Why the Hot Duck of Central Park went so viral

There’s nothing unusual about seeing a duck paddling around the ponds of Central Park–or any pond, lake or stream. But one duck has caught the attention of Gotham and the world.

Check out the video:

OK, that is one spectacular duck, and it’s nice to see a weird news story that doesn’t involve Darwin Award winners or Florida Man.

So why did this story spread so far and wide?

Amazing images drive coverage 

The shots are amazing. It’s far, far easier to get media coverage when the visuals rock–and a lot tougher when you have zero visuals.

TV stations live and die on good visuals. And this duck makes for great shots. 

Once you get TV coverage, that drives newspaper, radio and web stories, too.

Plus it’s a lot easier to share a story that has all kinds of videos on YouTube already, whether shot by an NYC station or amateurs using their iPhones.

Mysteries make people curious and give a story legs

Nobody knows how the Hot Duck got to Central Park in the first place. This species of duck isn’t native. It should be halfway around the world in Japan, where these ducks are common.

Was it a pet somebody let go or an escapee from a zoo?

How far could a duck fly, if it wanted to?

Another mystery happened when the Hot Duck disappeared. Did it get eaten, trapped, run over by a car or sucked into the engine of a Boeing 787? People care about this duck now, and they got worried.

Turns out the duck took a side trip. Maybe he went on vacation.

Then when he returned, that was a big happy story, too.

Unlikely animal friendships are always a good story

The Hot Duck has good manners, making friends with the local ducks and some of his biggest human fans.

If he was a loner, or a jerk, this story wouldn’t have legs. People would root for the evil show-off duck to beat it.

His good manners make you root for the Hot Duck, to hope he keeps on making friends and thriving.

It’s just a sweet little story that makes people smile. Kind of like red pandas, genetically engineered by mad scientists to be the most heart-melting animals ever.

P.S. If you’re interested, here are 21 facts about Mandarin Ducks.

Real geniuses dressing up as ninjas to rob gas stations

ninja

For some reason, criminal geniuses like to (a) dress up like ninjas when they (b) rob a gas station. There was a rash of trailer park ninjas robbing 7-Elevens in Florida, which is very on point for Florida.

Then a gas station robber in Utah used a Klingon sword, which is both bizarre and epic, since those things are ginormous and impossible to conceal. Even weirder: the clerk who got robbed knew the actual name of that Klingon sword-like object and told the cops how to spell it or whatever.

So what’s the hidden connection between gas stations and ninjas? Maybe the not-so-hidden fact that gas stations seems to decided they are ninja superstores, with a glass case full of $9 throwing stars, $16 nunchucks and ginormous fantasy knives with three blades or whatever. Maybe these criminal masterminds get the idea to rob the place at 2 a.m. when they’re in line at 6 p.m. to stock up on Mountain Dew, Cheeotos and insanely cheap weaponry.

Either way, this combination makes for a constant stream of weird news stories, a river that I promise you will never run dry. Because gas stations and retail stores get targeted so often, they all have cameras recording 24/7, which means there’s tons of footage.

P.S. The last clip might be my favorite. Though it’s cheating to dress like a ninja while using a gun, this dude dressed up like a NINJA TURTLE to rob a store. Can you top that? No. 

 

Weird news headline of the century: Don’t Mess With Nana–Grandma Mayor Shoots and Kills 580-pound Alligator to Avenge Death of Miniature Horse

texas grandma kills alligator avenging death of her miniature horse

This is the finest bit of weird news I’ve seen in forever, featuring a giant alligator, a missing miniature horse and other bizarre ingredients, all adding up to deliciously gonzo weird news.

Strangely, this story doesn’t happen in Florida, despite the monstrous alligator. 

And the woman who slayed the beast, Judy Cochran, is actually a great-grandmother and the new mayor of her town.

Here’s the setup: years after her miniature horse went missing three years ago. Prime suspect? This giant alligator.

Except you can only hunt alligators in a 20-day window in September, and this was a big, big beast.

So she called in a professional, who tried all sorts of baited hooks this Godzilla-thing ignored, including pork liver.

Here’s the first bit that gives me joy: The bait that actually worked was a “well-seasoned raccoon.”

Cochran was at work in city hall when the gator got hooked, so the pro had to keep the beast on the hook until she finished up the for the day, grabbed her rifle and avenged her miniature horse with a single shot.

The alligator won’t go to waste. It’s head and tail are headed to the taxidermist, while the hide will turn into boots and the meat will get eaten.

Not sure if you can barbeque gator or not. Guess we’ll find out.

 
 
 
 
 
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🚨GATOR ALERT🚨: The mayor of Livingston took down this 12-foot, 580-pound monster! 🐊(These pics are unbelievable!) #alligator #Livingston #bigteeth

A post shared by ABC13 Eyewitness News Houston (@abc13houston) on

Why the best weird news stories involve glorious karmic payback

If something really crazy happens, like the recent story from Georgia involving the heist of $98,000 worth of ramen noodles, then yeah, that’s weird news.

But it’s not the BEST kind of weird news, because that’s all there is to it.

If something crazy happens and it’s randomly tragic—say, lightning hits an innocent old man on his nightly walk with a faithful dog—that may be weird, and rare, but it’s not a good weird news story, either. Because it’s simply sad.

The very best weird news stories involve three separate ingredients: (1) somebody being a complete idiot in (2) a completely surprising and unusual way, with (3) karmic payback that’s on par with their special brand of idiocy.

Here are the major forms of Weird News Karmic Payback along with examples.

P.S. Warning: there’s bad language in these videos.

1) Pranks that backfire

A good-natured prank that works is funny. An evil prank that backfires is funny cubed.

2) Road ragers gets served

Most of us drive to work, which means we spend more time than we want dodging drivers who are texting, smoking, eating Big Macs or texting while smoking and eating a Big Mac.

Self preservation? Perfectly understandable. Road rage, where you use your car as a weapon, or get into a real fight? Not cool.

So when I see an example of a road rager getting the business, either from a cop or by karmic payback, it warms my heart.

3) Picking on a rare pupper, kitteh or wild animal

Animals are involved in weird news stories all the time. It’s unexpected for the world’s top predator to have the tables turned.

4) Bully gets a beatdown

This is a primal, powerful story. Bullies are everywhere, and we expect them to win.

The more a victim seems smaller, meeker or weaker, the better it is when they actually beat the bully.

5) Criminal stupidity leads to instant justice

Crime is bad enough. Being uniquely stupid while committing a crime? Better.

Cherry on top? All of this happening in Florida.

Why rare puppers and kittehs dominate the Series of Tubes

The internet of today has four basic building blocks:
(1) memes with dogs wearing Christmas sweaters and such;
(2) videos of cats knocking objects off counters;
(3) recruiting posters for the Empire that reddit fanboys spent waaay too much time drawing; and
(4) videos of Alex Jones ripping his shirt off as he screams about Hillary and Mueller and the Illuminati meeting in the basement of a pizzeria to put chemicals in our water to turn our free American frogs COMPLETELY LIBERAL AND IRREVERSIBLY GAY.

I want to talk about the dog and cat part, because reddit will get bored with Empire recruiting posters and Alex Jones is now broadcasting his insane rants and brain pill pitches exclusively to MySpace or whatever.

Rare puppers and kittehs are forever, though.

Why is that?

Three reasons.

The first deals with how the furballs are alike, and the other two are because of how different they are.

Reason Number 1) Dogs and cats completely own the sweet spot of adorable and skilled

As a father, I know why toddlers are so entertaining.

Human babies are adorable but unskilled. They don’t do much.

Teenagers have the opposite deal: adult-like skills, yet they generally try hard to be tough and cool instead of adorable.

Toddlers, though, are illegally cute while doing and saying surprisingly funny things all day.

It’s the same with dogs and cats: forever child-like and cute, but skilled enough to surprise us, get into mischief and be entertaining.

Plus, dogs and cats are so common and intertwined in our lives that there will never be a shortage of photos, gifs, memes and videos with them, especially dogs and cats PLAYING WITH TODDLERS, which is just adorbs cubed and so unfair that it’s cheating.

Reason Number 2) Cats are cute balls of fur, claws and pure evil

Yes, they cuddle us. When they feel like it.

Mostly, though, cats only do what cats want, which is typically (a) laying around to conserve their energy so they can get to the real business of (b) sneaking up to attack other life forms, (c) knocking every object that’s not nailed down from your dining room table and kitchen counter and (d) randomly whacking owners or other cats in the face, just because.

Having owned cats, I believe deep in my soul that cats are pissed off by the fact they’re not remotely big enough to kill us. Not that they WANT to murder-death-kill us. Their inability just gives them existential angst.

So yeah, turn on a camera when a cat isn’t napping and you’re guaranteed to catch them being little vandals, if not felonious rogues.

Reason Number 3) Dogs are loyal, lovable goofballs

A big reason dogs are vastly different from cats is they’re pack animals and therefore can actually be domesticated, not just tamed like cats. Dogs actually have social manners.

You can tame just about anything, if you raise it from birth and it imprints on you. Cats, bears, cougars, whatever. (No, not sharks, worms or trees. Come on. Let’s just talk mammals.)

But animals you tame will never truly be domesticated like dogs, goats, horses, cows and other pack animals. Check out GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL by Jared Diamond. He’s explains the heck out of this in an interesting, world-altering way. Seriously. Wouldn’t have modern civilization without domesticated plants and animals.

What makes dogs internet gold is their pure joy, their ability to be trained and how hard they work to be loyal and useful.

Dogs understand they’re part of the family, the park, and that means contributing. Doing their part. Protecting the pups and toddlers. Guarding the pack’s territory. Helping out.

Their mischief tends to be misdemeanor level versus the felonies committed by cats.

Sometimes, I look at our Hound of the Baskervilles and marvel at the fact there’s a jet-black wolfbeast sitting there, 100 pounds of muscle and teeth just waiting for the latest orders from me, who he treats like some kind of all-powerful wizard he’s thrilled to be a sidekick for–and that he takes his job of guarding the house seriously enough that I have no doubt he’d take a bullet for me or the fam. That’s loyalty. The silly dog went right after a bear one morning in our backyard. Except I don’t think he sees that as silly, but as his duty, just like he knows we take care of his food, control the lights and temperature and make the big metal horses come alive or go to sleep according to our whim.

The videos of dogs that hit me in the feels the hardest are when they’re overcome with happiness and tippy taps–or diligently trying to copy and please us.

For that, I have to go with Team Dog, despite having owned cats for longer. Because loyalty and love wins out.

Florida Man: Why one state is the absolute mecca for weird news

As a reformed journalist, I have a lifelong fascination with weird news—an addiction that a single state tries hard to satisfy.

Every. Single. DAY.

No other state can hold a candle to Florida.

It’s the only state with its own Fark tag, with so many weird news headlines starting with “Florida man” there’s a Twitter handle that endlessly tweets out insane stories starting with those two words.

I could not love Florida more for this.

Here’s a sample of recent Florida headlines, lovingly curated by fark.com:

Florida Man enters Jacksonville store and chases people with live alligator

Florida teacher quits to become full-time grocery shopper and doubles his salary

Key West mayoral candidate takes a personal cell phone call during a debate. From God

Florida man charged with identity theft after impersonating Backstreet Boy

17-year-old gets attacked by snake while mowing lawn. Gives sage advice: “watch out for snakes”

Police say Florida man planned his suicide for years, making it look like murder by using a weather balloon to carry away the gun

All this craziness packed into a single state begs the question: Why does Florida Man live in Florida?

Theory # 1: Deadly wild animals up the wazoo

Alligators, sharks, pythons invading the Everglades—and those are just the apex predators. You’ll find crazy stories about rabid racoons, bat infestations and all sorts of animal disasters and shenanigans. Yes, that’s the proper spelling. Take note.

Few other states boast the biodiversity needed to generate this much mayhem.

Theory # 2: Dumb criminals

A weird news story’s power gets squared when a stable genius criminal does something truly idiotic only to have karma delivered by the local wildlife.

One great example: man commits a robbery at night and the cops chase him … so he makes the brilliant move of hiding in a nearby pond, where an alligator has him as a midnight snack.

Theory # 3: Paaaaarty time

Florida is seen as a tropical getaway, a place where you go to party on spring break or to retire in the sunshine.

Alcohol and drugs are a common ingredient in weird news stories. Florida gets far more than its fair share of dumb criminals doing dumb things after getting hammered or high. Sometimes both.

Theory # 4: The power of convergence

Every great weird story is a combination of factors, usually (1) men who are (2) drunk or high, doing something risky involving (3) crime, (4) firearms, (5) explosives or (6) wild animals who can kill you.

It’s like baking a cake. Even if most states have an ingredient or two, they don’t have all six, not in the quantities that Florida does. It’s a giant state, one of the biggest, with more people moving there all the time and all those pythons in the Everglades busy laying eggs when they’re not fighting alligators. The weird news will only grow with time.

VERDICT

Florida is an interesting, dynamic place, a semi-tropical paradise that also happens to be home to some of the craziest stories you’ll ever see. We love you, Florida Man—don’t change a thing.

Is this dinosaur-sized alligator fake or real?

This is the video that has the internet, and the mainstream media, losing their minds.

It’s like The Dress, except whether a bit of fashionable fabric is blue or gold didn’t really matter to anyone, while the existence of massive alligators roaming golf courses could, in fact, matter a great deal to ALL THE PEOPLE IT GOBBLES UP.

So yeah, this is exciting and fun. Let’s break it down.

Evidence pointing toward fakery and prankery

1) Nothing screams “green screen” like a green background

We all know how you make a fake video, or do special effects in movies. It starts with a green screen.

Adding a moving object that goes straight across, left to right, on the same plane? Piece of cake.

2) Terrible audio

Audio that’s all chopped up points to film that got edited to bits.

3) No closeup

With most footage of real-life craziness, the person shooting it has a choice: (a) run far, far away from Things That Can Kill You, like tornadoes, great white sharks, zombies or alligators the size of garbage trucks, (b) risk your life to see it, but only from a safe distance, (c) get as close as you can for a real look at the thing and a chance for YouTube infamy or (d) be smart and use the magic of zooming to get a closer look without turning into lunch.

Why is the shot so static? Anybody with two brain cells to knock together would zoom in on this monster.

Evidence making me think it’s real

1) The shadow knows

the shadow knows

No, not that Shadow.

Check out the shadow of the gator as it crosses the sand trap. Pretty hard to fake that.

2) Alligators this size are rare, but not insanely rare

If you’ve ever watched National Geographic, The Crocodile Hunter or any other show dealing with nature, you’ve seen crocodiles and alligators. And yeah, they get big.

It’s a reptile thing. I believe reptiles keep growing and growing until they die.

Could be wrong. Not a scientist. Wait, I’m right. They grow forever.

3) This is Florida

If you told me this video was shot in Georgia, Michigan or California, I’d be 149 percent more skeptical.

But we’re talking about Florida, the only state with it’s own Fark tag.

Weird news and Florida go together like chocolate and peanut butter, Han Solo and Chewbecca, coffee and milk.

There’s so much weird news coming out of this state, there’s a Twitter account dedicated to insane headlines that all start with “Florida Man,” as in “Florida man dresses like ninja to rob 7-Elevens” or “Florida man hides from cops in pond, gets eaten by alligators.”

Verdict: Real.

Snopes.com investigated this issue, because somebody had to, and they dug up the truth.

This alligator is not only real, he’s well-known and pretty chill. Hasn’t eaten any golfers that we know of and is kind of a mascot for the course.

Ducks with jobs

Yes, I kid you not: this isn’t a pet duck with a uniform grandma knitted as a joke.

These are real ducks with real jobs. And they take it seriously.

First up: the army of 900 Indian Runner ducks who work in a vineyard, and yes, it’s real work. They’re not eye candy for tourists who stopped by to sip on Chianti.

These ducks perform a hugely important task: keeping the vineyard free of pests, and they do it so well, the vineyard doesn’t need to use pesticides, which you DO NOT WANT in your Chianti.

They also seem insanely happy to do this, don’t they?

Think about it: you’re a wild duck, scrambling around for food and shelter, and your vineyard duck cousin tells you about his life, living in a sweet vineyard full of yummy food, sleeping in a great shelter, no predators to worry about and 900 other chill ducks to hang out with when you’re not feasting on bugs and worms.

Not too shabby. Not shabby at all.

Then there’s these ducks with the same kind of gig in Thailand, working at a rice fam.

Let’s break down why this is amusing and touching.

First, the ducks are cute. They seem eager and happy, and they’re far more elegant than chickens.

My neighbor has chickens and ducks. I feed them leftover veggies and such, and have learned things. The chickens are like feathered dinosaurs, and they do talk. But they also move in jerks and look at you with one eye at a time.

The ducks seem more evolved and intelligent. Instead of doing the chicken walk, they stroll. So with ducks, you’ve got a sympathetic subject.

Second, it’s surprising that ducks can do a job.

Monkeys? Sure. You expect monkeys, elephants, dogs and dolphins to be the type of animal with a job. They’re trainable.

Ducks are a shock.

Third, it’s crazy how happy the ducks are do these jobs. They aren’t on a chain gang. The owner doesn’t have to loom over them with a whistle and a whip. Sure, eating bugs is natural, but working as a team, and doing it on schedule without causing other shenanigans?

It’s hard to get 900 humans to work together without shenanigans. Five or more humans in a group won’t even agree on how to SPELL shenanigins.

Bonus video: 10 interesting facts about ducks

Man leads police on 112 mph chase, crashes, then flees with his pet monkey

Monkey chase. Photo courtesy of the Burien Police Department.

Monkey chase. Photo courtesy of the Burien Police Department.

Photo courtesy of the Burien Police Department.

This sounds like an Onion story. But it’s not.

As a reformed journalist and unrepentant fan of weird news, this story is classic. Let’s break it down.

Related post, which WordPress put on the front page: How weird news teaches us great storytelling

Continue reading “Man leads police on 112 mph chase, crashes, then flees with his pet monkey”

Man Uses Raccoon To Start Breathalyzer Equipped Car, Raccoon Then Attacks Driver

Does it get any better than a headline like that? Click here for the incident report.

So this convicted drunk driver has to blow into a tube before his car starts, and he’s drunk. Shocking. What’s this genius do?

He looks for a sober buddy to puff that tube for him so he can drive off.

The nearest buddy happens to be a raccoon rummaging through his garbage. Grabs the raccoon, somehow gets the animal to blow on the tube and yes, the car starts, with the animal now unconscious. Maybe he squeezed it too hard.

So he’s driving along when the raccoon wakes up to gets his revenge, scratching and clawing our drunken genius, who crashes into a fence.

This story has all the classic hallmarks of weird news: drunken idiots (almost always men), motor vehicles and dangerous wild animals. The only way to improve it would be to add firearms.

Sadly, the San Diego Police report that this is an internet hoax.

HOWEVER: The way it spread so fast shows that the bones of this story are strong. All the elements you need are there, and there’s no fat to trim. It’s an urban legend that’s evolved into a perfect little story.