TIME Bizarre

5 Penetrating Facts About Sword Swallowing

These tales are hard to swallow

On the last Saturday of every February, sword swallowers gather at Ripley’s Believe It or Not museums throughout America to commemorate World Sword Swallower’s Day. It’s a sideshow so dangerous there are only a few dozen full-time professionals, according to trade association Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI). The society claims sword swallowing takes 3-10 years to learn, though some say they mastered it in six months. We talked to five professionals about how it’s done and how it has almost killed them.

Beginners practice using wire coat hangers.

“Most people start with a coat hanger stretched out in the outline of a sword,” says Todd Robbins, 56, a sword swallower who has lectured about the history of sideshows at Yale. Beginners also use paint brushes, spoons and knitting needles to desensitize their gag reflexes.

Here’s how Dan Meyer, 57, Tampa, Fla.-based SSAI president and former America’s Got Talent contestant whose personal record for swords swallowed is 21, describes the technique at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting:

“When I put the sword in my mouth, I will repress the gag reflex in the back of the throat. Then I have to go behind my Adam’s apple, my prominentia laryngea, behind the voice box, the larynx, down about through the crichopharyngeal sphincter, up in the upper part of the mouth here. Then down into the esophagus, repress the peristalsis reflex, [muscular contractions] that swallow your food. From there relax the esophageal muscles, relax the lower esophageal sphincter, and slip the blade down into my stomach, repress the wretch reflex in my stomach.”

Below is an X-ray of Meyer swallowing one at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 5, 2013, for a Discovery Channel Canada show:

You can thank sword swallowers for the endoscope.

Dr. Adolph Kussmaul is said to have used a sword swallower to develop the rigid endoscope, a medical device with a light and a camera that often travels through a patient’s throat, in 1868.

Turns out non-surgical procedures are a breeze for people like Robbins, who says, “I had to have an endoscopy done, and normally they knock the person out and have to intubate them, but since I was a sword swallower, [the doctor] just handed [the endoscope] to me.”

Sore throats are a common side effect.

So says a 2006 study of 46 sword swallowers (40 men) published in the British Medical Journal, which found dire injuries like intestinal bleeding, perforations to the pharynx and esophageal lacerations are more likely to plague performers with elaborate routines, too many consecutive shows or who use multiple swords, especially unusually-shaped ones. Co-written by Meyer and British radiologist Brian Whitcombe, it won an Ig Nobel Prize, awarded annually by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine at Harvard University for especially imaginative scientific achievements. (Meyer accepted the award at the university’s Sanders Theatre and then swallowed a sword on stage.)

Case in point, Meyer punctured his esophagus after setting a world record for swallowing two swords simultaneously underwater and once punctured his stomach swallowing five swords, which caused fluid build-up around his heart and lungs. Robbins once had a neon sword, which lights up the chest, break inside of him. And Natasha Veruschka, a belly-dancing sword swallower in New York City, says she chugged heavy cream and rum to soothe her throat after she accidentally swallowed a sword covered with little barbs that made it painful to remove.

The “oldest, longest performing” sword swallower is said to be 79.

Unlike the aforementioned performers, Jim Ball of Oakley, Kansas, says he has avoided life-threatening injuries by sticking to a “kind of conservative” routine, swallowing a Japanese samurai sword about once a month (though throughout his life, he has swallowed bayonets, cavalry sabers, and a stove poker). Raised by parents who were professional sword swallowers, he entertained fellow Army soldiers by swallowing rifle cleaning rods. If you’re wondering what it’s like to swallow a sword, especially for the first time, he says, “it feels like accidentally swallowing a piece of ice.” Nowadays, he’s teaching his college-age granddaughter how to do it.

Some started doing it to overcome childhood demons.

While Ball, Robbins and Veruschka learned sword swallowing from growing up around sideshow performers or seeking them out at shows, Meyer described his younger self as a “shy wimpy kid” with “social anxiety,” often picked on by bullies, who tried sword swallowing after a near-death experience with malaria inspired him to take risks and fear nothing. New York-based freelance writer Ilise Carter, 40, whose stage name is “The Lady Aye” says when she learned, “I was a recovering bulimic, but I eventually decided the only way to combat your fear is to go straight through it. You [develop] a great connection to your body, and the audience’s positive reaction has made me a much stronger person in general.”

TIME Television

Sex Box and Other Reality Shows We Can’t Believe Are Actually Real

From 'Dating Naked' to 'Who is the Worst Driver in the Netherlands?'

Friday marks the U.S. premiere of Sex Box on We TV — a show in which struggling couples actually have sex inside a box onstage. Sure, the box is soundproof and there’s no camera inside. And yes, the idea is that the couples will be more vulnerable and honest after the act, when they talk to a panel of expert in the hopes of solving their issues. But that doesn’t make it any less cringeworthy.

The premise is so simple, so bizarre, that it’s something you’d fact check before posting about it on Facebook because there’s no way it could be real. But Sex Box is no parody. The U.K. show of the same name aired in 2013 and received tepid reviews. But it’s only the latest in a series of reality shows that we can’t believe got the green light.

Here are other reality shows that make The Bachelor look totally sensible:

Born in the Wild
This Lifetime series, premiering March 3, is about women who give birth in nature. “No inductions, no epidurals…just expectant mothers facing and giving birth in the arms of Mother Nature,” boasts the show’s YouTube page.

Who is the Worst Driver in the Netherlands?
The series, which has run in several different countries, gathers the worst drivers in a specific region and has them show off their lack-of-skills behind the wheel. In 2011, a Netherlands contestant proved himself worthy of the title after he accidentally ran over the show’s host. (No one was seriously injured).

Are You Hot?
Before there was Tinder there was a show in which people walked down a runway and displayed their goods to judges who essentially swiped right or left. Are You Hot? aired on ABC in 2003.

The Will
CBS may have agreed to pick up the 2005 reality show — in which family and friends of a rich benefactor compete to be included in his inheritance — but the network had the good sense to cancel it after just one episode.

Dating Naked
A contestant actually sued VH1 for showing a little too much nudity.

The Swan
This show was a heartwarming retelling of The Ugly Duckling in which producers turned contestants into swans by giving them lots and lots of plastic surgery. The series was more than a little problematic.

Read next: Leonard Nimoy, Who Played Spock on Star Trek, Dies at 83

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TIME viral

Taylor Swift Says The Dress is Black and Blue

Other celebrities are also weighing in on the dress that's breaking the Internet

So there’s this dress that’s dividing everybody into two distinct halves: black-blue or white-gold. And Taylor Swift belongs to the former.

Do you agree? Jaden Smith does.

Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland doesn’t, but her brother is confused.

Neither does Anna Kendrick.

The dress is even causing a rift between one of television’s favorite couples and real-life BFFs Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak, with recent Oscar-winner Julianne Moore also weighing in to spark off some hilarious banter.

A couple of celebs, like James Franco and Miley Cyrus, took the debate onto Instagram. Oh Miley.

Dress controversy… VIOLET and BLACK! Obvs.

A photo posted by James Franco (@jamesfrancotv) on

A photo posted by Miley Cyrus (@mileycyrus) on

And Ariana Grande has had enough.

So has Nicole Polizzi a.k.a Snooki from Jersey Shore, but only because she saw white and gold initially.

Stop everything. Kanye and Kim just disagreed on the color of the dress.

Choose your side!

Read next: The Dress That Broke the Internet, and the Woman Who Started It All

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TIME viral

Everyone on the Internet Wants to Know What Color This Dress Is

Is it black and blue or is it gold and white?

The Internet took a weird turn Thursday when all of a sudden everyone started buzzing about the color of a dress. A woman had taken to Tumblr the day before to ask a seemingly normal question: what color is this dress?

But there was something off about the dress and the image. The woman says when she saw a photo of the dress once, it was blue and black (she even posted a photo of the dress being worn at a wedding. In that image, it appears to be blue and black) but when she looked at it again, the dress was gold and white.

This is about the point where the Internet broke.

Her Tumblr got flooded with comments. “i’ve gained over a thousand followers so all I’m going to say is hello,” the user known as swiked posted Thursday. Twitter erupted. Gawker posted it. BuzzFeed did, too. BuzzFeed even seems to have solved the mystery.

But that still doesn’t quite explain why the image appears white and gold to some and blue and black to others. Probably eye, light, mind tricks, but hopefully scientists of the world are hard at work trying to figure this out. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get some great think pieces out of it, too.

TGIF, amirite?

Read next: Here Is the Proof That #TheDress is Black and Blue

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TIME Bizarre

Here’s What Happens When You Set an iPhone 6 on Fire

"It looks beautiful," he says of the finished product

The tech blogger “Techrax”— known on YouTube for boiling an iPhone 6 in Coca-Cola and baking one inside a turkey — has released a new video of himself igniting an iPhone 6 with an acetylene torch (typically used to cut or wield metal).

“So yeah, this thing is pretty much done,” he says in the clip. “You can still press the home button, buttons still work. It won’t power on though.”

After opening up the phone to explore the extent of the damage to its insides, he proceeds to smash it repeatedly over a cinder block until the inner pieces fall out and only the exterior of the phone is left.

“It looks beautiful,” he says of the mutilated phone. “It is a sculpture, indeed.”

TIME Bizarre

Swedish Police Raid Apartment After Mistaking 21st Birthday Party Balloons for ISIS Initials

"Extremism should always be taken seriously"

Police swooped on a Swedish student’s flat this week after mistaking balloons celebrating her 21st birthday party as propaganda for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), otherwise known simply as the Islamic State. (Read backwards, the rounded numerals resembled the initials “IS.”)

Sarah Ericsson and her boyfriend Fabian Akesson adorned windows with celebratory balloons for her birthday bash in the southern city Karlskrona. Akesson said police cars arrived Monday after a passer-by had reported a window display featuring ISIS propaganda, reports UPI.

“We understand why someone would report it if they thought it looked like IS-propaganda, although everyone else just thought it looked like the number ’12’ from outside,” Ericsson told Swedish media.

The couple removed the balloons, with the birthday girl saying that “extremism should always be taken seriously.”

“I laughed about it and they showed me a photo that they had taken where from their perspective, it did almost look like the letters IS,” Akesson said.

“I’m so surprised at all the attention,” Ericsson added. “I will never forget my 21st birthday.”

[UPI]

TIME Bizarre

Man Falls 600 Ft. Down Mountain, Almost Lands on Rescue Team

170990559
polarisandy—Flickr/Getty Helvellyn in winter

And uses up his store of good luck for quite some time

While climbing a mountain Sunday in England’s rugged Lake District, a British man tumbled 600 ft. down a snow-covered slope — only to land in the path of a rescue team.

David Spain, 28, suffered minor injuries — a dislocated shoulder, cuts and bruises — after falling down the 3,200-ft. peak of Helvellyn mountain, which has killed three people this year. He was propelled downward by a gust of wind during a blizzard that started midclimb, according to the Manchester Evening News.

He ended up near a rescue team conducting a training exercise. “I shouted and shouted until they saw me … I was really lucky,” said Spain, who is currently recuperating with his fiancée until his wedding in May.

“This is one lucky chap — he should buy a lottery ticket,” said rescue official Mike Blakey.

[Manchester Evening News]

TIME Food & Drink

See Why ‘Kawaii Cooking’ Has Become the Hottest Food Trend

Stop everything you are doing and look at these tiny dishes!

It’s the cutest culinary trend ever: videos of tiny meals are exploding online.

Old collectible miniature stoves, pots, pans and other cooking utensils, that wouldn’t be out of place in a Victorian dollhouse, are used to create mini edible cuisine, in an art form known as kawaii cooking. (Kawaii is the Japanese word for cute.)

The recipes use real-life ingredients and are cooked over a small candle or flame so you can actually eat them.

The craze started in Japan but has caught on worldwide, with thousands of followers posting videos of their creations and a host of YouTube channels dedicated to the pastime.

It won’t fill you up, but it sure is satisfying to watch.

[Daily Dot]

Read next: This Machine Is Surprisingly Great at Playing the Violin

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TIME World

A Mini Auschwitz Display at a U.K. Kids’ Attraction Has Been Slammed as ‘Bizarre’

Trains of Holocaust victims shown next to displays of London in the Swinging 60s

A tourist attraction geared at families and children in Birmingham, England has drawn flak for its “Railways in Wartime” Auschwitz display, depicting model trains shepherding Holocaust victims to their death in Nazi concentration camps.

“The Holocaust was only possible because of trains,” Wonderful World of Trains and Planes managing director Peter Smith told the Birmingham Mail. He said that he had received no complaints.

A sign by the display — which lies incongruously next to models of seaside Britain in the 1930s and London in the Swinging 60s — reads: “On each train about 3,000 men, women and children were herded into cattle wagons and moved hundreds of miles to the death camps – Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Treblinka and others.”

Matt Lawson, a lecturer at Edge Hill University, has called the display “bizarre.”

“It’s a step too far and I really don’t understand the thought process,” Lawson told the Mail. “Did someone wake-up one morning and say, ‘You know what this place needs’…”

Mala Tribich, a survivor of Ravensbruck and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps who lectures on her experiences, said “Wonderful World’s Auschwitz is a useless tool in educating children about the Holocaust.”

[Birmingham Mail]

TIME Bizarre

Indonesian Police Want To Stop Sales of Children’s Shirts Showing Pandas Mating

Giant Pandas Tian Tian And Yang Guang Ahead Of The 2014 Breeding Season
Jeff J Mitchell—Getty Images Tian Tian the female panda at Edinburgh zoo sits inside her enclosure on April 4, 2014

But it seems as if the "obscene" apparel might be a hoax

According to the Indonesian police, pandas mid-coitus is not an appropriate design for children’s t-shirts.

The public relations division of the force issued a Facebook appeal Wednesday asking anyone who knew about the circulation of these “obscene” shirts to report it to their nearest police station immediately. The post was accompanied by the following picture:

But, as local blog Coconuts Jakarta points out, the police may have been had. The photo the police posted reads “9gag.com” in the corner — a website that is famous for memes and photoshopped illustrations. Considering how often The Onion has fooled reporters and politicians alike, this wouldn’t be entirely out of the ordinary.

But, regardless, pandas engaging in the Kama Sutra probably isn’t something you’d want your children to wear

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