Stories of the Bizarre

Britannica Year in Review. A retrospective of the year's biggest stories!

Every now and then, an event will occur that brings an influx of traffic to a seemingly random article. In 2019 these were the bizarre events that sparked the most curiosity in our readers—the unexpected that left us all scratching our heads!

Counting with Roman Numerals

What do those letters mean? Many people came to Britannica around Super Bowl LIII to learn more about Roman numerals.

Black Panther Sighted

In February a rare sighting of a black panther in the wild was confirmed for the first time in 100 years.

Valentine's Day or the Execution of an Indian Revolutionary

Every Valentine’s Day in India, memes circulate on social media claiming that Indian revolutionary hero Bhagat Singh was hanged on February 14. In fact, he was executed on March 23, 1931.

A Llama on the Metro?

In February Caeser the No Drama Llama hitched a ride on a Portland Max light-rail train.

A Cassowary Kills Its Owner

In April of this year, a cassowary, a type of flightless bird considered incredibly dangerous, killed its owner in Florida.

Were the Twa People the Original Inhabitants of Ireland?

An urban legend circulated this year claiming that the Twa people of equatorial Africa were the original inhabitants of Ireland and were massacred by St. Patrick. Read more about the Twa here.

Jim Carrey and Mussolini's Granddaughter Enter a Twitter Feud

In March actor Jim Carrey tweeted a political sketch he’d drawn of a dead Mussolini. Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the deceased Italian dictator, replied in earnest with several tweets attacking the actor.

A Connection Between the Goddess Ishtar and Easter?

During Easter of this year, many denizens of social media circulated theories that the etymology of the name of the Christian holiday Easter is derived from the name of Ishtar, the Mesopotamian religion’s goddess of war and sexual love. Learn more about Ishtar here.

House of Commons Leader Instructs Staff to Use the Imperial System

In July the new House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg instructed his staff to use imperial units instead of the commonly used metric system, among other directions concerning official writing and communications.

Student Discovers Triceratops Skull

Paleontology student Harrison Duran discovered a Triceratops skull in the Hell Creek Formation in North Dakota. Learn more about this fossil-rich area.

A Shirt That Will Keep You Cool

Sony announced the Reon Pocket, a personal cooling device that utilizes the Peltier effect. The company said that the device could cool the wearer up to 23 °F.

Elon Musk Muses About Flags that Look Alike

On September 8 Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, tweeted the question “Why aren’t more people talking about this!?” along with images of the nearly identical flags of Romania and Chad. Well, Britannica has talked about it in our post “Flags that Look Alike.”

Northern Mariana Islands Defeated by Indonesia 15–1

The Northern Mariana Islands took a beating from Indonesia in a 2020 AFC U16 qualifying football (soccer) match, losing by a score of 15–1.

The Storming of Area 51

In one of the weirder stories of the year, a Facebook event encouraging people to storm Area 51 racked up more than two million RSVPs. Area 51 is a secretive U.S. military base located in Nevada that is often associated with extraterrestrials and UFOs. Although in the end the event drew only a small crowd of about 100 people, there was no shortage of visits to Britannica’s Area 51 entry.

Rapper J Hus and Black Magic

Rapper J Hus, via Snapchat, said that his life fell apart after he stopped practicing black magic. The announcement caused a large spike in visits to the juju page on Britannica.

Tardigrades Crashed onto the Moon

When it left Earth on its way to the Moon, the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet carried with it thousands of tardigrades, microscopic creatures that have been known to survive the most extreme conditions on Earth. When the Beresheet spacecraft crashed onto the Moon, the possibility that these creatures, also known as water bears, survived the impact intact captured the imagination of the scientific community and the general public.

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Photo Captions

  1. Twa: Doublearc
  2. Benito Mussolini: H. Roger-Viollet
  3. Flags: Encyclopedia Britannica
  4. Area 51: Underwood Archives/
  5. Tardigrade: ? Science Faction Images—SuperStock/age fotostock