If there’s one thing the news media loves more than spreading bullshit, it’s a good unsolved mystery. And that’s completely understandable, because we — the news-consuming public — love it just as much. Reading a story that sounds like an episode of The X-Files with a great big “To Be Continued” slapped onto the end of it leaves our minds free to fill in the blanks with the most mind-blowing ending conceivable.
Sometimes, though, the world is so hungry for a tasty mystery that we overlook the comically simple solution that’s standing right there in front of us. Just look at the ridiculous resolutions of mysteries like ..
In September of 2013, a YouTube channel named Webdriver Torso went viral when it began uploading strange, 11-second videos consisting only of shifting red and blue rectangles accompanied by a tone of varying pitch, paradoxically managing to still be more interesting than 99 percent of the other channels on YouTube.
The channel added a similar video nearly 80,000 times over the next several months — an average of one every 20 seconds — with names such as “tmpP vnyF” and “tmpvqA58q.” Obviously, those are either English approximations of some cryptic alien tongue, or the Great Old Ones finally figured out how to work their newfangled smartphones.
We’re being facetious, of course, but we’re only slightly exaggerating the press reports. The videos were clearly some kind of encoded message of mysterious origin, and everyone from the BBC to The Washington Post speculated that the videos were the modern equivalent of numbers stations — shortwave radio stations that are said to have been used for spy communications during the Cold War. But what was the message being sent by Webdriver Torso? Who was it intended for? Would we ever know?
The Ludicrously Simple Answer:
After weeks of investigation by enthusiasts pouring over thousands of these cryptic videos, investigators discovered that “Webdriver” might refer to automated testing software. Then Italian blogger Soggetto Ventuno uncovered the fact that the YouTube account may be associated with Google’s Zurich office, and that there were other channels across the Internet with similar videos. Not long after he posted links to said videos, they were ominously deleted.
But then the Webdriver Torso pattern began to change. One video included the first verbal message to ever come from the channel — “Matei is highly intelligent” — before cutting to a few seconds of footage of the Eiffel Tower. Then this happened:
Yep, whoever was behind Webdriver Torso totally Rickrolled the conspiracy theory-spouting masses. Engadget finally closed the case once and for all when they approached Google’s Zurich office for an official statement:
We’re never gonna give you uploading that’s slow or loses video quality, and we’re never gonna let you down by playing YouTube in poor video quality. That’s why we’re always running tests like Webdriver Torso.
Google had been the source all along, running an altogether banal automated test to monitor video upload quality with a YouTube channel that was never meant to be noticed, let alone go viral. The fact that the masses immediately latched onto it, desperately trying to divine some profound message from the endless stream of meaningless nonsense, probably says something profound about humanity. At the very least, it indicates that our jobs aren’t keeping us nearly busy enough.
4. Was the Missouri Miracle Priest a Man … or a Ghost?
Things were looking grim for the 19-year-old victim of a horrific car crash in Missouri. Emergency personnel were beginning to doubt if she could even be extracted from what looked like the aftermath of the Avengers fighting off an alien threat, when a Catholic priest, decked out in his full priestly garb, appeared out of nowhere and offered to pray over her. After his prayer, emergency crews were miraculously able to yank the girl from her deathtrap, and when everyone looked around the priest had completely vanished.
According to press reports, he was mysteriously absent from all photographs of the incident. None of the small-town folk at the scene recognized him (which is strange, seeing as how there’s only a single Catholic church in the area), and many, including Fire Chief Raymond Reed, believed he was an angel — a word that even USA Today couldn’t resist plopping front and center in their headline.
One Catholic website seriously speculated that the priest in question was Father Lukas Etlin, who was killed in a car crash in 1927. As proof, they compared the police sketch of the mystery priest to photos of Etlin, and admittedly, they do look awfully similar (if you do that thing where you rub your eyes real hard and then open them cartoonishly wide).
Since angels are notoriously difficult to track down, this looked to be as close as we might get to an answer. Until …
The Ludicrously Simple Answer:
In a paradox that may be a miracle in and of itself, this mystery was actually solved in an article’s comments section. Beneath an article in the National Catholic Register, amid a flurry of posts about ghosts and angels and miracles, Reverend Patrick Dowling quietly posted about the actual, corporal priest who was at the scene (spoiler: it was him):
I had Mass in Ewing, Mo as the regular priest was sick. As I was returning, I arrived at the scene. … I absolved and anointed Katie and, at her request, prayed that her leg would not be hurt. Then I stepped aside to where some rescue personnel and the pilot were waiting, and prayed the rosary silently. I left when the helicopter was about to take off.
As he was leaving, Father Dowling even gave his name to a highway patrolman and asked the local sheriff for the victim’s name so he could visit her in the hospital. We’re somewhat concerned about the state of public safety in New London, Missouri, considering the fact that the fire chief, the sheriff, the highway patrolmen, and the sketch artist are seemingly not on speaking terms.
3. Who Was the Mute Piano Genius?
On the U.K. Isle of Sheppey, police found a man in a drenched suit wandering down a seaside road. He had no identification, all the labels had been removed from his clothing (apparently everyone in the U.K. writes their names inside their clothing like grade-schoolers), and he couldn’t speak. Authorities checked him into a hospital in Kent, which would become his home for months while they tried to determine his identity.
Their only clue: When given a pencil and paper, the man drew a detailed image of a grand piano.
Taking the not-so-subtle hint, the hospital staff directed the man to the chapel piano, where he proceeded to mesmerize them with his nearly superhuman classical playing ability (thus earning the nickname, “Piano Man”). The case had just transcended mere curiosity and transformed into an honest-to-goodness real-life Shine.
His story enchanted and puzzled the world’s media outlets, and foreheads across the planet scrunched when hundreds of people came forward and claimed to recognize him from one place or another, giving authorities leads ranging from a Norwegian shipwreck survivor to an impossibly lost French street musician.
The Ludicrously Simple Answer:
U.K. authorities scratched themselves off of Mulder and Scully’s waiting list when Piano Man suddenly decided to start speaking again. As it turns out, he was less “musical savant” and more “depressed kid.” To be more specific, he was Andreas Grassl, a recently unemployed 20-year-old from Germany who had traveled to the U.K. on an impulse.
But what about that whole “mute” thing? Well, you see, he wasn’t all that crazy about the way the police had treated him when he was found, so he decided to simply not talk to them (or to anyone else, for that matter). The fact that he carried on the silent treatment for months is a testament to just how masterful Germans can be at holding a grudge.
Once he finally did open his mouth, though, the mysterious tune that the media had played about him wound down faster than a kid learning “Chopsticks” while there’s an Xbox, like, right there. One debunked early report said that his voice box may have been removed, for instance. It even became unclear whether he had any psychological problems at all while in the hospital, with some speculating that he merely mimicked the behavior of other patients.
And those tales of piano skills that could cause involuntary bladder evacuation in any true music lover? Updated reports suggested that he could barely play at all, and according to the BBC “he was only able to play one note continuously.” That’s going to save a Hollywood producer a shitload on his film score budget when the movie rights are inevitably sold.
And speaking of mystery men …