Did You Hear About the…? – WIF Urban Legend

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Strange – World

As a species, human beings share a love of stories. Some are based on real events. Others are pure fiction, and in some cases the line between the two can be blurred or uncertain.

Urban legends tend to fall into the latter category, but they can be found in some form in every culture and society.

These are 10 examples of some of the stranger urban legends to be found.

10. Killer Electric Fans

South Korea is amongst the most scientifically advanced nations on the planet. Despite this it’s also home to a peculiar modern day urban legend that has little or no scientific support.

Some South Koreans believe that leaving an electric fan switched on overnight can be fatal. It’s not entirely inconceivable that an electric fan might on very rare occasions malfunction and catch fire, but this isn’t what believers are worried about. The fear is that anybody who goes to sleep in a closed room with an electric fan running might never wake up.

While this particular urban legend is almost entirely unique to South Korea, and while there’s very little evidence to back it up, it’s none the less prevalent enough that even major fan manufacturers issue warnings not to leave fans pointed at people overnight.

It seems that the roots of this particular urban legend can be traced back to 1927, when an article was published warning that electric fans circulating stale air could lead to nausea or even suffocation.

9. The Zambezi River God

In 1955 an Italian construction firm began work on the Kariba Dam on Zimbabwe’s Zambezi River. It would produce huge amounts of hydroelectric power, but at the cost of forcing thousands of locals from their homes and their land.

Some warned that the Zambezi River God would be angered into unleashing floods and dire retribution. This serpent-like creature known as Nyaminyami is said to inhabit Lake Kariba and act as protector of the Tongan people.

The Kariba Dam engineers weren’t concerned. The giant structure’s defenses were designed to withstand anything up to a once-in-a-thousand-year flood.

Despite their confidence, in 1957 the dam was hit by that thousand-year storm. Damage was extensive and several Italian construction workers were killed. Construction was delayed by several months until work could begin again.

In defiance of all their calculations a second even larger flood followed just one year later. Several more workers were killed, their bodies falling into the dam’s still-setting cement from where they could not be recovered.

Construction of the dam was finally completed, but not before 82 construction workers had lost their lives. Some believe the completed dam has cut the Zambezi River God off from his wife, and that even to this day he is working to destroy it.

If so then he seems to be making progress. Engineers warn that the Kariba Dam is now in dire need of extensive repairs and at risk of collapsing entirely, with catastrophic consequences.

8. Spring-Heeled Jack

With a population in excess of two million people, 1830s London was the most populous city in the world. It was a global hub of science, invention, and innovation, and in 1829 it introduced the first professional police force anywhere in the world.

Despite all this London was a city in the grip of fear. A mysterious figure was attacking young women across the city, and the police seemed powerless to apprehend him.

It wasn’t even clear if the menace was human. Eyewitnesses reported him as having a demonic appearance, the ability to spit flames, and even leap huge distances in one bound. He came to be known as Spring-heeled Jack.

Mass hysteria presumably played a part, but fear of Spring-heeled Jack was very real. The newspapers, who knew a juicy story when they saw it, were only too happy to run articles on this shadowy character.

In 1838 a man named Thomas Millbank, somewhat worse for wear in a London tavern, boasted that he was none other than the mysterious Spring-heeled Jack. He was promptly arrested for the attack on a victim named Jane Alsop. However, he soon had to be released. Jane Alsop remained adamant that her assailant had breathed flames. If Millbank had indeed been able to manifest this ability, he stubbornly refused to do so.

Whether there ever was a single real person behind the legend of Spring-heeled Jack is difficult to say for sure, but the legend lives on and occasional sightings continue to be reported even to this day.

7. The Black Bird of Chernobyl

The mere mention of Chernobyl is enough to conjure up feelings of unease. The name is inextricably linked to the worst nuclear accident the world has ever seen, and it’s seared into our collective consciousness as something dark and terrifying.

Most people know the story well enough. A nuclear reactor in the Soviet power plant melted down, and only good fortune and heroism prevented a far greater disaster that would have rendered much of Europe uninhabitable.

The supernatural aspect of the story is less well known. Thousands of people were evacuated after the meltdown, but many still speak of a horrifying apparition that appeared as a harbinger of disaster.

In the weeks leading up to the catastrophe they claim to have seen a terrifying humanoid creature with huge wings, and eyes that glowed like hot coal. This airborne apparition came to be known as the Black Bird of Chernobyl.

Whether this was an urban legend created after the disaster or whether it has some basis in reality is impossible to say for certain.

6. The Deadly Drop Bear

Australia is home to some of the deadliest animals in the world. If the snakes, spiders, jellyfish, and the lethal blue-ringed octopus weren’t enough, there’s also the drop bear.

The creature is said to be a relative of the koala, but considerably less appealing. Roughly the size of a leopard or a large dog, drop bears are ambush predators.

They live in the forests where they hide in the canopy waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass beneath. Dropping from the trees they use their powerful arms and venomous bite to subdue their prey, and sometimes even attack humans.

In reality the drop bear is an urban legend created to scare and amuse tourists, and occasionally play pranks on unsuspecting journalists. Curiously enough, however, during the last Ice Age Australia was home to a carnivorous marsupial that lived and hunted from the trees, similar to the mythical drop bear.

5. Bodies in Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney is one of the world’s most famous cities, and it seems to be Australia’s hot spot for urban legends. If they are all to be believed then there is a secret network of tunnels beneath the streets, a hidden lake populated by giant albino eels, escaped big cats on the loose, and even a prehistoric river monster.

Other urban legends are linked to Sydney’s architecture, such as Sydney Harbor Bridge.

The bridge opened in 1932 and became famous across the world. However, its construction came at a cost in human lives. The official figures state that sixteen people were killed in falls, construction accidents, and in one case from tetanus after suffering a crushed thumb.

Local legend has it that this is not the full tally of fatal accidents. Several workers are rumored to have fallen into the structure as it was being built. Since these dead bodies would be bad for publicity, not to mention difficult and expensive to retrieve, their grisly demise may have been covered up.

4. The Wendigo

In November 2019, Gino Meekis was hunting grouse in the forests of northwest Ontario. Whilst there he heard a wailing noise unlike anything he’d encountered in more than twelve years of hunting.

Gino was sufficiently unnerved to pull out his phone and take a recording, and that subsequently sparked an online debate as to what exactly was responsible for the eerie noise.

One suggestion was a grizzly bear, but that species had never been sighted in the region. Others speculated it may have been a wendigo.

Bumping into a grizzly in the forests is dangerous, but it would be vastly favorable to an encounter with this terrifying supernatural beast.

The Wendigo of legend is said to be fifteen feet tall with a stinking, rotting, emaciated body. Its lips are tattered and bloody, and it’s haunted by a constant hunger for human flesh. The beast is constantly hunting for victims, but no matter how much it eats it can never satisfy the craving.

This monstrous creature has made its way into modern medical parlance. The thankfully rare psychological condition of Wendigo Syndrome is characterized by a desire to consume human flesh.

3. The Rock Star’s Parakeets

There are plenty of urban legends surrounding animals or beasts whose existence is questionable at best.

This one is slightly different as it concerns tens of thousands of parakeets that have made their home in London’s parks.

The parakeets definitely exist, but they equally definitely aren’t indigenous to Britain, and nobody is entirely sure where they came from.

One popular suggestion is that Jimi Hendrix is responsible. He’s said to have released two of the birds, Adam and Eve, into the skies of London whilst stoned in 1968. The multitude of parrots now resident in England are said to be descendants of this first pair.

The idea has even been investigated by researchers at Queen Mary University. Unfortunately, whilst it’s possible that Hendrix may have added to the parakeet population, they concluded the birds are too widespread to all be descended from a single pair.

2. Aka Manto

The yokai are a group of supernatural beings and monsters that populate Japanese folklore. Varied in their appearance and temperament, some are benevolent, others are cruel, and one has an unusual predilection for women’s bathrooms.

Descriptions of Aka Manto’s appearance varies, but he is always depicted as wearing a mask and a red cape. The supernatural being is said to periodically appear in public or school toilets offering the occupier a choice between red and blue toilet paper.

Neither of these is a good option. Choosing the blue paper results in being strangled to death, but opting for the red paper is no better and leads to death by laceration.

Aka Manto is also wise to anyone who might try to trick their way past him by requesting different colored toilet paper to the ones he offered. Their fate is to be dragged off to the underworld and never seen again.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Politely declining Aka Manto’s offer of toilet paper will cause him to leave in search of another potential victim.

The legend of Aka Manto can be traced back to at least the 1930s, and he’s said to be still haunting public toilets to this day.

1. NASA’s Billion Dollar Pen

In 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first ever satellite into space. It didn’t do anything other than whizz around the planet emitting regular beeps, but it was sufficient to spark a hugely expensive space race with the United States of America.

America would claim victory by landing men on the moon in 1969, but there were a huge number of challenges to overcome before that point could be reached.

Even something as simple as writing proved to be problematic in space. It turned out that regular pens just didn’t work in zero gravity.

The American response was to begin a lengthy research project and sink billions of dollars into a solution. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union took a cheaper but far more straightforward approach and used pencils instead.

Many people are aware of this story, but it’s not actually true. It’s an example of a particularly successful urban myth, one that’s now so firmly embedded in our collective psyche it’s unlikely to ever go away.

The reality is that the American space program, just like the Soviet one, initially switched to using pencils. When a pen was developed that could be used in space, it was designed independently of the U.S. Government or military by an inventor named Paul C. Fisher.

NASA approved them for use in space and purchased a grand total of 400 of them at the modest price of $2.95 each. The Soviet space agency bought some too.


Did You Hear About the…?

WIF Urban Legends

Global IQ Ranking – WIF Lists

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The Smartest Countries

in the World

Imagine the world is a high school. You’ve got the big, jock countries like Australia, South Africa, and the USA. You’ve got the self-consciously old-fashioned intellectuals like Britain and France, and then you’ve got the cool kids everyone wants to hang out with (yeah, Italy, we’re looking at you). But what about the brainboxes? Who in our analogy are the nerds spending their spare time in the science labs while the other countries are learning to smooch and bum smokes?

Well, thanks to some slightly dubious science, we possibly have the answer! Between 2002 and 2006, a joint British-Finnish study carried out IQ tests in countries all over the world, then ranked each nation by their average national score. While IQ tests may not be perfect – they miss intelligence defects even clever people suffer from, like dysrationalia, which is a fancy way of saying “choosing the simplest answer to avoid having to think too hard” – and this particular study was controversial for its methodology, it still makes for a fun comparison. Want to discover which countries are getting beaten up for their lunch money every morning? Read on.

10. Austria (average IQ: 100)

We’re gonna go out on a limb here and suggest not many of us associate intelligence with wearing lederhosen. But maybe that’s why we’ve all been underestimating Austria for so long. They’re willing to dress like a person with their fashion sense surgically removed because they don’t care what we think. They’re too busy using those gigantic sausage-and-beer-fueled brains of theirs to pay attention to mere mortals like us.

Part of Austria’s geniusness (that’s a word, right?) may be due to its comparative wealth. The CIA World Factbook ranks it the 33rd richest nation by GDP per capita, which doesn’t sound all that impressive until you realize the much-larger UK ranks at 40th. Since income and education tend to go hand in hand, it stands to reason that Austria might have more brains to spare, especially given its tiny population. Only 8.474 million people call this spectacular alpine nation home, fewer than Czech Republic, fewer than Cuba, fewer even than London.

Historically, the Austrians have put those big brains of theirs to good use. Their Hapsburg dynasty once ruled most of Europe.

9. Switzerland (average IQ: 101)

A short hop across a near-impenetrable barrier of frozen mountains from Austria, Switzerland is the place to be if you want cuckoo clocks, triangular chocolate, guns, or Nazi gold. It’s also home to some of the smartest people on the planet. Yep, the Swiss apparently value intellectualism almost as much as they value morally-dubious neutrality, and they have the historical figures to back up this claim. It was in the capital of Bern that the German-born Albert Einstein dreamed up his general theory of relativity.

So what is it about living in this bracing mountain environment that turns the Swiss into such geniuses? Well, they’re rich for starters. Seriously, if you were to grab Switzerland by the ankles, turn it upside down, and shake it vigorously, enough spare change would fall out to finance at least three globe-straddling empires. The multilingualism of the Swiss may help, too. At the Federal level, Switzerland gives German, French, and Italian equal weight, which may be significant as some studies link speaking multiple languages with increased intelligence.

On the other hand, maybe they’re just spending so much time avoiding fighting wars that they’ve got time to read all those brainy books gathering dust on other nation’s shelves?

8. Mongolia (average IQ: 101)

A great, big expanse of vast steppe in Asia, Mongolia has desert, mountains, yurts, and almost nothing else. We mean that in all seriousness. Despite being big enough to squash Texas and California flat and still have room for Montana, it is home to barely 3 million people, most of whom could spend their whole lives swinging a string of dead cats and never get even remotely close to hitting anything. One apparent upside of all this space? Intelligence. Lots of intelligence.

When you think about it, Mongolia scoring so highly is kinda unexpected. While breathtaking, their country ain’t rich. The CIA World Factbook ranks them at 122nd for GDP per capita, only slightly above Albania. But it seems what little money they have, they spend wisely. The country ranks surprisingly high on education, beating out even some European systems. On a perhaps more controversial note, some “race realists” have suggested Mongolians may just naturally have better visual-spacial awareness, giving their overall IQ scores an additional boost.

Whatever the truth, it seems that one thing is clear. If you’ve ever had a hankering for sparkling intellectual discussion in the emptiest landscape you’ll ever see, go to Mongolia.

7. Iceland (average IQ: 101)

annnd we’re back in Europe, this time in the far, frozen lands of the north, where “banking” is synonymous with “crime” and summer is just God’s cruel joke breaking up the punishment of winter. Yep, it’s the teeny tiny island nation of Iceland, a place that was once just a glorified fishing port, became a casino banking mecca, and now is famous as one of the richest, safest countries on Earth. Evidently, all that safety has combined with all that enforced time spent indoors escaping the weather to create a nation that seriously likes to study.

What’s amazing about this is that you wouldn’t have put money on Iceland hitting so high up these rankings a few decades ago. Prior to the 1980s, the very-literally-named land of ice was a kind of mid-ranking boring outpost of fishermen. The economy exploded in the ’80s, blew up even larger in the ’90s, and somehow managed to claw out of the devastating financial crash by turning the entire country into one of the world’s tourist hotspots. See, that’s those clever Icelandic brains for you, thinking their way out of a pickle that doesn’t involve reckless borrowing or blowing the national budget on lottery tickets.

6. Italy (average IQ: 102)

Oh come on, this isn’t fair! Italy already has class, great looks, a cool persona, and more sun than most of us will ever see in a lifetime. And now you’re telling us they’ve also got a world-beating IQ? We don’t wanna moan and say that life isn’t fair, but clearly life isn’t fair.

The cause of high Italian IQs is as mysterious to us as it is to you. Going on a long Google search mainly turned up blogs with names like “race realist” and “not politically correct” so we decided it’d probably be more fun – not to mention informative – for all of us if we just cracked some light-hearted jokes about pasta and pizza, while secretly wishing we were Italian. Or we could, y’know, point back at Italy’s long, illustrious past as the seat of the Roman Empire, a multi-nation state that made staggering scientific and engineering advances at a rate usually reserved for countries in the grip of the industrial revolution, while also producing art and literature that would still stand up some 2,000 years later, but where would be the fun in that?

5. Taiwan (average IQ: 104)

So, this is a little controversial. We’ve included Taiwan on this list of countries, while excluding Hong Kong, despite the international community recognizing both as part of China. Well, it’s true that Taipei doesn’t have a seat at the UN and isn’t included on any other official list of countries. But it’s also completely self-governing, calls itself separate from China, and functions like a totally independent state, so we’re including it here. And that’s just as well, because Taiwan’s average IQ is enough to leave other countries eating its dust.

Founded after Chairman Mao’s victorious forces chased his enemies off the Chinese mainland at the conclusion of the Chinese civil war, Taiwan today is a prosperous, forward-thinking nation that also just happens to look darn fine in a picture. You better believe Taipei uses that prosperity to invest in its young. A 2015 study by the OECD comparing data from 76 studies placed Taiwan’s education at 4th best in the entire world (in case you’re wondering, the USA came in at a mildly-embarrassing 28th). Gee, it’s almost like an intelligent population might somehow be linked to investing heavily in your education system.

4. China (average IQ: 105)

If any Taiwanese readers were hoping to beat out their old nemesis in these rankings, we’ve got some bad news. The original study this article was based on had mainland China just edging out its breakaway state, with an average IQ of 105 compared to Taiwan’s 104. Ouch. Well, them are the breaks, Taipei. At least you guys can comfort yourself at night with your functioning democratic system.

Actually what’s driving China’s high score is unfortunately hard to say. Beijing is notoriously uncooperative about divulging actual, useful data relating to a lot of fields, and the OECD education rankings just miss China entirely. Still, China certainly has its fair share of very smart people. The Middle Kingdom is competing with and outperforming the US in key technological sectors, and much of the most interesting cutting edge tech is now coming with a ‘made in China’ stamp.

On the other hand, China is also notorious for grade inflation and handing out junk degrees from its universities, so we’re not really sure what this tells us. Except, perhaps, for reinforcing our introductory point about the IQ study this article is based on being more a guideline than the last word on the subject.

3. Japan (average IQ: 105)

Still in Asia, the next country on our list is one famous for technology, cuteness, and generally doing so many things in such a weird way that it fueled basically 90% of early internet memes. Yep, Japan is another world leader in the being really, ridiculously smart stakes, romping home with an average IQ score of 105. That’s over 100 times the intelligence of the average person you’ll find dynamite fishing, kids!

We’re all familiar with the Japanese stereotypes: absurdly hard-working, absurdly dedicated to their jobs, and absurdly stressed out by their high pressure schooling. But, hey, it seems to be working. In that 2015 study we told you about earlier, the OECD ranked Japan joint 4th with Taiwan for education, where math and science were concerned. Countries 3rd, 2nd, and 1st were… well. You’ll be finding that out as you keep on reading.

Given their great education system and general braininess, it’s perhaps no surprise that Japan spent decades at the forefront of technological change. For a long, long time, everything exciting and important was coming out of Tokyo.

2. South Korea (average IQ: 106)

Did you know South Korea comes 3rd in global education rankings? Well: surprise! And get used to these references, by the way, because from here on out, all countries are ones that are going at the education rankings like gangbusters. The democratic brother of despotic North Korea, South Korea is a hi-tech paradise, with world-beating internet, widespread use of smartphones, and all other things that point to an entire industry of clever people doing clever things to collectively make the world a cleverer place. And all this in a country that manages to cram more than 51 million people into a place smaller than Iceland (pop: 334,252).

Of course, a lot of South Korea’s intelligence wins likely come from it being a wealthy country with a sterling education system. Not that it was always this way. Back in the dark ages of the mid-20th century, Pyongyang was actually richer than its southern neighbor by a significant margin. North Korea was blessed with the monetary backing of the Soviets, and had a huge amount of mineral wealth. South Korea, by contrast, had to transform itself through sheer brute willpower alone. Even ignoring the IQ scores, we guess it paid off.

1. Singapore (average IQ:108)

When Singapore declared independence from Malaysia in 1965, it was one of the poorest states in the world. Literacy was at third world levels. Not a desirable start for a country that wanted to be a world leader in education, attainment, and wealth. Yet, somehow, Singapore managed to pull it off. From being a tiny island with no natural resources, its exceptionally long-serving leader Lee Kuan Yew managed to turn his home into a global powerhouse. In doing so, he raised the education level of Singaporeans so high that they cruised to an easy first place in these very rankings.

According to the OECD, Singapore has the single greatest education system in the world. The only other territory that hits the same level on the IQ rankings is Hong Kong, but since that ain’t a country, it doesn’t get a spot on this list! The city state – one of only three left in existence – is also home to fantastic infrastructure and cleanliness that is so strictly enforced you can get publicly caned just for chewing gum. Whether that’s worth it just to live surrounded by a country of brainboxes is another matter entirely.


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