Dear Sir, I Have $1 Million For You….

On the surface, it seems too incredible to actually be a fraud. There is the barest hint of the possibility of truth, that you find yourself thinking, "Maybe I really am a distant relative to a Nigerian prince, and this is my big chance to strike it rich." If you start to follow that line... Continue Reading →


The Time Virginia Woolf Scammed the British Navy

  The pride and joy of the British Navy was the HMS Dreadnought, its most powerful battleship. That's why, despite the last-minute notice, the ship's commander was only too happy to accommodate a tour for the Prince of Abyssinia and his entourage. The date of February 7, 1910. The sailors of the Dreadnought were dressed in... Continue Reading →

The President’s Finger on the Button: Disaster, Dessert, or POTUS Pranks?

Hollywood has immortalized the image of the fate of the world resting on a shiny red button on the desk of the President of the United States. With a single press of that button, life as we know it would come to a brutal, inglorious end. It makes for good fiction, but that just isn't... Continue Reading →

The Weird, Wonderful Ways of the Nacirema People

In  1956 anthropologist Horace Miner reported his findings of a study of a strange, curious grooming techniques of a group of people from Nacirema, a territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles. Among Miner's observations about this singular culture are the following: Each home tends to have at least one central shrine where... Continue Reading →

Horrendous Fraud or Major Dentistry Breakthrough? The Curious Case of the Gold-Toothed Boy

When Dr. Jakob Horst heard the reports of the 7-year-old boy with the gold tooth, he wasted no time getting there to investigate. The year was 1593. In the village of Weigelsdorf (today Ostrowiec), a community in Silesia, at the southwestern border of today’s Poland, a boy by the name of Christoph Müller attracted the attention of people... Continue Reading →

I Hope They Had Time for Their Studies

    College students have long been known to be among the most loyal customers of fast-food restaurants. In 1975 the students of Caltech combined their love of burgers with their scientific and engineering training.  The occasion was a sweepstakes sponsored by 187 McDonald's restaurants in Southern California. Participants were drawn by prizes that included... Continue Reading →

Cleaning Up in Real Estate — the Con Man’s Way

Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava (1912-2009), also known as "Natwarlal," was a noted Indian con man who repeatedly sold the Taj Mahal; the Red Fort; the Indian presidential residence, Rashtrapati Bhavan; and the Parliament House of India along with its 545 sitting members. Wanted in over 100 cases at the time of his death, he had been... Continue Reading →

Forget the Brooklyn Bridge… I Have a Whole Country to Sell You!

One of the most successful con men of all time was the Scotsman Gregor MacGregor (1786-1845). Among his most successful and notorious scams was to encourage investment in the fictional country of Poyais. Allegedly located near modern-day Honduras, Poyais was held out to be rich in natural resources but short on cash to develop them.... Continue Reading →

Revenge of the Nerds

MIT students derive great pleasure from tormenting their rivals at Harvard. Our favorite prank of theirs occurred during the 1982 Harvard-Yale football game when a weather balloon emblazoned with the letters “MIT” began emerging from the ground near the 50-yard line. In the preceding days, a group of MIT students snuck into Harvard Stadium and... Continue Reading →

Man in the Moon? Maybe… But Two-Legged Beavers?

New York City newspaper The Sun printed a series of six articles in 1835 about the discovery of civilization on the moon. The articles claimed that a British astronomer named John Herschel had used a powerful new telescope to spot plants, unicorns, bipedal beavers, and winged humans there. The articles even went a step further,... Continue Reading →

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