10 Weirdest News Stories of 2013

2013 was a veritable bonanza of weird news. Michael Greenberg/Photodisc/Thinkstock

If you're looking for big news stories of 2013 -- the budget crisis, the Obamacare launch, the rebellion in Syria, the new pope, Miley Cyrus -- you've come to the wrong place. Yes, there's a place to recap the important stories of the year, but this isn't it. We're here to celebrate the bizarre, the surprising and the groan-inducing.

From the president of a South American country who sees the spirit of his predecessor in drywall, to the cops who handed out Doritos to stoned citizens, we think we have some of the stranger news stories of the year covered. So read on for true stories about yetis -- and to make sure you're up to date on the laws of mammal urine.

Rob Ford Lands in the News, Repeatedly
This special council meeting on Nov. 18, 2013, at Toronto City Hall seemed to be just one of many photo ops for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. © Aaron Harris/Reuters/Corbis

You could argue that Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, gleefully took the trophy for 2013's weirdest news story, put it on public display and proceeded to embellish it with sparkles and ribbons. It's not just that he was accused of smoking crack. It's that he had to ruefully admit it after the police let everyone know that they had a video of it [source: Visser et al.]. And that he did so in a drunken stupor. And that he bought illegal drugs while mayor. Then there was the bizarre, ranting video that the Toronto Star published that made Ford look like a sweaty Chris Farley "Saturday Night Live" skit [source: Armstrong].

After that, he forcefully -- and graphically -- denied making sexual comments to a female staffer in front of reporters [source: Ohlheiser]. As the din rises for Ford to step down (and power is stripped from him), Ford still insists he'll stay mayor, and is happy to make public appearances and interviews. Even better, he and his brother launched their own current events program on Canadian television, which was canceled after one episode [source: BBC]. There's no reason to think that 2014 won't be another banner year for Mayor Ford.

Breaking Good
Say hello to the world's fastest man on four legs, a title that Kenichi Ito of Japan attained on Nov. 14, 2013. Ito looks to the African patas monkey for inspiration on his running style. © Yuya Shino/Reuters/Corbis

If you're often scanning the headlines for weird news stories, Nov. 14 was your special day. Maybe you noticed the story that 325 people in London gathered, dressed as penguins. Or that the world's longest knitted scarf (4,565.46 meters or 2.84 miles) was unfurled in Oslo. Or that a Harlem Globetrotter finally beat the record for longest basketball shot, at more than 109 feet 9 inches (33.45 meters). What magical day both brought you a story about an underwater sword swallower and introduced you to the owner of the world's largest pizza box collection (595!)?

It's Guinness World Records Day, of course -- the ninth annual event where bizarrely talented (or just plain obsessive) men and women come together to get their names in the (literal) record books [source: Guinness World Records]. So along with the aforementioned activities, you should also know that 2013 brought the record for the most hula hoops spun simultaneously (264!), most darts caught by the hand in one minute (16!) and fastest 100 meters run on all fours by a human (16.87 seconds!) [source: Guinness World Records].

Don't Feed the Yetis
You can see pictures of the abominable snowman and his cryptozoological buddies all over the place, but DNA samples are a little harder to come by. Simon Oxley/Thinkstock/iStock

Rule: If a news item can legitimately discuss the abominable snowman as a matter of fact, it deserves to be on a list of weird stories. And in October 2013, an Oxford geneticist was able to bring a little evidence to the myth of the yeti. Curious about what people were actually seeing when they claimed a yeti, Sasquatch or abominable snowman sighting, scientist Bryan Sykes asked for hair or tissue samples that true believers had collected from their supposed spotting.

He found something interesting: two samples -- one from Bhutan and one from India -- matched the genetic blueprint of an Arctic polar bear up to 120,000 years old [source: Than]. While some of us are bursting with excitement to know that a species of ancient polar bear might be wandering the Himalayas, other scientists were quick to counsel caution. For one, many animals share DNA, so it's hard to say they're a total match even if a certain sequence of DNA is identical. They also point out that the sample -- two hairs -- is pretty paltry.

Invest in Live Stock
Arian Foster in action against the 49ers on Oct. 6, 2013, before the human IPO that never was. © Damon Tarver/ZUMA Press/Corbis

A few times a year, we seem to come across a news story that isn't just weird: It makes us question the direction the world is heading in, and if we can jump ship. This year, the story that made me want to lie on the floor and drink whiskey from a straw was the public unveiling of Fantex. This startup planned to create stocks based on professional athletes' performances, where a potential investor could buy and trade based on the future earnings of the athlete. Essentially, you can buy and sell stock in a rich human being to increase their worth or destroy them.

The first athlete to sign up was Houston Texan's running back Arian Foster. He would receive $10 million from Fantex and would then give them 20 percent of his earnings in the future. That sounds insane enough for athletes and investors. First of all, getting a pile of money in exchange for siphoning away future earnings seems like a risky financial plan for a professional athlete. And let's not forget that if, say, Foster finds out he has a sore knee he'd better be careful about who he tells, lest insider trading issues arise [source: Lattman and Eder].

Lo and behold, after a terrible injury in November 2013, Arian Foster had to undergo surgery that kept him out for the season. Fantex was forced to postpone the initial public offering [source: Kim].

Urine Time for Science
According to the new law of urination, it likely took the elephant only about 20 seconds to accomplish that great voiding of the bladder. derejeb/iStock/Thinkstock

2013 will no doubt be remembered as the year that we discovered a magnificent, fascinating truth about the animal kingdom:

All mammals pee for 20 seconds.

Give or take. What David Hu -- a mechanical engineering professor at Georgia Institute of Technology -- actually found was that mammals that weigh more than 2.2 pounds (or 1 kilogram) all pee for roughly the same duration.

Why, you might ask, wouldn't an elephant take more time than a dog? It has to do with the flow rate and even the size of the urethra [source: Arnold]. And there's A LOT of pee coming from an elephant, several bathtubs' worth, according to Hu [source: Arnold].

All kidding aside, this research can help contribute to research about prostate problems or help veterinarians troubleshoot issues with an animal's urinary tract.

Seattle Cops Hand Out Munchies
The Seattle Police Department handed out Doritos at Seattle's 2013 Hempfest that were tasty and informative. © Matt Mills McKnight/Reuters/Corbis

When Washington state voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, the Seattle Police Department decided to start an information campaign about the new law -- and made it a publicity boon. But where to find hundreds of thousands of pot supporters, and how to appeal to them?

Lucky for them, Seattle hosts an annual Hempfest where 250,000 revelers celebrate cannabis. And instead of handing out boring informational leaflets, the SPD hit upon a much more satisfying idea: hand out bags of Doritos, pasted with a sticker that elucidates the law [source: Young].

Yup, the SPD handed out munchies to the stoned masses. They also referred to the project as "Operation Orange Fingers" and tweeted official announcements like, "Please ignore maliciously false reports that we're giving out Bugles at @seattlehempfest. We would never, ever do that" [source: Young].

New Venezuelan President 'Sees' Chavez Everywhere
Yep, Chavez does kind of seem to be everywhere you go, Mr. President. Maduro (L) is talking with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega (R) in this June 30, 2013, pic while Chavez looks on from the picture above. © Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters/Corbis

No one can accuse Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of being disloyal. Or unsentimental. After his predecessor Hugo Chavez died in 2013, Maduro claims that a "little bird" told him he should lead the country.

This wasn't just a euphemism for a political adviser. Maduro claims that when he went to pray after the late president's death, a small bird entered the chapel and sang. The bird circled him and whistled, and right then Maduro knew it was Chavez's spirit telling them to lead the charge [source: Carrero].

Even better, Chavez didn't give Maduro just one "Chicken Soup for the Soul" moment. Workers building a new subway line in Caracas claimed that they found a ghostly replica of Chavez in the plaster of the construction. Maduro quickly held a press conference to tell the county that Chavez "is everywhere" [source: Cawthorne]. Unfortunately, the image seemed to disappear right after workers took a cell phone picture. We'll just have to wait and see where Chavez turns up next in 2014.

Alligator Fears
I've got a flight to catch! Lloyd Luecke/iStock/Thinkstock

The initial story was bizarre enough: Airport workers at O'Hare in Chicago found an alligator wandering around Baggage Claim 3 in the early hours of a November morning. The small alligator (about 2 feet, or 0.6 meters, long) appeared undernourished and sickly to the Chicago Herpetological Society, which assumed custody of the alligator after the cops declined to charge it with the crime of inciting a million "alligator bag" jokes.

But this gator's story didn't stop there. Authorities turned to the Chicago Transit Authority's vast network of 3,600 cameras, and found one lead. At about 1 a.m. on the morning the alligator was later found, they have footage of a woman getting on at a stop, alligator in her arms as she chatted on her phone. (Another rider confirmed that a woman got on with the alligator and let people take pictures of her little friend.) The presumption is that the animal managed to get away from her at the airport -- she seemed too fond of it to be guilty of abandonment [sources: Associated Press, Mungin].

Lesus Be
The Vatican issues all sorts of commemorative memorabilia, but occasionally they make mistakes, too. Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

If you're a true believer, you might be under the assumption that the Roman Catholic Church is infallible. At the very least, you're asked to believe that the pope's declarations are beyond reproach. But a fantastic news story in 2013 showed that the Vatican was just as capable of mistakes as the rest of the flock.

When a new pope is elected, a new coin is minted as a collector's item. It provides revenue to the Vatican and is generally a nifty keepsake from your trip to Rome. Unfortunately, this coin proved all too special -- it contained a typo. And not just incorrectly conjugated Latin: This coin accidentally misspelled Jesus' name.

In its place was the word "Lesus," which sounds like some sort of Potter-esque Parseltongue translation. Six thousand coins were withdrawn. If you managed to get the misspelled version, you're in luck: The erroneous coin could be worth a ton of money to a collector [source: BBC].

Tweeter? They Hardly Knew 'Er.
Twitter made its much-anticipated debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 7, 2013. Tweeter, on the other hand, is a defunct electronics store. Don't get 'em confused. Павел Игнатов/iStock/Thinkstock

Tweeter is an electronics company that filed for bankruptcy in 2007. Twitter is the social media site that was valued at $17 billion for its initial public offering [source: Blodget]. If you find yourself getting them confused, let's hope it's in everyday conversation, and not when you're buying shares of the stock.

That's what exactly what happened in early October when Twitter was set to make its public debut on the stock exchange. Apparently, some investors got so excited for Twitter's pending arrival that they saw "Tweeter" and went for it. The stock price rose more than 1,000 percent, as it went from under a penny a share to 15 cents a share in one day. More than 11.7 million shares of the firm were traded Oct. 4. Keep in mind that the day they discussed filing for bankruptcy, about 13.1 million shares were traded [source: Mikolajczak].

Alas, if you did accidentally invest in Tweeter, you probably were disappointed to see that, within a few days, Tweeter stock symbol -- TWTRQ -- was changed to THEGQ to combat confusion. (That Q indicates bankruptcy proceedings.) And with that, the stock nosedived back to less than a cent per share [source: Schaefer].

How can 2013 be topped for weird news? Will Rob Ford recommit himself to politics or start dabbling in hallucinogenics? Will I buy stock in football players based solely on the merits of their touchdown dances? Will we see another alligator in Baggage Claim 3, or will we have to settle for an apparition of Hugo Chavez? Only Lesus knows for sure.


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Author's Note: 10 Weirdest News Stories of 2013

In a year that brought us headlines like the Edward Snowden scandal, the attack on a mall in Kenya, the Boston Marathon bombing and a horrific typhoon in the Philippines, it's nice to remember that there were some news stories worth laughing over.

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  • Armstrong, James. "'I was very, very inebriated': Video shows Rob Ford in apparent rage." Global News. Nov. 7, 2013. (Nov. 20, 2013) http://globalnews.ca/news/952684/new-video-surfaces-of-rob-ford-in-apparent-rage/
  • Arnold, Carrie. "New Law of Urination." National Geographic. Oct. 23, 2013. (Nov. 20, 2013) http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/23/new-law-of-urination-mammals-take-21-seconds-to-pee/
  • Associated Press. "Images show woman on Chicago train with alligator." ABC News. Nov. 13, 2013. (Nov. 20, 2013) http://abcnews.go.com/Weird/wireStory/images-show-woman-chicago-train-alligator-20874286
  • BBC. "Toronto mayor Rob Ford loses more powers." BBC. Nov. 19, 2013. (Nov. 20, 2013) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24990650
  • BBC. "Vatican pulls papal medal which misspelt name of Jesus." BBC. Oct. 11, 2013. (Nov. 20, 2013) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24489512
  • Blodget, Henry. "If you think Twitter's IPO price is silly, you don't get it." Business Insider. Nov. 6, 2013. (Nov. 20, 2013) http://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-twitter-worth-2013-11
  • Carrero, Jacquellena. "Acting president Maduro says Hugo Chaves appeared to him as a little bird." NBC. April 3, 2013. (Nov. 20, 2013) http://nbclatino.com/2013/04/03/acting-president-maduro-says-hugo-chavez-appeared-to-him-as-a-little-bird/
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  • Ferro, Shaunacy. "How fast does an elephant pee?" Popular Science. Oct. 18, 2013. (Nov. 20, 2013) http://www.popsci.com/article/science/how-fast-does-elephant-pee
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  • Mungin, Lateef. "Officials: This woman may know why alligator was found at Chicago's O'Hare." CNN. Nov. 13, 2013. (Dec. 3, 2013) http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/13/us/chicago-alligator-airport/
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