While many “unexplained” topics fall under clear categories (such as monsters, ghosts, and psychics), many others are just too weird and defy labels. Ben has investigated hundreds of these (for more see his book Big—If True: Adventures in Oddity); here are some highlights.

Select investigations

For Once, a Psychic Looks Back

What Yolana sees in her future is a condominium someplace nice and quiet for her, her cat and her special friend. Maybe upstate, maybe Massachusetts. Who knows? Her cat, Samantha, is that puffball with attitude swanning about her East Side apartment. And her special friend, Max, is around here somewhere, only you can’t see him. He’s from the Other Side, which is not to say New Jersey.
Read it in The New York Times

Why Sandy Hook Massacre Spawned Conspiracy Theories

One month after the Sandy Hook school shootings, the list of victims continues to grow. One man, Gene Rosen — who found six children and a bus driver in his driveway, brought them into his home, fed them and called parents to assure them that their children were safe — has been harassed by telephone, email and online by those who think he is lying about his actions, and is part of a conspiracy.
Read it at LiveScience.com

16 of the Best Conspiracy Theories

From a faked moon landing to wild ideas about JFK’s assassination, conspiracy theories and believers abound. Conspiracy. Just saying the word in conversation can make people politely edge away, looking for someone who won’t corner them with wild theories about how Elvis, John F. Kennedy and Bigfoot are cryogenically frozen in an underground bunker.
Read it at LiveScience.com

Catnip Cocktail Panic

There’s a new drug panic in town, and it’s not crack or opioids. It’s catnip.
Well, it’s called “Catnip Cocktail,” and it actually contains no catnip. It contains a non-FDA-approved blend of a variety of chemicals including caffeine and something called 1,4-BD, which allegedly metabolizes into sedative akin to RHB, a “date-rape” drug.
Read it at the Center for Inquiry blog

Washington Crop Circle Surprising, But Typical

When a four-part crop circle pattern roughly resembling a Mickey Mouse head appeared last week in a wheat field outside of Seattle, Wash., farmers Greg and Cindy Geib were surprised — but not shocked.
Read it at NBC News

Coroner Concludes Irishman Died of Spontaneous Human Combustion

Can people suddenly and inexplicably explode into a ball of fire? It sounds like something in a horror film, but some people believe it happens. It’s also what an Irish coroner recently concluded about the death of Michael Faherty, a 76-year-old Irishman who burned to death in his home in December 2010. There were scorch marks above and below the body, but no evidence of any gasoline, kerosene, or other accelerant. The coroner, Ciaran McLoughlin, reported: “This fire was thoroughly investigated and I’m left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation.”
Read it at LiveScience.com

The Great New Mexico Elk Murder Conspiracy

On August 27, 2013, a hunter on a 75,000-acre ranch north of Las Vegas, New Mexico, stumbled upon a bizarre sight: over 100 dead elk lay on the ground. The smell of death lingered in the air as the man approached, and the mystery only deepened. There was no obvious sign of trauma such as bullet wounds or claw marks; they all simply dropped dead, apparently en masse and on the spot.
Read it at Skeptical Inquirer magazine

Discovery’s Mountain of Mystery Mongering: The Mass Murdering Yeti

A much-hyped two-hour Discovery Channel “documentary” aired on June 1, 2014. Titled Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives, the program delved into a decades-old pseudo-mystery known as the Dyatlov Pass incident in which nine Russian skiers died under unclear circumstances in the Ural Mountains.The show was packed with dramatic “found footage” re-creations, dubious derring-do, a pulse-pounding score, and piles of speculation. Though not as blatantly hokey and contrived as the infamous pseudo-documentary Animal Planet program Mermaids: The Body Found (which fooled thousands of people, gave credence to the discredited “aquatic ape” theory, and spurred the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to put a note on their website debunking the existence of mermaids), it is nonetheless a textbook example of modern cable TV mystery-mongering and thus merits a closer look.
Read it at Skeptical Inquirer magazine

Other investigations

  • Cardiff Giant
    Cooperstown, New York, 2003
  • Crop circle experiments
    Buffalo, New York, 2002
  • Crop Circle experiments
    Wallacetown, New York, 2006
  • Demonic Ghost House
    Lackawanna, New York, 2003
  • Devil’s Hole Cursed Cave
    Niagara Falls, Canada, 1999
  • Disappearing Dhow Illusion
    Mombasa, Kenya, 2007
  • Djemaa El-Fna magicians and psychics
    Marrakech, Morocco, 2007
  • Djinn reports
    Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 2007
  • Eyeball Licking Panic / Urban Legend
    Japan, 2013
  • Fire Eating Lessons
    Buffalo, New York, 2005
  • Firewalking
    Buffalo, New York, 2000
  • Firewalking
    Corrales, New Mexico, 2010
  • Giant Stone Balls
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2006
  • Giant Stone Balls
    San Juan, Costa Rica, 2010
  • Human Pincushion
    St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
  • Likichiri vampire
    La Paz, Bolivia, 1997
  • Miracle Machine / ROM
    Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2009
  • Mysterious Elk Deaths
    Northeastern New Mexico, 2013
  • Mystery Contrails
    Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2011
  • Pokemon Panic
    Tokyo, Japan, Southern Medical Journal, 2000
  • Stigmata Miracle
    Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, 2002
  • Zozobra Folklore
    Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2009