Check back here daily for the latest oddball stories that just may give you a chuckle or leave you scratching your head.
Beer biosphere? Air tests positive for booze at frat party
BALTIMORE — There was so much drinking at a frat party in Maryland that police say even the air tested positive for alcohol. Montgomery County Police wrote in charging documents that an officer who tested the air in the Bethesda home with a breathalyzer got a reading of .01. Because of that, officers had to test dozens of mostly underage partygoers outside.
The Nov. 14 party was first reported by WJLA-TV.
Police were called to the house for reports of a loud party.
Police say six men who lived at the house, all 20, were each charged with more than 100 counts of providing alcohol to minors.
Court documents show residents said most of the partygoers were students at American University in Washington.
Navy rediscovers captured flags hidden for nearly 100 years
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The curator of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum wasn't exactly sure what would be found: records indicated five display boxes long used to exhibit captured British flags from the War of 1812 actually concealed more banners underneath.
But not until all 61 banners were painstakingly removed in December for a conservation effort did curator Charles Swift, who is also the museum's managing director, actually see what was hidden. And he was gratified to learn that conservationists had uncovered dozens of other flags — many captured by the Navy in other conflicts of the 19th century.
The 46 newly discovered flags — including banners from battles in Asia and from the Spanish-American War — had originally been put on display in 1913. But seven years later, they were covered up by the 15 flags from the War of 1812 — and sealed up for nearly a century.
No one alive had seen the flags long hidden from view.
"More importantly than just seeing them was seeing the colors," said Swift. "It is what struck me immediately. It was sort of dark, but you could see the colors — the vibrant colors — of them having not been in light for 100 years, and so it was exciting."
The flags, covered by the others in boxes with large plate-glass lids, speak to an earlier era of U.S. intervention overseas. They include one taken from a Chinese pirate fort off Macau dating to 1854 and another captured in Korea in 1871, according to Swift. There were even some replicas of Revolutionary War-era flags among them.
He said no one had attempted to open the boxes for so long until it came time for needed conservation.
"It was mostly the recognition that after 100 years, these things really needed to be taken down, because hanging like this places stresses on the flags," said Swift. "It can tear them. They can be damaged. So, they're getting a well-deserved vacation."
In 1849, then-President James K. Polk designated the academy in Annapolis, Maryland, as the repository of flags captured in battle by the Navy. The museum is now home to about 800 flags and trusted with their conservation, Swift said. About 250 of them are trophy flags seized in battle. The museum also houses seafaring instruments, naval uniforms, medals, photographs, art and items recalling past naval expeditions and explorations.
"We are ultimately stewards of these objects that tell important stories," said Swift, whose museum boasts more than 100,000 visitors a year.
Amelia Fowler, a well-known flag preserver who restored the original Star-Spangled Banner in 1914, was contracted in 1912 to conserve the academy's collection of trophy flags. She worked with dozens of other women in the museum's Mahan Hall, using a patented stitching method to help preserve the fabric. All told, they stitched up enough flags to cover two football fields, Swift said.
Camille Myers Breeze is working on a new conservation process for the flags as director of an independent conservation studio, Museum Textile Services, based in Massachusetts. She said Fowler's work has enabled her crew to handle the flags without risk of damage.
"For us to conserve a collection of flags like this that's historical — not only for its use, but for how it was preserved and how it has been installed here for 100 years for Naval Academy students and visitors to appreciate and learn from," she said. "It's really our favorite kind of project."
Swift said funding for the conservation, about $40,000, came from the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, which is tasked with preserving artifacts, documents and other items of that military branch.
Stylist accused of giving man unwanted 'Stooges' hairdo
MADISON, Wis. — Police in Madison, Wisconsin, arrested a hairstylist after he gave a customer a very unwanted Larry Fine hairdo.
Police spokesman Joel DeSpain says the 22-year-old victim told officers the stylist asked him to stop fidgeting and moving his head during the Friday haircut. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that DeSpain says the stylist then nicked the customer's ear with his clippers before running them down the middle of the man's head on their shortest attachment, "leaving him looking a bit like Larry from 'The Three Stooges.'"
DeSpain says officers arrested the 46-year-old hairstylist, Khaled A. Shabani, who pleaded not guilty to disorderly conduct Wednesday. DeSpain says Shabani told officers it was an accident.
Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj
Free bird: Officer rescues snowy owl from prison barbed wire
HUNTINGDON, Pa. — A resourceful Pennsylvania wildlife conservation officer has helped to engineer a daring prison escape.
A snowy owl that had become trapped in barbed wire in a perimeter fence at the Smithfield prison in Huntingdon was rescued on Christmas Day.
Pennsylvania Game Commission officer Amanda Isett used a crate, a net and an Army blanket to coax the bird out.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the owl escaped with only some minor skin tears and a few missing feathers. The owl is being treated at Centre Wildlife Care in Port Matilda, near Penn State University.
The juvenile male owl is expected to make a full recovery and will be released once its feathers grow back.
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com
Special delivery: Family welcomes 2nd Christmas Eve baby
STONY BROOK, N.Y. — For one suburban New York family, Christmas Eve is turning into a tradition of very special deliveries.
Newsday says Stony Brook residents Jacki and Josh Grossman had their second son on Sunday, four years after their first son arrived.
Baby Elliott and older brother Oliver were delivered at Stony Brook University Hospital by Dr. Phil Schoenfeld. The doctor has worked Christmas Eve at the hospital for the past 17 years.
Jacki Grossman says she "couldn't feel more blessed" than to have her boys share such a special day. She says, "It must have been meant to be."
Oliver says he doesn't mind sharing his birthday with his new brother. His mother says he ran around the hospital spreading the news.
Information from: Newsday, http://www.newsday.com
A cougar in your luggage? Hunting carcass found at airport
LAS VEGAS — Police say a hunter's trip home hit a snag in Las Vegas after security screeners found a dead cougar in his luggage.
No crime was committed because the man had a hunting tag. But police Lt. David Gordon told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Transportation Security Administration agents held the man at McCarran International Airport late Tuesday to confirm the validity of the Utah hunting tag.
His name and where he was headed weren't released.
Airport spokeswoman Melissa Nunnery says the man ended up shipping the cougar carcass home, not on the airplane.
Gordon says it's not a crime to transport legally possessed game on an airline flight. But he says airlines can refuse to transport certain items.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com
Fruitcake package temporarily halts Seattle ferry service
SEATTLE — Authorities say a wrapped present that turned out to be a fruitcake temporarily halted service at a Seattle ferry terminal while police investigated.
Washington State Patrol Trooper Kevin Fortino says troopers were notified Tuesday that a suspicious package was found beneath a Christmas tree in the pedestrian waiting area.
Fortino says the package was deemed suspicious because it was unmarked and was the only gift under the tree.
Officials evacuated the terminal and kept all inbound ferries away for about a half-hour while the police bomb squad investigated.
Fortino says the gift was found to be a fruitcake.
He says it wasn't clear why it was left at the terminal.
Lifelong best friends discover they're actually brothers
HONOLULU — Two Hawaii men who grew up as best friends recently learned that they're actually brothers and revealed the surprise to family and friends over the holidays.
Alan Robinson and Walter Macfarlane have been friends for 60 years. Born in Hawaii 15 months apart, they met in the sixth grade and played football together at a Honolulu prep school.
Macfarlane never knew his father, and Robinson was adopted. Separately, they sought answers about their ancestry.
Macfarlane turned to family history and DNA-matching websites after unsuccessful searches on the internet and social media, Honolulu news station KHON-TV reported .
"So then we started digging into all the matches he started getting," said his daughter, Cindy Macfarlane-Flores.
A top match — someone with identical X chromosomes — had the username Robi737. Robison's nickname was Robi and he flew 737s for Aloha Airlines, Macfarlane-Flores said.
It turned out Robinson used the same website to find answers about his family. They later learned they have the same birth mother.
"It was a shock," Macfarlane said.
They revealed the relationship to friends and family during a party Saturday night.
"It was an overwhelming experience, it's still overwhelming," Robinson said. "I don't know how long it's going to take for me to get over this feeling."
They have plans to travel and enjoy retirement together.
"This is the best Christmas present I could ever imagine having," Robinson said.
Woman stunned to find electric bill listed as $284 billion
ERIE, Pa. — A Pennsylvania woman says she went online to check her electric bill and was stunned at the amount — more than $284 billion.
The Erie Times-News reports that Mary Horomanski said her eyes "just about popped out" of her head when she saw the amount. She suspected that her family had put up their Christmas lights wrong.
The silver lining was that she didn't have to pay the full amount until November 2018 — only a $28,156 minimum payment was due for December.
Horomanski's son contacted Penelac, her electric provider, who confirmed the error. Parent company First Energy said a decimal point was accidentally moved. Her new amount was quickly corrected to $284.46.
Information from: Erie Times-News, http://www.goerie.com
Raja the cat returned to family 3 years later
GEORGETOWN, Del. — Raja the cat once was lost, but now is found — three years later.
On Tuesday, a man brought a stray cat to a shelter in Georgetown, Delaware, run by the Brandywine Valley chapter of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Staffers there found the cat's microchip, and through some sleuthing connected 6-year-old Raja to his owners, the Tuttle family.
As it turns out, the Tuttles lost Raja way back in 2014 when they were living in Florida. The Tuttles now live in Virginia.
The family came to Delaware Saturday to reclaim their prodigal feline.
Box of horse manure addressed to US treasury secretary
LOS ANGELES — Authorities say a gift-wrapped box of horse manure addressed to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (mih-NOO'-shin) was found near his home in Los Angeles.
The package was found Saturday night in the tony Bel Air neighborhood after it was dropped off at a neighbor's house.
The Los Angeles Police Department's bomb squad was called to the home and officers opened the box, finding a pile of horse manure inside. Police said the package had been gift-wrapped and was marked as being from "the American people."
Police said the Secret Service was taking over the investigation. A Secret Service spokesman said the agency was aware of the incident but declined to comment further.
A spokesman for the Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.
Green Christmas? $100 bills handed out for holiday giving
SEVERNA PARK, Md. — An anonymous donor in Maryland put her fellow congregants to work spreading Christmas cheer — with $100 bills.
The donor arranged for her pastor at Severna Park United Methodist Church to distribute a $100 bill to each of 100 different congregants on the first Sunday of December as the holiday season began.
Recipients were instructed to use the money wherever they saw a need. Some congregants gave used the money to tip waitresses. One took a cancer patient on a mini shopping spree. Another held a pizza party for a group of homeless people.
The donor told The Washington Post she was inspired to do something positive after feeling glum in the aftermath of the year's violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com
O Christmas tree! Storm topples Tennessee's holiday spruce
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — O Christmas Tree! A Grinch of a storm has toppled the official holiday spruce in Tennessee's capital city.
Area media outlets report that Nashville's 40-foot (12-meter) Norway spruce was toppled overnight, with officials blaming a combination of wind, rain and possibly a defective anchor.
More than 2,000 people had turned out Dec. 1 for the tree's lighting ceremony with Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, including a performance by the husband-and-wife duo of Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires.
The Tennessean reports city officials won't right the tree. They plan to haul it from Nashville's Public Square Park because they don't have the time or manpower to stand it up again and redecorate it.
But not all is 'bah humbug': A twinkling 35-foot (10-meter) tree still stands outside the state Capitol nearby.
Man's 1944 love letter found within remodeled home's walls
GREENFIELD, Mass. — Massachusetts police have a new mystery to solve: Who wrote a 1944 love letter discovered within the walls of a house being remodeled?
The Greenfield Police Department took to Facebook on Saturday to ask for the public's help in figuring out the backstory behind the handwritten letter. Police say the letter is dated April 19, 1944, and was penned by a man who identified himself only as Walter.
The letter was addressed to Miss Betty Miller, of Greenfield. In the letter, Walter makes no attempt to hide his affections. He writes: "I have always thought more of you than any other girl, and I still do."
Police say they only have one motive: reuniting the letter with Miller or her family.
Life-size elf decoration turns heads, even loses his own
ROCKPORT, Mass. — A life-size elf mannequin on display in a Massachusetts yard has been turning heads — and occasionally losing his own.
Actress Melissa McMeekin has been having a little fun by moving her 6-foot-tall elf doll to different locations outside her Rockport home.
During the countdown to Christmas, Daryl the red-suited elf has appeared seated on a tree branch, riding a bicycle, lying on a hammock and tied up like a hostage.
McMeekin tells the Gloucester Times her family has been getting a kick out of the double takes the moveable elf has elicited from passers-by. She says on one blustery day Daryl fell off his bike and his head landed a few feet away.
McMeekin's acting credits include "The Fighter," ''American Hustle" and other films.
Information from: Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times, http://www.gloucestertimes.com
Teacher cuts finger, still wins Food Network cookie contest
BOURNE, Mass. — A Massachusetts teacher is one tough cookie — he cut his finger on the Food Network's "Christmas Cookie Challenge" show and still won the competition.
Doug Alley lives in Rhode Island but teaches culinary arts at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School in Bourne, Massachusetts, and took the $10,000 top prize.
Alley tells the Cape Cod Times he and his fellow contestants have been texting each other since the episodes began being aired in the run-up to Christmas.
The challenge was taped in New Orleans in August. Alley won for his sugar cookies and a lemon rosemary cookie.
Alley says he, his wife and their 17-year-old daughter are using part of his winnings for a vacation at Disney World. He says he's also planning to release a new cookbook soon.
Wild truffle grows on Paris rooftop, in scientific mystery
PARIS — Urban scientists and Paris foodies are getting excited about a bizarre discovery atop a hotel near the Eiffel Tower: the first-ever wild truffle growing in the French capital.
It's just one 25-gram (0.9-ounce) winter truffle. But truffles normally sprout only in limited areas of southern Europe, and are so rare that the most prized versions can sell for thousands of euros per kilogram.
The National Museum of National History, which confirmed the discovery Friday, called it a "beautiful example" of environmental benefits of rooftop gardens sprouting across Paris and other cities.
Urban ecology researcher Frederic Madre described on France-Info television finding the mushroom beneath a hornbeam tree at the Mercure Paris Centre hotel.
This truffle was donated to science — but the hotel is already hoping to be able to offer homegrown truffles to diners someday.
Cops nab escaped inmate with face tattoo after weeks on run
STOCKTON, Calif. — Authorities say an inmate with a skull tattooed on his face who escaped last month from a work crew in central California is back in custody.
The Fresno Bee reports police arrested 27-year-old Corey Hughes on Thursday at a home in Stockton.
Officers set up a perimeter and knocked on the door, but no one answered. Stockton police then sent a police dog into the residence, and Hughes was apprehended. He was taken to a hospital for treatment before being booked into San Joaquin County Jail.
Hughes was reported missing from a work crew near Interstate 5 in Stockton on Nov. 27.
He had been serving time on a weapons charge and was due to be released in February.
Information from: The Fresno Bee, http://www.fresnobee.com
Pope Francis needs a microscope to eye Lithuanian crib
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania has given Pope Francis a Christmas present invisible to the naked eye: a Nativity scene where baby Jesus is smaller than a human cell.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite on Friday looked through a microscope to see a replica of the crib at Vilnius's downtown Cathedral Square, a copy of the nativity scene that was given to Francis by Lithuanian diplomats earlier this month.
She said it took three months for Lithuanian scientists and students to create the minuscule crib from a 3D scan of the life-size crèche, reducing it 10,000 times.
Francis plans to visit the Baltics next year. Details about Francis' trip to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have not been released yet but he is expected in the fall of 2018.