2000: David and Pamela Stonebreaker were driving through Knoxville, Tennessee, in their RV when sheriff’s deputies pulled them over for running a red light. The cops were suspicious and called for backup: a drug-sniffer named Falco. The dog sniffed outside the vehicle and signaled “positive,” so deputies immediately searched the vehicle and found 500 pounds of marijuana. In court, the Stonebreakers’ attorney challenged the search—the dog couldn’t be trusted. It turned out that Falco had signaled “positive” 225 times and the cops found drugs only 80 times. In other words, the dog was wrong nearly 70% of the time. Falco, the defense argued, was too incompetent to justify searching vehicles based on his “word” alone. The judge agreed and the Stonebreakers went free.
2001: Expectant parents from California, Maggie Baird and Patrick O’Connell, saw a documentary about conjoined twins Katie and Eilish Holton. Inspired, they decided to name their soon-to-arrive baby daughter Eilish. But then their other child, four-year-old brother Finneas, convinced them to name her Pirate. But then before she was born, her grandfather Billie died. Result: pop star Billie Eilish’s full legal name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell.
2002: A string of connected bank robberies in California and Illinois ended when a responding officer recognized an orange racing bicycle that he’d seen at the site of an earlier robbery. Investigators were able to trace the distinctive bike and ultimately caught the robber, an Illinois native named Tom Justice. Here’s how Justice did it: After robbing a bank, he would run outside, hide behind something, and quickly remove his pants and shirt to reveal a body-fitting cycling suit. Then he’d stuff the clothes and cash into a messenger bag, hop on his waiting bike, and casually ride away. Justice spent nine years in federal prison.
2003: A grotesque, bulbous-faced Orc named Gothmog shows up at a climactic battle in writer-director Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). He’s the one that growls, “The age of Men is over. The time of the Orc has come.” According to actor Elijah Wood (Frodo), Gothmog’s appearance and personality were based on Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein, who reportedly treated Jackson so poorly that the director took his movie to New Line Cinema.
2004: It makes sense that the costs of repairing and maintaining a boat used for commercial purposes are tax deductible, even on whaling vessels. In 2004, the U.S. federal government added a clause to the tax code allowing whaling boat captains to write off as much as $10,000 annually in this fashion. Why is this weird and notable? Commercial whaling is illegal in the United States.
2005: As Joseph Stanton he stood at his stove in his kitchen in Bates Township, Michigan, one night in 2005, one of his cats started walking around the kitchen, and, while padding across a counter, knocked Stanton’s 9mm pistol to the ground. And as it hit the floor, the loaded pistol went off, sending a bullet into the lower part of Stanton’s chest. The man was treated for internal injuries at a nearby hospital, but he survived.
2006: On paper, it must have seemed like a surefire hit. It was a musical adaptation of a familiar story—Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 fairy tale The Red Shoes, about an aspiring dancer and the magical (and cursed) shoes that take control of her body—but taking place in contemporary New York City and set to songs by Earth, Wind & Fire. Hot Feet producers staged a trial run in Washington, DC, in March 2006, and after critics savaged it, author Heru Ptah rewrote the entire show in anticipation of a Broadway debut. After two delays, Hot Feet finally opened in New York...where critics still hated it. Charles Isherwood of the New York Times called Hot Feet a “dancing encyclopedia of cliches." After 97 performances, Hot Feet closed. The end came so quickly that an original cast album was never recorded.
2007: Even if you don’t recognize the name Jonathan Goldsmith, you probably know who “The Most Interesting Man in the World” is. That’s Goldsmith. The then-69-year-old actor (he’s appeared in more than 300 TV shows) beat out hundreds of other hopefuls to become Dos Equis’s new beer spokesman. Turns out, he is pretty interesting. “Being in a commercial does not top my other experiences one bit,” he said in an interview. What does? “Saving a man’s life on Mt. Whitney in a snowstorm, saving a little girl from drowning in the ocean, as well as saving a dog who fell through the ice. Those are much more important to me.”
2008: A man who identified himself only as “Big Matt” on a gambling forum told the tale of how a can’t-miss bet went very wrong during a soccer match in the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. In the first round of the tournament, Angola was leading Mali, 4 to 0, with only 12 minutes left to go. It seemed impossible for Mali to stage a comeback, so Big Matt bet on Angola to win. The payoff wasn’t very big, but even so, it seemed like a sure thing, so Matt bet everything he had—$5,600. Bad move. Mali rallied hard and quickly, leading to a final score of 4–4. Big Matt lost every penny and had to drop out of college because he’d wasted his student loan gambling on the game.
2009: The U.S. Postal Service began selling sold a series of postage stamps featuring The Simpsons. Five stamps were offered, each one featuring a portrait of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, or Maggie. Following successful rollouts of stamps that featured Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe (each sold around 500 million), the USPS assumed that the characters from the longest-running TV show would move a lot of stamps. They were wrong. A Postal Service inspector general report revealed that the office had printed a whopping one billion Simpsons stamps. By the time it had to discontinue them (when postage went up in 2011), only 318 million had sold, leaving a surplus of more than 680 million stamps that had to be destroyed. The USPS lost more than $1.2 million on the promotion.
2010: Two big internet breakthroughs happened this year. In 2010, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom posted the first ever picture of food on the social media site where millions of people would one day post photos of their meals—an image of a taco from a food stand in Mexico. Also that year, Finland became the first country on Earth to make internet access a legal right for all citizens.