Say What? The top odd stories of 2010

Say What? The top odd stories of 2010

BY Drew Berner

The weird and wonderful continued to delight in 2010. There were UFO sightings at home and abroad, and apparent evidence of the legendary chupacabra's existence. We were captivated by stories of sexy Russian spies, an airline steward's final exit, and enamoured by one World Cup soccer fan in particular. Follow us as we look back at the odds and ends from the past year we like to call Say What?!

1. NEWFOULDLAND UFO - There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of UFO sightings every year, but there was something a little different when residents of Harbour Mille, Nfld., spotted an object flying over the Atlantic. In January, residents of the tiny coastal village were stunned to see an object seemingly rise out of the ocean, in the middle of the day, trailed by what looked to be flames. Some managed to snap pictures that show something cylindrical traveling across the sky. Once alarms were raised, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police took up the case. The Department of National Defense offered enough information to the RCMP to offer credence to the sighting though no information has been publicly released. Some suspected a missile, as the French government confirmed days after the sighting that they have tested missiles at St. Pierre and Miquleon, just off the coast of Newfoundland. But the Prime Minister's office declared it wasn't a missile, so the mystery remains.

2. EL CHUPACABRA - It's amazing how stories about strange creatures can grow over time. Take the Central American legend of "El Chupacabra" as example. The name translates as "goat sucker." It's been described as everything from a rodent-like creature that hops like a kangaroo to a large dog with scaly skin instead of fur. In all versions the M.O. is the same: it's found feeding on pets and livestock.The first reported chupacabra sighting happened in Puerto Rico in 1995, but there's never been scientific evidence to prove its existence or activities. Until this year, it was believed.In July, animal control officers in Texas apparently shot and killed a chupacabra. But when scientists tested the carcass, they found it was essentially a coyote with a severe case of sarcoptic mange–a highly contagious parasitic disorder that causes hair loss and scaling of the skin. And so after 15 years, the mystery of El Chupacabra remains unsolved. Perhaps the Loch Ness Monster will reveal its secrets this year?

3. ANNA CHAPMAN - The Cold War may have ended, but apparently Russia still employs spies to keep tabs on its U.S. friends. This revelation came to light when Anna Chapman was arrested along with nine others and charged with handing U.S. secrets over to the Russian government. The story would have held plenty of intrigue regardless of the people involved, but Chapman's femme-fatale looks grabbed attention around the world, and subsequently nabbed her a photo shoot with men's magazine Maxim. Like a character out of a James Bond movie, the 28-year-old posed as a civilian while working to gain access to influential policymakers. She allegedly used basic cloak-and-dagger tactics like invisible ink and secret codes to send sensitive info, something one would expect from spy games of young boys and girls, not actual secret agents. The FBI, who had been investigating Chapman and several others, set up a trap by asking her to pass a phony passport to another supposed Russian operative. She took the passport, but instead turned it into a police station. She was arrested a short time later and eventually sent back to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange. But the story didn't end there. One Russian newspaper reported that, according to a government source, an assassin had been hired to kill the leader of Chapman's spy unit because he was a double agent working for the U.S. Can we just call Jason Bourne to sort this out already?

4. DEBRAHLEE LORENZANA - In another scandal involving a beautiful woman, Debrahlee Lorenzana's termination from Citibank would have gone completely unnoticed if it weren't for her looks—which she claimed was the reason that she was fired. Lorenzana was hired by Citigroup in 2008 as a business banker at a branch in New York's Chrysler Building. Following a transfer, she was fired in 2009 allegedly for disputes over whether she was dressed too provocatively for her job. This year she filed a lawsuit against Citigroup stating that she was treated unfairly and terminated due to her looks—and that's when the media sat up and took notice. The 33-year-old single mother made headlines around the world after the Village Voice broke her story asking whether Lorenzana was "Too Hot for Citibank?" She was invited on Good Morning America and Today Show, and commentators across the TV dial debated the merits of her case. Controversy doesn't end there for Debrahlee. While she managed to find employment at a new bank who could appreciate her skills rather than wardrobe, she says she was warned by managers against speaking to the press.

5. STEPHEN HAWKING - Pitting science against religion is rarely suggested for those looking to build bridges, but leave it to the world's foremost theoretical physicist to stir this hot pot. Stephen Hawking caused headlines this year when he went one step further than the usual "Did He or didn't He?" debate and stated with scientific certainty that the creation of the universe didn't require a God. While his widely quoted masterwork, A Brief History of Time, struggles to reconcile physical laws and properties with the existence of God, his newest book, The Grand Design, argues "Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist." But, that wasn't the only contentious claim Hawking made in 2010. He also made every Back to the Future fan's dreams come true commenting that time travel is indeed possible—an idea he's toyed with for years. And in a third bold statement, he warned his fellow earthlings against trying to make contact with aliens. He likened the idea to Christopher Columbus making first contact with Native Americans noting that it "didn't turn out very well" for the locals. Hawking may have earned the nickname 'Einstein' as a schoolboy, but if he keeps making wild proclamations, people are going to start comparing him to Kanye West before long.

6. JACKIE EVANCHO - Move over Susan Boyle, there's a new kid in town. Her name is Jackie Evancho, she's 10years old, and if you haven't heard of her already, she's a vocal phenomenon. Evancho gained fame during the fifth season of America's Got Talent, dazzling both judges and audiences with her larger-than-life voice. Like Boyle, the precocious youngster lost in the contest that made her famous—Boyle lost out in the 2009 season of Britain's Got Talent, a move considered a huge upset—and went on to outshine the victor. But unlike Boyle, she seems to have handled the stress of stardom with much more aplomb. Since her stint on America's Got Talent, Evancho has appeared on The Tonight Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, and on Dec. 2 became the youngest female vocal soloist to perform at Carnegie Hall. Amazon ranked her major-label debut No. 1 even before it was released, a sign that she may soon compete with Boyle's mammoth sales figures.

7 . LARISSA RIQUELME - Plenty of sports teams have famous fans. If you catch a Lakers game at the Staples Center, you know Jack Nicholson will be in the front row; go to a Chicago Blackhawks game and that tall guy sitting near the glass might just be Vince Vaughn. But with an event as big as the World Cup, it takes something special to draw attention away from the field. That is, unless you're a Paraguayan model with a passion for soccer and a preference for revealing clothing. Larissa Riquelme caused a sensation at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where she enthusiastically cheered her home team to the quarter-finals. As her photos circulated, World Cup watchers asked "Who is this woman?" After Argetinian coach Diego Maradona vowed to run naked through the streets if his squad won the tournament, Riquelme matched him by promising to run through her hometown of Asuncion wearing only body paint in the colours of her country's flag. Paraguay was knocked out in the semi-final by eventual-winner Spain, but Riquelme said she would follow through on her promise anyway, just because.

8. STEVE SLATER - Depending on which side you take, JetBlue airline attendant Steven Slater is either an irresponsible employee or a hero to the working man. If you've heard his story you undoubtedly have an opinion either way. Anyone who's worked in the service industry knows that certain customers can push an employee right to their limit, but in August 2010 Slater had had enough. After apparently arguing with a passenger about opening an overhead storage bin while the plane was taxiing, Slater blew a fuse uttering profanities over the plane's public address system before activating the emergency slide and jumping to the tarmac below. And here's the kicker: he allegedly grabbed two beers from the plane's fridge before his dramatic exit. The story seemed to strike a nerve with every employee who ever wished they could quit their job in such a spectacular fashion. However, Slater later tried to claim that he hadn't intended to quit his job—though he eventually did resign. It's too bad, because the story loses something when its hero quibbles with the details.

9. CHINA UFOS - China seemed to have more than its fair share of close encounters this year, including multiple sightings caught on video. One might call 2010 the year of the UFO for the People's Republic. One event back in July closed down Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport after the crew of a commercial flight noticed an object in the sky above the runways. Air traffic controllers quickly closed the airspace and no explanation was ever offered for the mysterious sighting. Another airport in Inner Mongolia was also closed after a bright light suddenly appeared over Baotou. Flights were told to circle for as long as an hour as they waited to see what would happen. The lights eventually disappeared without a trace. There were plenty of other instances. As many as eight were recorded between June and October making this one of the busiest years on record for UFO sightings in China.

10. MARS HOAX - This past summer, odds are someone you know sent you an email with the subject line, "Two Moons on Aug. 27." At first it looked like a typical spam message, but its promise of a rare astrological event—Mars passing close enough to Earth in its orbit to appear as large as the moon—captured peoples' imaginations. The story would spread as far and wide as social networks would allow. It doesn't take Stephen Hawking to tell you that's scientifically impossible—and would have been catastrophic for our planet if it ever did happen. The math is pretty clear: Mars is about twice the size of the moon, and at the closest point in its orbit is about 145 times farther from the Earth than the moon. How could they appear the same size? Of course, most people don't know that, hence why each year since 2003 the same email has circulated across the Internet. The original email actually did mark the closest Mars had been to Earth in close to 60,000 years, but the misreading of the phrase, "At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye" caused a chain reaction that's only echoed farther every year since.

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