Pop Quiz: Urban Legends
It's time once again to rip you out of the comfort of wherever you are, and stick you on the hot seat, and force you to take our occasional quiz. This week's topic is urban legends. Consider yourself the expert, do you? Familiar with all the Skeptoid episodes, are you? Here are 10 questions to test your expertise not just on the urban legends themselves, but on the general science literacy that underpins your ability to evaluate them critically. Are you ready?
It's spawned books and movies. This most incredible of all naval experiments supposedly tried to take a Navy warship in 1943, the USS Eldridge, and make it physically invisible, and even instantly transport itself hundreds of miles; unfortunately with disastrous results, with some sailors re-materialized inside the ship's decks and bulkheads, and others with lifelong disabilities. But that's the fictional urban legend version. What did the actual Philadelphia Experiment try to accomplish?
The famous urban legend of the mysterious arcade game called Polybius tells of teenaged players who were driven to either insanity or to suicide — with all their personal information transmitted to government agents. Supposedly, it happened in Portland, Oregon in 1981. Which one of the following three statements is not true?
In 1975, a family spent just under a month in a house in Amityville, Long Island. Their stay was to become a foundation of American urban legendry. For, upon publication of the book The Amityville Horror, it turns out their month was among the most terrifying hauntings anyone ever endured. Which character from the book was fictional?
In 1933, a couple exploring the Anza-Borrego desert of southern California crossed paths with a dying prospector who swore he'd seen the bow of a Viking longship protruding from the side of a canyon — which would have put it in sediment that was at least 2.5 million years old. However, in past centuries, it would indeed have been possible for a ship to sail from the Sea of Cortez up into what is now southern California. Onto what ancient lake would it have sailed?
A popular story tells that in 1855 in Devon county, England, a track of footprints 100 miles long appeared in the snow overnight. The tracks went through walls, through pipes too small for a person to fit, and across bodies of water. It was quickly and widely reported that the devil himself had walked through Devon county that night. What did the footprints look like?
The most famous urban legend from the theater world is that of "the Scottish play", Macbeth, whose name you're not even supposed to utter. Supposedly actors die or get injured, or other tragedies happen, whenever the cursed play is performed. Which of the following is true of the curse of Macbeth?
We've all heard that messages flashed onto a movie screen so fast you can't perceive them will make you want to go out and buy a Coke, and this is still taught today in college advertising classes. The 1974 book Subliminal Seduction was based largely on the results of one groundbreaking study performed at a movie theater in New Jersey by market research consultant James Vicary. Vicary flashed subliminal messages lasting .003 seconds onto the movie screen advising people to go out and buy Coke and popcorn. What were the results of this study?
Unless you've spent your whole life living under a rock, you've heard that animals have some extra sense that warns them when an earthquake is coming. According to our latest science, about how long before an earthquake can some animals predict it?
As long as authors have been writing about the Australian outback, they've told tales of the Min Min Light, a mysterious ghost light dancing about in the distance, luring travelers to their doom. This particular light has finally been conclusively solved as a type of mirage, making an actual light that's not within any direct line of sight visible to the observer. What type of optical phenomenon is it?
John Wayne's death from cancer in 1979 is often said to be the result of radiation poisoning suffered on the set of the movie The Conqueror in 1954, filmed on location near St. George, Utah, just downwind of the Nevada Test Site in the days of atomic testing. Nearly $2 billion have been paid out to residents of St. George as compensation for various cancers. Decades later, with our vastly improved data, we now know that it would have been risky to be in that downwind area for how long after an atomic test?
So how did you do? Tweet me your score, at @BrianDunning. If you got all 10 right, then you are indeed an expert on urban legends and the science behind them — a prideful thing indeed.
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