloth, apply it to a sweaty body, and then place it near a heat source, you'll get an image that looks like the shroud of Turin. But it's not smeared, so you'd think that means the heat source was placed near the cloth (on both sides of his body) while the cloth was on the body. And it also means the forger probably tortured a real guy to produce the image.
Even if you assume that the shroud is the real burial cloth of Jesus and then that he rose from the dead (and in doing so radiated heat?), that just raises new mysteries- where was this image for the first 1400 years of Christian history and why did the radiocarbon dating say ~1300?
So probably a forgery and I guess that moves it down below the X axis, but then there's still the mystery of how it was produced. Forgeries in general aren't weird, but it seems like it was a pretty weird forgery.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby orthogon » Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:35 pm UTC

PCB-Mike wrote:Bermuda Triangle?

I saw a TV documentary on this (or mentioning this). The explanation they gave was that there is no phenomenon to explain. There is no statistically significant difference between the number of ships, planes etc. lost in the Bermuda Triangle and any other similarly-sized area of ocean. The clincher was that they asked Lloyds of London. They more or less invented insurance, in order to allow ship owners to sell risk that was otherwise unbearable (see: The Merchant of Venice). Insurance is a statistical business - Lloyds don't care why a particular sea area is accident-prone, but they do care very much whether it is the case, and if the Bermuda Triangle were really a thing, they would know about it and would charge higher premiums for vessels wanting to enter or transit the area. But it isn't and they don't.

So I'm not sure where it should go on the chart: probably there needs to be a third axis that relates to the thinginess of a thing. Or perhaps you could describe the "mystery" as "higher than average loss of vessels in a particular area" (not very weird), whence the explanation would be "because statistics" (pretty straightforward).
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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Envelope Generator » Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:38 pm UTC

What's the clear explanation of the Dyatlov Pass incident?
I'm going to step off the LEM now... here we are, Pismo Beach and all the clams we can eat

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby grip » Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:46 pm UTC

hobbseltoff wrote:"Number stations" are a big topic of interest for me.

Me too, I am currently working my way through the conet project.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby orthogon » Fri Mar 20, 2015 2:04 pm UTC

Blake'sTiger wrote:Carly Simon- She had a song called "You're so Vain," which included the lyrics, "I bet you think this song is about you, don't you," or something like that. She refuses to tell us who it was about, leading us all to wonder, are we really that vain?

Oh, is that supposed to be the mystery? Not the circular self-contradiction of the lyrics?
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby hamjudo » Fri Mar 20, 2015 2:15 pm UTC

Maybe Mythbusters will get a ten year contract so they can do long term experiments to simulate the Salish Sea Feet.

It seems that some types of shoes resist decay in the oceans, while remaining buoyant, and keeping their contents from being consumed. Mythbusters will need to get a bunch of cadavers. Dress them in a variety of clothing, both with and without shoes; Connect tracking equipment to the shoes and other body parts; Drop them in the ocean and various rivers. Any bodies or body parts that up wash on shore in the first 6 months won't count as mysterious, that isn't uncommon. All that's left is to monitor the pieces for a decade.

If it turns out that the only body parts that float after many years are the feet that were in running shoes, then the Salish Sea Feet won't be a mystery anymore. On the other hand, if other body parts also remain intact, and float just as well, then the mystery remains.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Kit. » Fri Mar 20, 2015 2:30 pm UTC

Envelope Generator wrote:What's the clear explanation of the Dyatlov Pass incident?

Recklessness of the group, exacerbated by Dyatlov's poor leadership skills.

laxrulz777 wrote:The wikipedia makes reference to premature (radiation induced?) aging

Just a result of freezing.

Some of the clothes were found to be slightly contaminated with radioactive dust, but one of the members of the group worked at Mayak, so it was probably expected.

laxrulz777 wrote:but also having their skulls crushed... So...

Heights.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby Blake'sTiger » Fri Mar 20, 2015 2:36 pm UTC

Envelope Generator wrote:What's the clear explanation of the Dyatlov Pass incident?


I'm not super familiar with the details of the incident, but the non-mysterious explanation I've heard was avalanche+hypothermia+various scavengers/decomposition accounting for the severe injuries, odd behavior, and apparent mutilation of the bodies, and general Cold War Shenanigans accounting for the high radiation.

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Re: 1501: Mysteries

Postby buddy431 » Fri Mar 20, 2015 2:38 pm UTC

What's mysterious about the Lindbergh kidnapping? The baby was kidnapped, and later killed. Some people doubt that the person who was arrested for it actually did it, but that's unfortunately true of a lot of crime. At the end of the day, some person grabbed him, then killed him.

UVB-76 is almost certainly some variant of a numbers station, which are almost certainly used to communicate with spies. Numbers stations are pretty weird though, I'll admit that.

I don't understand either axis for DB Cooper. It's a mildly interesting way to illegally obtain money, not "weird as hell". DB Cooper also has an extremely simple explanation. Someone decided to hijack a plane and steal money. The only "mystery" is who they were, and what happened to them afterwards. Again, unsolved crimes aren't uncommon.
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