Stock prices, political unrests, crime reports and unemployment numbers: There were plenty of serious news headlines to grab our attention in 2011. Fortunately, there were a few lighthearted ones, too.
From rock stars' scrawls being studied like cave paintings to real-life superheroes who made a mess out of fighting crime, we invite you to join us as we recap 10 of the wackiest stories that popped up on Web sites, got shared on Twitter and Facebook, filled up the last 30 seconds of the nightly news or attracted attention at the newsstand. (But not via tabloids, which we decided to exclude from the running. Those would've made for a whole different article.)
It all starts on the next page with the story of a stray cat that helped raise thousands of dollars -- thanks to his unusual toes.
Twenty-six-toed Cat Rescues Animal Shelter
When Milwaukee Animal Rescue learned its rent would double, the news nearly spelled disaster for this nonprofit in Greendale, Wis. Soon, however, an unclaimed pet that the shelter had saved from being euthanized stepped in to perform a rescue of his own.
Daniel, an orange-and-white striped, mixed breed cat, has a physical feature so unique that he came to symbolize the special companionship that rescued animals can offer -- and it helped raise thousands of dollars for the shelter he calls home. Daniel has 26 toes instead of the 18 that most cats sport. The two extra digits on each paw are a genetic mutation known as polydactylism.
Although Daniel doesn't have enough toes to claw his way into the record books (the world record–holding cat has 28 toes), he has caught plenty of $26 donations from admirers. Within six weeks of adopting Daniel in October 2011, the Milwaukee Animal Rescue received a total of $80,000 in public contributions, enough to consider purchasing a building to house, in part, its permanent 26-toed mascot: Daniel [source: Antlfinger].
Highway Temporarily Covered in Bees
Like many of the roadways that form the transportation lifeline across the U.S., the portion of Interstate 15 near Salt Lake City is occasionally the site of road-improvement projects. On Oct. 25, 2011, however, one stretch of I-15 was repaved in an unexpected way.
A truck moving millions of bees ran into trouble when its driver failed to successfully navigate a construction zone. The truck hit a barrier and overturned, causing the 450 bee colonies it carried to topple over, too. Although the hives were held in with netting, an estimated 20 million bees escaped and covered the Interstate, which led to a traffic standstill -- at least for a few hours [source: Nelson].
While about 20 local beekeepers scrambled to help round up the bees, two responding law enforcement officers and the truck's driver were treated for bee stings. No word on when the sting of losing their homes wore off for the bees.
Archeologists Examine Punk Rock Pioneers' Drawings
When researchers feel compelled to include a disclaimer that their study isn't a joke, it's got to be good, right?
A report published in a 2011 edition of the journal "Antiquity" chronicles the archeological study of drawings found in a London flat once occupied by The Sex Pistols, considered by many to be punk rock pioneers. The band's members and their inner circle scrawled graffiti on the apartment's walls during the 1970s.
The drawings have remained remarkably well-preserved, allowing archeologists to study them as they would ancient cave drawings created by prehistoric people. Unlike cave sketches of antelope herds, however, these punk rock drawings include anti-authority slogans and other images that have come to be associated with punk rock, such as reversed swastikas. Researchers contend that the apartment and its drawings should be preserved because the art provides insight into the emergence of punk rock culture [source: Vergano].
Dog Food Ads Launched for Canine Customers
In 2011, dog-friendly TV ads hit the small screen in Austria. The ads emitted three high-pitched sounds -- a squeak, a solid tone and a ping -- that were designed to appeal to dogs. The ads also, for the sake of any humans watching, included words and images that symbolized the bond between humans and dogs and, of course, encouraged dog owners to purchase this particular brand of dog food.
Although there's no conclusive word on whether the combination of specially toned squeaks and pings had an effect on dog food sales, the 23-second ads were certainly novel. The brainchild of dog-food maker Nestle, the TV campaign followed a promotion built around scented posters designed to attract dogs to the company's Beneful brand [source: Nestle].
Real-life Superheroes Thwart Criminals (Sometimes)
There are many accounts of real-life people having secret identities, but few have gotten more publicity in 2011 than one mild-mannered Seattle man and his superhero alter-ego.
Ben Fodor, a father and husband who spends his days working with autistic children and his nights as the yellow-and-black clad superhero Phoenix Jones, was unmasked in October 2011 after allegedly squirting two separate groups of people with pepper spray in a single night. Fodor was arrested on four counts of assault stemming from those incidents after police received complaints from some of the people who were sprayed. They claimed that they weren't causing trouble, but were simply dancing and partying, when Fodor arrived on the scene.
Fodor is a member of the Rain City Superhero Movement, a group of self-professed crime fighters that includes his wife and fellow advocate for justice, PurpleReign. His efforts aren't always off-base, though. Before the pepper spray incident, Fodor was credited with preventing a carjacking [source: Martin].
Sugar Plum Fairy Fired for Foul Mouth
There are a few things you can count on in St. Charles, Mo., and one of them is the Main Street Christmas Traditions festival. For five years, Laura Coppinger has portrayed the Sugar Plum Fairy during the event. However, her job disappeared with the flush of a toilet. Literally.
Before the 2011 holiday season began, Coppinger was in the middle of taking a mandatory drug test -- something required of all the Christmas Traditions folks, from the Sugar Plum Fairy to the Big Man himself. Coppinger accidentally flushed the toilet before the test could be completed and spontaneously uttered an expletive that violated the Christmas Traditions Code of Conduct.
The code, which contends that "Christmas characters don't know naughty words," put the Sugar Plum Fairy out on her wings. Despite a "Save the Sugar Plum Fairy" Facebook campaign, Coppinger wasn't rehired as of the publication of this article [source: Rudin].
Mayor Poses as Journalist to Report Happy News
Freelance journalism jobs are known for their long hours and low pay, so the idea that someone would fake a reporting gig probably didn't cross the minds of those vetting potential contributors at West Valley City newspapers. Perhaps that's why the city's mayor was able to pose as a reporter eager to write about the area's upbeat news.
In 2011, Mayor Mike Winder took the promotion of West Valley City, Utah, to a whole new level when he created the alias Richard Burwash, set up a false Facebook page and e-mail address under the name, and began communicating with editors. He even contributed a series of buoyant articles under his assumed byline and sometimes quoted himself (his actual, mayoral self, that is) in the articles. Winder eventually decided to come clean when he embarked on a bid for a higher office [source: Foy].
Scientists Discover Diamond 'Planet'
As it turns out, there is indeed a diamond too large to make an appearance on "Pawn Stars" and too heavy to be cut and polished for a pendant necklace that will eventually fall into the hands of celebrity royals.
In August 2011, astronomers discovered a celestial body that's essentially a giant gemstone orbiting a nearby star. Scientists suspect the 'planet' is actually the remains of a star whose gasses fused, during its high-pressure, super-heated death, into crystallized carbon -- otherwise known as diamond. It also probably contains lesser amounts of oxygen near its surface. (Learn more about How a Supernova Works.)
Kisses Prompt Enclosure of Wilde's Grave
Dublin native Oscar Wilde, author of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "The Importance of Being Earnest," had been buried in a Paris cemetery for 111 years as of December 2011. However, a new ban caused admirers who made graveside pilgrimages to purse their lips in vain.
For decades, Wilde's fans had been applying lipstick and then kissing the grave's marker in homage. At the behest of Wilde's descendants, and in a project partially funded by the Irish government, all the lipstick was removed from the gravestone and it was surrounded by glass for good measure. The gravestone was previously cleared of graffiti in the early 1990s when it was named a historical monument [source: Jakubek].
Convict Sues Hostages for Breach of Contract
In 2011, a convict sued his former hostages for $235,000. According to the lawsuit, when fugitive murder suspect Jesse Dimmick broke into a newlywed couple's Kansas home in 2009, the couple promised to accept money from him in exchange for hiding him from the authorities who he claimed were actively giving him chase. After eating Cheetos, drinking Dr. Pepper and watching a movie, Dimmick fell asleep. At which point the couple made a hasty exit and contacted police.
Dimmick, who is representing himself in court, contends the couple reneged on the oral contract they allegedly made with him, so he's asking for money to cover his medical bills and other expenses. (Dimmick required treatment after an officer's firearm accidentally discharged during his capture and shot him in the back.) As of Nov. 28, 2011, the couple he held hostage had filed a motion to have the claim dismissed [source: Hrenchir].
Sociologist Arthur B. Shostak thinks stories of hope hold a critical place amid the teachings of the Holocaust. HowStuffWorks talked to Shostak to learn more.
- Antlfinger, Carrie. "Cat's 26 Toes Help Boost Milwaukee Animal Shelter." Dec. 9, 2011. (Dec. 13, 2011) Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/news/article/Cat-s-26-toes-help-boost-Milwaukee-animal-shelter-2391294.php
- Flock, Elizabeth. "Phoenix Jones, Real-Life Superhero, Unmasked in Court." Oct. 14, 2011. (Dec. 9, 2011) The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/phoenix-jones-real-life-seattle-superherounmasked-in-court/2011/10/14/gIQA9X0ijL_blog.html
- Foy, Paul. "Utah Mayor Used Alias to Write Upbeat News Stories." Nov. 11, 2011. (Dec. 10, 2011) Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/news/article/Utah-mayor-used-alias-to-write-upbeat-news-stories-2264370.php
- Hirschler, Ben. "Astronomers Discover Planet Made of Diamonds." Aug. 26, 2011. (Dec. 10, 2011) Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/26/us-planet-diamond-idUSTRE77O69A20110826
- Hrenchir, Tim. "Dimmick Sues Couple He Kidnapped." Nov. 28, 2011. (Dec. 9, 2011) Topeka Capital-Journal. http://cjonline.com/news/2011-11-28/dimmick-sues-couple-he-kidnapped#.TufvnWBrVJE
- Jakubek, Anna Maria. "Paris Cleans Lipstick Off Oscar Wilde Grave." Dec. 1, 2011. (Dec. 10, 2011) Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/01/us-france-wilde-idUSTRE7B00LJ20111201
- Martin, Jonathan. "Despite Arrest, Seattle Superhero Vows to Fight On." The Seattle Times. Oct. 13, 2011. (Dec. 15, 2011) http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016498236_phoenixjones14m.html
- Nelson, James. "Millions of Escaped Bees Shut Down Highway." Oct. 25, 2011. (Dec. 12, 2011) Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/25/us-bees-utah-odd-idUSTRE79O46A20111025
- Nestle. "Nestle Purina Launches TV Commercial to Capture Dogs' Attention." Sept. 30, 2011. (Dec. 10, 2011) http://www.nestle.com/Media/NewsAndFeatures/Pages/nestle_Purina_launches_TV_commercial_capture_dogs_attention.aspx
- Reuters. "Nestle Ad First to Pitch at Canine Customers." Sept. 30, 2011. (Dec. 9, 2011) http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/30/us-nestle-dogs-idUSTRE78T34A20110930
- Rudin, Ann. "Sugar Plum Fairy Fired in Missouri for Cursing." Nov. 14, 2011. (Dec. 10, 2011) USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/story/2011-11-14/sugar-plum-fairy-fired/51199386/1
- Vergano, Dan. "Never Mind the Archeologists: Here's The Sex Pistols." Nov. 22, 2011. (Dec. 10, 2011) USA Today. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2011/11/never-mind-the-archeologists-heres-the-sex-pistols/1