Win 10,000 Euros by Demonstrating a Super-Power

Do a search for the top super-powers of super heroes that mere mortals would like to have and you’ll get a list of hundreds. Taking just one site as an example, the top 10 of its top 100 (from 1 to 10) are flight, invisibility, super strength, fire manipulation, super speed, telepathy, hard light constructs (create weapons out of hard light), invulnerability, telekinesis and shapeshifting. All good powers to have, but the next 90 includes heat vision, time travel, mind control and elasticity – all valuable powers as well. How valuable? If you can demonstrate any of these or any other super-power that the average person doesn’t have, you could win a cool 10,000 Euros. That would go a long way towards paying for your superhero crime-fighting costumes. Are you interested?

The prize is offered by The Society for the Scientific Investigation of Para-Sciences (GWUP), a group of German physicists, biologists and psychologists at the University of Würzburg, in Würzburg, Germany, who have a standing offer of 10,000 Euros ($11.700) to anyone who can demonstrate any such abilities under their controlled laboratory conditions. There’s always a catch … but Rainer Wolf, a perceptual researcher who judges the demonstrations, says he and his fellow scientists are serious about these experiments.

“We’re not here to make people look ridiculous. We just want to show that many such claims are nonsense.”

OK, it’s obvious which way Wolf leans, but that’s partly based on previous super-power tests on over 60 individuals. In 2017, he observed a man attempting to move a piece of foil under a glass dome with his mind, a woman trying to levitate, a man attempting to find buried cables with a divining pickaxe and a woman trying to locate a hidden gold bar.

Wolf still has his 10,000 Euros.

Like on a television game show, the participants in the GWUP contest (it needs a better title, like The 10,000 Euro Pyramid or Who Wants to be a Superhero?) don’t leave empty-handed. Wolf gives them coffee and cake, a pat on the back and the reassurance that they do have one super-power – the rock-hard, unfailing belief that they have a super-power and the superhuman conviction that no one will convince them otherwise. All they need is one more attempt or the right star alignment or better weather conditions or tighter tights or for the judges to look away for a second.

Are there really people with superpowers? Is 10,000 Euros enough to lure them out into the open and take off their spidey masks instead of hiding these powers to use as a free force of good … or for evil get-rich-quick schemes … or for a better-paying job with a defense contractor … or a foreign government?

Here’s a better question … and a potential movie plot. What if more than one person demonstrates a super-power? Should they split the prize or participate in a battle royale on pay-per-view for a much bigger payday? What if the participants have powers from the bottom end of the superpowers list … like generating gold balls … or the ability to eat anything … or explosive farting?

Is explosive farting worth 10,000 Euros?

My super prediction is that a Kickstarter to see that power demonstrated would generate ten times that amount.

The Haunted Hall of Dreams

Along the scenic coastline of Ireland there is a rural, isolated road that meanders by the seaside of the Hook Peninsula County, in Wexford. The road makes its way past windswept vistas and rugged rocks and cliffs ceaselessly pounded by the waves, presenting a rather breathtaking view, yet driving along further one will invariably see a rather surreal site looming in the distance. There not far from the craggy coast sits an enormous and very old country house that towers over the flat landscape around it, obviously once opulent but now appearing derelict and battered by age and the elements. This is the historic Loftus Hall, also sometimes referred to as the Hall of Dreams, a place infused with a tragic and at times violent and sinister history, and which has grown to acquire a reputation as being one of the most haunted places in the country.

The past of this place is rather colorful to say the least. There was a time long ago when this was a sacred land infused with magic and revered by Celtic druids, who used it for their rituals, and is also said to have once been a pagan sacrificial ground. For the druids this was a place of great power and magic, the realm of their legends and mysticism for thousands of years, but they eventually drifted away when the Normans took over the area and built an imposing castle right atop this sacred place in around 1180. This castle, then known as Houseland Castle, was erected by the Norman knight Raymond (Redmond) Fitzgerald, also known as Raymond Le Gros (Raymond “The Fat”) shortly after moving into the peninsula. From there the castle would gradually become a decrepit ruin until Fitzgerald’s descendants rebuilt it in 1350, in an era when the Black Death was menacing the land to bring death to all in its wake, calling it Redmond Hall. It is from here that the history really becomes interesting.

Loftus Hall, Ireland

In the 1600s the Irish Confederate War broke out, and the castle would be repeatedly subject to attack by English forces, with the Redmonds proving to be able to tenaciously defend it at all costs. One famous story is that of the valiant fight of 68-year-old Alexander Redmond, who managed to fend of around 100 troops with just his resourcefulness and the help of his two sons and some tenants, killing most of the enemies and capturing and executing the rest. They would continue to successfully defend the castle, but as heroic as these deeds were, the hall eventually fell to the English and was confiscated. In 1666 the hall would fall into the hands of the prestigious Loftus family, and would be renamed Loftus Hall.

From between 1870 and 1879, the increasingly powerful and illustrious family went about a complete renovation and overhaul of the place, sparing no expense to make it a residence worthy of a visit from Queen Victoria herself, who they hoped to woo there with its granduer. The hall became even more opulent than it had ever been before, decked out with marble and mosaic tiled floors, tapestries, ornate staircases, the works, and although the Queen never did see it Loftus Hall became known as one of the most luxurious residences in all of Ireland. The house would eventually fall into disrepair once more, and later sold to the Benedictines, who turned it into a convent and girl’s school called the Convent of St. Mary’s in 1917, who would in turn pass it on to the Sisters of Providence of the Rosminian Order in 1937.

The hall was then eventually abandoned yet again and stood there alone, isolated, and uninhabited for decades, only finally being sold in 1983 to a man named Michael Deveraux, who made it into the “Loftus Hall Hotel.” This would not last long, as Deveraux would die not long after, and his wife would then mysteriously vanish for no appatrent reason. The house stood unoccupied for several decades more, until it finally passed on to the Quigley family, who are its current owners and have turned it into a historic site open to the public.

Loftus Hall

Throughout all of this the hall remained abandoned and feral for long stretches of time, and one reason for this was that it has long been considered to be a cursed place brimming with the forces of evil, due to a persistent legend surrounding its halls that dates back to the 17th century. The story goes that in the year 1666 a caretaker named Charles Tottenham came to Loftus Hall along with his wife and daughter, Anne. One stormy night a ship is said to have crashed against the rocks at Hook Peninsula, after which a mysterious stranger made his way to the mansion through the lashing wind and rain. The Tottenham’s graciously let him in out of the storm and offered him shelter, and he would end up being there for several weeks while his battered ship was repaired, in the meantime making quick friends with Anne, with some versions of the account even saying they fell deeply in love.

According to the tale, one night the family and the mysterious stranger were playing cards in the Tapestry Room when Anne dropped one of her cards and bent down under the table to retrieve it. When she did so she purportedly noticed that the stranger’s feet were now cloven hooves, which caused to her to shoot upright and scream. The mystery man, now certain that she had found out his dark secret, then shot up straight into the air, smashing through the roof, in some versions transforming into fireball, and flying off into the night to never be seen again. Shortly after this, Anne is said to have gone stark raving mad and confined to one of the mansion’s rooms to her dying day. Interestingly, her grave was cemented over and sealed for reasons unknown. The hole that the Devil made in the ceiling is said to be irreparable to this day, always breaking again, and even in modern times it is said that this portion of the ceiling looks different than the rest.

From the time of her death onwards, Loftus Hall became well known as being a haunt of the Devil, as well as an intensely haunted place in general, with the restless spirit of Anne said to prowl the estate. Indeed, the hall had such a reputation for being haunted that on many occasions Catholic and Protestant priests were brought in to exorcise it to no avail. The ghost of Anne Tottenham has remained active all the way up into the present, allegedly known for spooking visitors to the hall and photobombing pictures taken by people on the tours that pass through. There are also ghostly horses said to roam the grounds, as well as apparitions of long dead British soldiers and a dark shadow entity that some speculate is the Devil himself. Add to this the reports that the location was used by Satanists for dark rituals during its long periods of abandonment, and you get a place charged with a dark history, death, curses, and the Devil, and Loftus Hall is often mentioned as one of the most haunted places in Ireland.

It is partly these ominous tales that the locations remained unwanted and forgotten for such long periods of time. Of course with such a dark reputation the hall has become of interest to ghost hunters from all over the world, and one of these was the TV program Ghost Adventures, with Zak Bagans, Aaron Goodwin and Nick Groff. The team apparently ran into all sorts of paranormal activity at the hall, although it is all so dramatized and pervaded by theatrics that it is hard to know what veracity any of it has. It certainly seems that with its checkered past tinged with tragedy this place might keep spirits tethered to it, but there is very little we can do to untangle the myth from reality. Whether it is really haunted or not, Loftus Hall is certainly a place with an interesting past, and it maintains its haunted status to this day.

NASA Says Earth’s Closest Exoplanet Proxima B May Support Life

Come on, universe, what’s a guy gotta do to get just one little shred of evidence of extraterrestrial life? It doesn’t need to be anything too extraordinary. No antennaed green humanoids, no crawling masses of purple ooze, no silicon-based crystal creatures. At this point I’d be content with a single dead microbe clinging to the side of a meteor. I’m not picky – I just need to know: are we alone?

Of course, I’m not alone in my need to know. The search for alien life currently involves some of the most sophisticated astronomical equipment and laboratories on Earth, but has still yet to find conclusive proof of anything else out there in space crawling around eating and farting and dying like us. NASA has identified loads of planets which might support life, but the problem is they’re all so far away that we’ll likely never be able to reach and analyze them – in our lifetimes, anyway. Unless we hurry up and get that immortality thing together.

In more promising news, a team of NASA scientists has just published a study claiming that the closest known exoplanet, Proxima Centauri b, just might possibly be able to support life. The planet, also called Proxima b or Alpha Centauri Cb, lies just 4.2 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Centaurus. That’s only 40 trillion kilometers, or 25 trillion miles, the cosmic equivalent of a stone’s throw.

Alpha Centauri, left, Beta Centauri, right, and Proxima Centauri, circled in red.

Proxima b orbits the star Proxima Centauri and is roughly the size of Earth. For some time, astronomers have thought the planet to be uninhabitable due to the fact that it experiences extreme solar flares and radiation from its nearby star. However, the scientists behind this most recent study believe there could be scenarios in which Proxima b could still support life.

For example, if the planet happens to be tidally locked, meaning the same side faces its host star as it orbits, then surface water could allow for enough heat exchange between the hot and cold sides to support life throughout the whole planet. “An ocean-covered Proxima b could have a much broader area of surface liquid water but at much colder temperatures than previously suggested,” the authors write, adding that “Proxima b could be an inhabited, mostly open ocean planet with halophilic life.”

Another scenario could be that the planet formed much farther away from Proxima Centauri and has been slowly getting closer throughout its history, meaning some of the planet may still be habitable. UniverseToday has a good breakdown of all of these hypothetical scenarios and an interview with Anthony D. Del Genio of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies concerning this new research. 

It’s important to note, though, that all of these scenarios are hypothetical and were produced through a new type of planetary simulation software used by NASA in their hunt for exoplanets. Could our nearest neighbor support life? How convenient would that be? Let’s hope we get that EM Drive worked out soon. I need to know.

18.12 – MU Plus+ Podcast

Could dreams be more than we understand? Are they simply the collation of our waking lives or do they offer a portal to a higher reality? On this episode we follow one man’s journey into the nocturnal dream realm and cross the barriers of reality.

We also discover some wacky Japanese blood type theories and learn how your genes may influence your heath and wellbeing before discussing how your belly button can predict your lifespan.

This episode is EXCLUSIVE to Plus+ members. To join, click HERE.

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The Mysterious Lost Labyrinth of Egypt

There can be no doubt that Egypt is a land of deep, ancient mysteries that stretch back many millennia into the mists of time. Here is an enchanting land of magnificent ruins, soaring pyramids, and darkened tombs surrounded by whispers of curses and black magic. It is a place that has drawn the curiosity and study of archeologists and indeed the public for years, yet for all we have learned of this enigmatic place over the centuries there are still many secrets buried here in the desert sands, ensconced with mystery and as unknown as they always have been. One of these is an alleged network of subterranean tunnels and chambers whispered of in ancient and modern texts and forgotten for centuries, which are said to hold vast troves of lost knowledge and secrets and, if they exist, could change how we view history itself.

The almost mythological lost complex, known simply as “The Labyrinth” to the ancient Greeks after their own legends of the maze designed by Daedalus for King Minos of Crete to hold the mythic minotaur, is said to be composed of a vast web of meandering tunnels, rooms, temples, buildings, shrines, passageways, courtyards and chambers, sporting thousands of rooms and supposedly full of scores of ancient texts, hieroglyphs, artifacts, paintings, and untold treasure under the sands of Egypt. It was most famously first described by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote of it in his 5th century BC work Histories, Book, II, 148 claiming to have seen it himself and expounding on the grandeur of this place. He wrote of the Egyptian labyrinth:

They (the 12 kings) resolved to join all together and leave a memorial of themselves; and having so resolved they caused to be made a Labyrinth, situated a little above the lake of Moiris and nearly opposite to that which is called the City of Crocodiles. This I saw myself, and I found it greater than words can say. For if one should put together and reckon up all the buildings and all the great works produced by the Hellenes, they would prove to be inferior in labour and expense to this Labyrinth, though it is true that both the temple at Ephesos and that at Samos are works worthy of note.

 

The pyramids also were greater than words can say, and each one of them is equal to many works of the Hellenes, great as they may be; but the Labyrinth surpasses even the pyramids. It has twelve courts covered in, with gates facing one another, six upon the North side and six upon the South, joining on one to another, and the same wall surrounds them all outside; and there are in it two kinds of chambers, the one kind below the ground and the other above upon these, three thousand in number, of each kind fifteen hundred.

 

The upper set of chambers we ourselves saw, going through them, and we tell of them having looked upon them with our own eyes; but the chambers underground we heard about only; for the Egyptians who had charge of them were not willing on any account to show them, saying that here were the sepulchers of the kings who had first built this Labyrinth and of the sacred crocodiles. Accordingly we speak of the chambers below by what we received from hearsay, while those above we saw ourselves and found them to be works of more than human greatness. For the passages through the chambers, and the goings this way and that way through the courts, which were admirably adorned, afforded endless matter for marvel, as we went through from a court to the chambers beyond it, and from the chambers to colonnades, and from the colonnades to other rooms, and then from the chambers again to other courts.

 

Over the whole of these is a ceiling made of stone like the walls; and the walls are covered with figures carved upon them, each court being surrounded with pillars of white stone fitted together most perfectly; and at the end of the Labyrinth, by the corner of it, there is a pyramid of forty fathoms, upon which large figures are carved, and to this there is a way made underground. But a cause for marvel even greater than this is afforded by the lake, which is called the lake of Moiris, along the side of which this Labyrinth is built.

While this amazing account of Herodotus is the most widely known and perhaps the most famous, there were many other mentions of this mysterious place by authors and historians throughout the ages, including Manetho Aegyptiaca (3rd century BC), Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC), Strabo (64 BC – 19 AD), Pliny (23 – 79 AD), and Pomponius Mela (c 43 AD), among others, many of whom saw the mystical place themselves and gave consistent and detailed descriptions of the complex, somewhat dispelling the notion that it was a purely mythical construct. Many of these authors make persistent mention of a confusing profusion of paths, tunnels, ramps, and stairs, and there are more mysterious details as well, such as a mention of a “a fearful noise of thunder” that permeated the whole colossal complex. There is also frequent mention of numerous soaring columns, a solid stone slab for a roof, and of the infinite treasures and beauty held within the Labyrinth, such as a description by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, who wrote:

When one had entered the sacred enclosure, one found a temple surrounded by columns, 40 to each side, and this building had a roof made of a single stone, carved with panels and richly adorned with excellent paintings. It contained memorials of the homeland of each of the kings as well as of the temples and sacrifices carried out in it, all skillfully worked in paintings of the greatest beauty.

Despite these frequent historical accounts of the magnificence of the Labyrinth of Egypt, it has long been seen as being a possible myth or legend, but this has not stopped people from actually searching for it. Making things difficult is that there is little mention of where the Labyrinth actually is in these old accounts, merely hints and clues. Herodotus himself said only that a pyramid was situated at one corner of the structure and that it was “a little above the lake of Moiris and nearly opposite to that which is called the City of Crocodiles,” and this is all maddeningly vague. Nevertheless, throughout the years there have been several serious expeditions that have sought to unravel the clues and solve the mystery.

One of the first attempts to seriously find and study the Labyrinth was in 1842, with a team sent to Egypt by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia. The team, led by the archeologist Richard Lepsius, believed that the pyramid Herodotus had spoken of was the pyramid of Amenemhat III in the Hawara region of Faium, and that the City of Crocodiles was the old capital of the Faiyum Oasis valley, and so they concentrated their efforts there. They claimed to have been successful in locating the vast structure when they located large columns, ruins, and the remains of what they believed to be the artificial Lake Moeris that Herodotus had spoken of. The discovery has subsequently been sort of forgotten, and it is unclear just what they found out there, or whether it was really the legendary Labyrinth.

In 1888, famed English Egyptologist and archeologist Flinders Petrie claimed to have found the lost Labyrinth as well, ironically when he was in the same region on a mission to debunk Lepsius’ discovery as merely the remains of an old Roman village. Petrie would claim to have done some excavating at the alleged site and come across a massive stone slab of epic proportions, chipped and eroded by time, which he estimated as stretching over an area of 1116 feet by 800 feet, and reaching down to at least 6 feet deep, which he believed to be a part of the actual Labyrinth. According to Petrie, the site would have once held a colossal building measuring 1,000 by 800 feet, and it truly seemed as if he were on to something, but the site was not properly secured, and would be destroyed by quarrying, leaving it uncertain as to just what exactly he found out there in that wasteland.

Interpretation of the labyrinth

More recently was an expedition launched in 2008 by a group of researchers from Belgium and Egypt led by a Louis de Cordier, which descended on the region with state of the art ground penetrating radar in an effort to solve the mystery once and for all, thinking that Petrie had in fact found the ceiling of the structure. There on the south side of the Harawa Pyramid the so-called Mataha Expedition claimed to have found evidence of some sort of vast structure lurking deep down in the earth. Using their advanced technology, they found signs of chambers, rooms, tunnels, and thick walls, including two enormous chambers measuring 150m by 100m and 80m by 100m. Although the presence of large amounts of groundwater and a canal nearby made it hard to get a completely accurate reading, with such a complex network picked up on the radar it was thought that the legendary lost Labyrinth of Egypt had finally been found, but the discovery would hit some hurdles, from then on which have served to make the facts murky and spark rumors of shadowy conspiracies.

Although the results of the Mataha Expedition were officially published in the scientific journal of the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics (NRIAG) and divulged in various academic public lectures on the matter, the Egyptian Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities suddenly and without warning came in to silence everything. Due to this, the findings were buried and never made public, suppressed and hidden indefinitely. The frustrated researchers would end up setting up a website in 2010 in order to covertly release their findings, but the official details, records, and data of the expedition continue to be off-limits. Indeed, the Egyptian government has gone so far as to officially deny that anything was found at all, with one such release reading:

These things exist only in the minds of those who seek to attract the seekers for mystery, and the more we deny the existence of these things, the more the public is led to suspect that we are deliberately trying to hide that which constitutes one of the great secrets of Egypt. It is better for us to ignore all of these claims than merely deny them. All of our excavations in the territory of the Pyramid have failed to reveal any underground passageways or halls, temples, grottos, or anything of the kind.

It is unclear why this should all be covered-up, but what is certain is that with such intense denial and obfuscation by the government it is nearly impossible to tell just to what extent the expedition’s discovery reached, or whether they really did find the labyrinth that has been searched for centuries. The great Labyrinth of Egypt has in the meantime managed to remain just as mysterious as it always has been, a practically mythical place of grand underground structures that could very well hold knowledge that could change our very understanding of history. What might lie within those long buried chambers and corridors? What profound discoveries await those who unearth this place of legend and mystery? Indeed, does it really even exist at all? It remains to be seen, and continues to be another one of the many strange mysteries of this ancient land.

Solar Observatory Mysteriously Reopens After Investigation

They’re ba-ack!

The FBI and the Blackhawk helicopters are gone and the employees of the Sunspot Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak in New Mexico are slowly coming back after the facility was mysteriously evacuated and closed on September 6th without explanation, causing rumors and conspiracy theories of all sizes and flavors to flourish. While the reason given for the closure seems to make sense in hindsight, the stress it caused local residents (some of whom were also evacuated) and law enforcement officials makes many wonder if it wasn’t overkill … or if there’s still some things they’re not being told.

“However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.”

The Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope

A spokesperson for AURA, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy which runs the 71-year-old solar observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, finally revealed on September 16th that the investigation was criminal in nature, but gave no details on the crime itself.

“AURA has been cooperating with an ongoing law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location.”

Temporarily? Eleven days of evacuation plus a total news blackout at a facility whose main feature is a telescope makes one say more than “Hmm.” The observatory is near Holloman Air Force Base, the White Sands Missile Range and, of course, Roswell. The investigation was done by the FBI and the owners of the Blackhawk helicopters, not members of local law enforcement, who were asked to leave and kept in the dark.

As of this writing, there is no news of arrests being made or criminal charges being filed as a result of the alleged criminal investigation. The nine employees are back on the job and the facility is again open for tourists. How long will it take before they’re tired of being asked the same questions that have nothing to do with the Dunn Solar Telescope or the sun?

While the sun continues to shine everywhere else, Sunspot seems to be under a dome covered with an SPF 100 suncreen.

Ancient Altar Depicts Mayan ‘Game of Thrones’ Dynasty

A king brings many neighboring cities under his control with an array of complex political maneuvers, defeats a rival by joining forces with smaller cities and uses a wedding as a strategic tool. This sounds like it’s right out of “Game of Thrones” but it’s actually right off of a Mayan altar found in Guatemala whose hieroglyphic carvings and writings depict this real scenario from the ancient Serpent Kingdom. Does it reveal how the series will end?

“This altar shows us a part of Guatemala’s history and in this case, around 1,500 years ago, I would call this the historical Mayan version of Game of Thrones. It’s a high quality work of art that shows us they were rulers entering into a period of great power and who were allying themselves with others to compete, in this case, with Tikal.”

Tomas Barrientos, co-director of excavations and investigations at the La Corona archeological site in northern Guatemala near the borders with Mexico and Belize, described the discovery of the historical altar to AFP (the Agence France-Presse news agency). The 1.46-meter by 1.2-meter (4.8 feet by 3.9 feet), one-ton limestone slab (see photos here) found in a temple was easily dated to May 12, 544, because it contains a hieroglyphic Mayan inscription that translates “May 12, 544.” That puts it in the reign of King Chak Took Ich’aak, ruler of La Corona. And that is where the “Game of Thrones” comparisons begin.

“The discovery of this altar allows us to identify an entirely new king of La Corona who apparently had close political ties with the capital of the Kaanul kingdom, Dzibanche, and with the nearby city of El Peru-Waka.”

Archaeologist Marcello A. Canuto, director of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane and co-director of the La Corona Regional Archaeological Project (PRALC), laid out the real-life plot in a Tulane University press release. The altar shows an image of King Chak Took Ich’aak holding a double-headed serpent effigy showing the emergence of La Corona’s two patron gods. The altar predates the king’s rule over the nearby city of El Peru-Waka, which joined La Corona to form the Kaanul dynasty, more popularly known by the TV-ready name — “Serpent Kingdom.” This puts King Chak Took Ich’aak as the kingpin who built political alliances with smaller cities around its rival, Tikal, that expanded the Serpent Kingdom into a Mesoamerican powerhouse. Those deals depicted on the altar included a wedding between a princess from the Serpent Kingdom and a King of La Corona.

Maya Hieroglyphs

And then?

The Serpent Kingdom defeated Tikal in 562 CE and ruled the Maya lowlands for the next 200 years … until the Tikal defeated it and reclaimed the area. While there are similarities between the formation of the Serpent Kingdom and the Game of Throne’s Seven Kingdoms, this doesn’t really give any clues as to what will happen in Season 8. However, that doesn’t seem to bother Tomas Barrientos.

“Having information about what happened next, how they were plotting a political strategy here, teaches us a lot about politics in those times and the fight for territory.”

It’s truly an interesting story … but a dragon or two would help.

New DNA Kit Lets Anyone Make DIY Mutant Frogs

It’s time for another edition of “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” Today’s category: messing with the DNA of amphibians that are considered to be nature’s version of the canary in the coal mine. A doctor of biochemistry and biophysics from the University of Chicago is selling a do-it-yourself kit containing everything one needs to alter the DNA of a frog (frogs included) and potentially give it super strength and jumping ability. What could possibly go wrong? Will this go beyond inspiring a series of Frog Man movies (Attack of the Frog Man; Frog Man Takes Manhattan; Frog Leg vs. Bigfoot) and lead to real frog-human hybrids … or worse?

If the name on the box (we know you already ordered one – at $499 it’s a bargain even if it doesn’t work) sounds familiar, you’re up on your DIY Biohacker Hall of Fame. Dr. Josiah Zayner is the former NASA fellow and inventor of the Chromochord — the world’s first musical instrument based on engineered protein nanotechnology – who last year injected himself with a CRISPR tool programmed to attack his myostatin gene to increase his muscle growth. He’s still alive (although he doesn’t appear to have incredibly hulked up) and began selling a human biohacking Genetic Engineering Home Lab Kit (complete with human DNA) through his company, The Odin … until the FDA brought him down.

“FDA is aware that gene therapy products intended for self-administration and do-it-yourself kits to produce gene therapies for self-administration are being made available to the public. The sale of these products is against the law. FDA is concerned about the safety risks involved.”

According to Bloomberg, after checking to see if the FDA cared about amphibians as much as humans (it doesn’t – frogs are a cold-blooded minor species not protected by the Animal Welfare Act), he switched over to green tree frogs (Hyla cinerea), After six months of testing, Zayner rolled out the Frog Genetic Engineering Kit Beta Test Version which, once your $499 payment clears and you complete a six-question online safety quiz (How often do you feed frogs? What temperature should the frogs be kept at? What are your thoughts on world domination through mutant amphibians? (OK, that last one’s not on the list … but it should be)). When the terrified UPS driver arrives, you’ll open a box containing six live green tree frogs, two cages, 1g Benzocaine anesthetic, live crickets, 10 syringes of 20ug DNA mixed with transfection reagent, 10 syringes of PBS and everything else one needs … except for instructions on how to take down a 10-foot-frog and the name of a good biohacker defense lawyer (maybe you’re supposed to biohack one?).

In his own tests, Zaynor gave frogs a DNA mixture containing IGF-1, a human growth factor, saw their weight increase on average increased by 23 percent and found the DNA in the frogs’ livers, which indicated the frogs were reproducing it. Is that enough for a “Eureka!” moment?

“I don’t want to say I want to, like, take down the FDA, but we need to figure out a new model that works. There are a ton of people dying and suffering that don’t have access to the drugs they need. Something is going to have to break eventually, right? I don’t know when, and I don’t know what’s going to cause it, but maybe we can help push things forward.”

Zayner defends his DIY frog biohacking kit as a noble gesture to help humans frustrated with government bureaucracy, medical caution and lack of insurance learn how to modify the genes of frogs in hopes that they can someday modify their own … dots that until now have only been connected in sci-fi movies and TV shows.

What could (or will or may already have) possibly go wrong?

Will one escaped modified tree frog eventually find a DIY human DNA biohacking kit and someday cause all of mankind to croak?

A Mysterious and Dangerous Unsealed Ancient Vault in India

Lying within Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala, India, is a grand structure known as Padmanabhaswamy Temple, with the name derived from the word Padmanabha, meaning “One emerging from the lotus.” Dating back to at least the 6th century and steadily renovated throughout the 16th century by the Kings of the Travancore Royal Family, it is one of the 108 temples of Vaishnavism, or the worship of Vishnu, one of the main deities of Hinduism. Indeed, the lavish temple prominently displays an enormous statue of Vishnu depicted in an unusual reclining position upon the five-hooded serpent Anantha, or Adi Sesha, with the whole thing measuring 20 feet square and carved from a single vast slab of stone. This is already quite a grand place, with its unique architecture, its massive statues and ornate sculptures, and copious amounts of gold leafing and a gold plated exterior. It also holds a dark and ancient mystery that has remained unsolved to this day, and mysterious doorway that has remained sealed for centuries and leads to the unknown.

Padmanabhaswamy Temple has featured heavily in lore and literature, especially within Sangam Tamil literature and poetry, where it was often depicted as having once been a wondrous place full of vast riches and with walls crafted from gold, and known as one of the the richest temples in the world. Yet in addition to its sheer splendor, it is also a place of great mystery, with its exact year of founding unknown and much of the complex unexplored or kept secret from the outside world for hundreds of years, and in recent times it has been found to be even more impressive and mysterious than it already was.

Padmanabhaswamy Temple

In 2011, the ancient temple was finally explored more thoroughly after long being mostly closed off entirely from the outside world by the secretive royal family of Travancore, and it was found to house 6 massive sealed underground vaults, labelled A to F, and all closed off with ornately designed solid iron or granite doors that were locked tight and seemed to be utterly immovable. It appeared that they had never been opened by the priests of the temple, and it was completely unknown as to what was there in the ancient darkness beyond. At the time these doors and the mysterious vaults that lie behind them captured the public imagination, and the media watched every new development carefully as preparations were made to enter and catalogue the contents of these forgotten places. Much speculation swirled at the time as to what would be discovered within, with ideas ranging from that they would find mere dust and bones, others who surmised they held unfathomable riches, and others still certain that they held curses or even the secrets of the universe. Nobody knew as crews began trying to open them.

Getting the formidable vaults open would quickly prove to be easier said than done. Starting from vault A it was immediately apparent that these were protected, forbidden places not meant to ever be opened, and very likely intentionally sealed for the rest of eternity, and it took nearly a full day of nonstop effort with modern equipment to pry the first vault open, which held within it a vast trove of treasure beyond perhaps anyone’s expectations. There glittering in the murk were jewels, coins, gold and silver bars, solid gold idols and figurines, diamonds, gemstone encrusted artifacts and ceremonial garb, ornate jewelry, over 2,000 pounds of gold coins, and a massive gem and diamond studded golden throne. One of the members of the government committee sent to oversee the project would say of the breathtaking sight:

When the granite slab was removed, almost absolute darkness prevailed behind it – it was diluted only by a dim ray of light from the doorway. I looked into the black pantry, and I saw an amazing sight: like stars shimmered in the sky on a moonless night. Diamonds and other precious stones flashed, reflecting the faint light coming from the open door. Most of the treasures were stacked in wooden chests, but eventually the tree turned into rubbish. Precious stones and gold simply lay in piles on the dusty floor. They were not really arranged systematically. There were baskets, some earthen pots, some copper pots, and in all these things, these things were kept. It was a magnificent experience. There are no words to describe it. I have never seen anything like this.

Other vaults in the temple would prove to be equally as hard to open, yet also bursting with mind-boggling amounts of lost treasure, until an estimated $22 billion dollars’ worth of loot was eventually catalogued from the vaults, all thought to be the result of the accumulation of thousands of years of donations and gifts to the temple and its deity from Kings and dynasties across the land. Yet for all of this amazing wealth uncovered, although 5 of the vaults were opened, one remained stubbornly resistant to all efforts to disgorge its secrets. Vault B, also called Bharatakkon Kallara, is unique amongst the others, considered to be a Holy repository closely associated with the Deity Vishnu and with an exceptionally sturdy solid iron door lacking any nuts, bolts, locks, knobs, or latches, and adorned with the image of two gigantic cobras on each side denoting it as a special and sacred place indeed, and it is not even included in the official temple inventory. Initial efforts to open Vault B met with failure, and indeed its secrets remain sealed away to this day.

There are many strange stories, rumors, and legends associated with the mysterious Vault B. One is a legend that states that the door is impossible to open by any earthly means, that it had been in fact sealed by a mystical spell and mantra that could only be undone by the one who had cast it or an equally powerful priest. If a proper counter spell called a “Garuda Mantra” is uttered, it is said that the door will magically unlock and open to disgorge its secrets. Additionally, anyone who tries to forcefully open the door is rumored to be cursed for trying, and that to actually force it open is to flirt with unimaginable catastrophe. Indeed, it has long been rumored that many of the original committee tasked with trying to divulge the chamber’s secrets have met with freak accidents and misfortune, further bolstering the idea that the vault is cursed.

Another persistent rumor is that the vault is protected by a spell called a Naga Bandham, or “snake binding spell,” which is said to conjure up the protection of serpent deities. According to this tale, anyone who tries to enter the inner sanctum of the chamber will incite the fury and wrath of these snake spirits, and there is one unverified account of this in action. In the 1933 book Travancore; a guide book for the visitor, author Emily Gilchriest Hatch describes a harrowing incident in which some people visiting the temple tried to pry the vault open in 1931, only to find it crawling with countless venomous snakes that sent them running in terror. In this curse, it is said that a particular set of soundwaves at a specific frequency is to be aimed at the inner lock mechanism, which will supposedly disengage the curse and open the door.

Yet another rumor is that the door to the vault issues forth the sounds the crashing waves of the sea, leading to the idea that it is attached somehow by a secret tunnel to the ocean. According to this story, opening that door could very well unleash a catastrophic flood that would inundate all of Kerala, and that it is best left untouched. In every one of these scenarios we have curses, misfortune, death, cataclysm, and deadly snakes, but while these may just be legends the fact remains that Vault B has never been opened. What lies within it? Some say that it holds a treasure the likes of which the world has never seen, and there is also the theory that is contains tomes of magical and esoteric knowledge, but no one really knows. The only one said to understand the secret of this mysterious locked chamber is Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the head of the erstwhile royal family of Travancore, and he has vowed never to reveal it.

The soundtrack of Indiana Jones is playing in you head now, isn’t it? For now, the mysterious Vault B of Padmanabhaswamy Temple keeps its ancient enigmas buried within it, and it is one of the most heavily guarded and monitored places on the planet. Here heavily armed guards and state of the art surveillance equipment keep watch on it and the other vaults, although despite this it is estimated that millions of dollars’ worth of treasure has “disappeared” from here since it was made known to the outside world, and it is even believed that Vault B may have very well been raided in past eras through some as yet undiscovered subterranean tunnel. What will happen if this ancient place is ever opened? Will we find treasure beyond our wildest dreams, or curses, cataclysm, and black magic? Can it even be opened at all by any means we possess? We may never know.

“The Bray Road Beast” — A New Film from Small Town Monsters

There are vehicles you see while traveling that just make you feel those inside are on the road to a fun time: a car with surfboards on top; an SUV filled with happy kids; a beer truck. Wherever they’re going, you want to follow them. Then there’s the Small Town Monsters van. Like the scenes of dark and desolate roads that open this independent film company’s documentaries, you get a shiver and a feeling that make you consider taking the next fork that they don’t … unless you’re looking for a great scary and interesting tale of little-known monsters in the tradition Seth Breedlove’s Small Town Monsters team has fast become known for. Then get in the caravan behind them because they’re on the road to a new adventure … but first, watch their new movie, “The Bray Road Beast.”

The trip down Bray Road first takes the audience to two people who know the story well: Linda Godfrey, a reporter whose investigations were the basis for her book, “Beast of Bray Road: Tailing Wisconsin’s Werewolf”; and John Fredrickson, a retired Walworth County animal control officer who was involved in many of the investigations. They do a straightforward and detailed job of telling the history of Elkwood, Wisconsin (with help from members of the Bray family), how they were pulled into the mysterious sightings of the early 1990s, and why the fear and earnestness of the witnesses convinced them that something unusual was in Elkwood. Linda recounts her oft-told story of how something that more resembles a werewolf became known as the Beast and shares a number of little-known facts that add meat to the story.

Speaking of meat, Seth adds meaty bookends to the bookish documentary (it cleverly unfolds as chapters of an ancient tome) with stories of earlier sightings and current ones that add a satanic cult element to the tale with examples of suspicious animal mutilations. In fact, the entire cheese-loving state of Wisconsin becomes a co-conspirator in some of these demonic accounts.

The Small Town Monsters crew moves the story along with plenty of candle-lit scenes, gloomy deserted streets and spooky shots of local landmarks. It’s all narrated by the suitably chilling voice of Lyle Blackburn. Eyewitness accounts are recreated with multiple forms of animation that bring the beast to life … unless the Beast of Bray Road is still alive?

For the answer to that, you have to take your own Bray Road trip with Small Town Monsters. “The Bray Road Beast” can be pre-ordered now on the Small Town Monsters website so you can be the envy of your cryptid-loving mail carrier delivering it after its official release on October 5, 2018.

With this latest installment in the fast-growing library of Small Town Monster documentaries, Seth Breedlove and his team should be thanked for giving lesser-known cryptids some much-needed publicity and helping off-the-beaten-path-monster fans plan their next summer vacation.