HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — If I may take moment to state the patently obvious, there is a great deal of 'unusual' content on the web. From UFOs and Crop Circles to Dancing Hamsters and Headless Chickens, you can find it all online - but for the most part, each site only deals with a single unusual topic, and the sites themselves are spread far and wide. So where can the connoisseur of concentrated eccentricity go for a wide and varied selection of the peculiar in one convenient location? Well, that would be Wikipedia - where a collection of Unusual Articles can take you from Bat Bombs to the Year 10,000 Problem on a single page.
For those of you not familiar with Wikipedia, this free content encyclopedia was launched in 2001, and as of December 2004, contained 1.3 million articles in over 100 languages (about half a million of the articles are in English), and boasted over 13,000 active contributors sharing responsibility for its content. "Active" being an especially appropriate adjective in this case, since the wiki of Wikipedia denotes a site that allows anyone to create, add to, or edit entries.
While that may sound like an invitation for someone, shall we say, outside the mainstream to post an article stating that the North Pole is actually just outside Blowing Rock, North Carolina, there are some 12,999 other amateur editors ready to catch and debate such claims. In addition, incomplete or disputed columns are labeled - so readers can make their own judgements about reliability - and if you're still suspicious, you can always check any assertions at other sites on the web.
As for the Unusual Articles index, it certainly won't be the end of the world if some of the claims made in these articles prove untrue, but their very nature places many of them in the "too strange to be fiction" category. The site also adds its own appeal that contributors "take special care to meet the highest standards of an encyclopedia with these articles so as to not give an appearance of unprofessionality."
Claims for and against credibility placed squarely on the table, Wikipedia divides its unusual articles into eight main categories, and first tackles History - opening with the facts behind the existence or non-existence of a 'Year 0' between 1 BC and 1 AD. Subjects familiar to some will include "Wrong Way" Corrigan, who took off into a cloudy, 1938, New York sky on his way to California ... and landed in Ireland.
Fewer people will be acquainted with Moresnet, a European nation that owed its existence of more than 100 years (1816 to 1919) to the fact that its two bordering nations, the Netherlands and Prussia, couldn't agree on just where to draw their borders. Meanwhile, those living outside Canada may be surprised and amused (as we were at the time) to learn that in 2003, an official provincial Conservative Party press release referred to the rival Liberal Party leader as an "evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet." (Talk about your negative campaigning.)
Language and Names opens with a punishment that even the most self-involved celebrities wouldn't inflict on their children. Hiraani Tiger Lily, Fifi Trixibelle, Moon Unit, Dweezil, Speck Wildhorse, Aurelius (son of Elle Macpherson) and Tu Morrow (daughter of Rob Morrow) can all take heart that at least their parents never tried to register their name as Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116...pronounced "Albin". (Apparently the 6 is silent.)
Other articles investigate the comedic theory that some words are inherently funny (candidates include umlaut, hornswoggle, and rutabaga), and the surprisingly common, and let's face it, slightly pathetic, use of the umlaut in an attempt to bestow credibility on Heavy Metal bands (as in Mötley Crüe, Motörhead, and maybe someday, Rütabaga). Perhaps these bands didn't realize - as Spinal Tap and Wikipedia did - that the umlaut is inherently funny.
Science and Medicine ranges from Apollo Moon Landing Hoax theories to Perpetual Motion Machines, the Infinite Monkey Theorem, and a scientific study of Navel Lint (winner of an Ig Nobel prize in 2002), while visitors unhappy with both Imperial and Metric methods of measurement can investigate the advantages of the Smoot.
Additional categories cover such subjects as Elvis Sightings and Extreme Ironing, television dramas' propensity to, at some point in the series, have an Amish Episode, the Scottish delicacy of the Deep Fried Mars Bar, and The Wilhelm Scream. (Whether or not you've heard of The Wilhelm Scream, you've heard The Wilhelm Scream.)
Finally, an assortment of Unusual Lists includes collections of Fictional US Presidents (not including GW Bush, as declared by Michael Moore at the Oscars), Unusual Place Names (such as Unalaska, Alaska; Satan's Kingdom, Vermont; Woon Gumpus Common, Cornwall; and the Big Ugly Wilderness Area in West Virginia), famous eccentrics (William MacGonagall, arguably history's worst poet), and 39 scandals with the gate-suffix. (Which probably says more about a lack of originality in the naming of scandals than their excessive quantity.)
For fans of immoderate civic pride, there is a list of self-appointed "Capital of the World" titles. Beaver, Oklahoma appears undisputed as the Cow Chip Throwing Capital of the World, but there are at least three claimants to the title of Horseradish Capital. And as we get over the shock that there are any claimants to the title of Horseradish Capital of the World, we can only hope that the dispute is settled through diplomacy and not condiment-based combat.
As is standard for Wikipedia content, these articles are light on images but peppered with hyperlinks to related entries, and frequently accompanied by links to offsite resources at the bottom of the page. Some subjects will be of limited demographic appeal but you're almost certain to find a few pieces that will end up being emailed to a friend with a "you won't believe this" in the subject line. After all, it's not every day you have a February 30th.
Wikipedia: Unusual Articles can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:UA.
(If you're sufficiently curious about the collaborative wiki concept to want to see it in action, InfoWorld has an animated, 8.5 minute <a href="http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/gems/umlaut.html" TARGET="_new">screencast</a> reviewing the changes that have occurred on Wikipedia's "Heavy metal umlaut" page since it first appeared in April of 2003.)