How, then, can we choose the oddest of the Odd News in a trip around the sun that earned “surreal” as its Merriam-Webster Word of the Year?
The answer is simple: We can’t. Instead, we left it to you, our readers, to vote with your clicks, making the oddest stories of the year stand out by a simple popular vote.
So as you read your way through UPI Odd News’ 10 Oddest Stories of the Year, just remember: You did this to yourself.
(You’re welcome, self.)
We begin in Florida — because of course Florida.
A poll by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling indicated in February that a surprising number of Florida voters believed then-Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz could be the Zodiac Killer.
While a 62 percent majority of voters answered “No” when asked if they believed Cruz was responsible for the string of murders in the early ’70s, 10 percent answered “Yes” and an additional 28 percent said they were unsure.
Several reports say the rumor stems from a speech Cruz delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013 titled “This is the Zodiac Speaking” and it became popular again after he began his presidential campaign.
The rumors didn’t seem to be affected by the fact that the Zodiac killer’s first homicides occurred in the late 1960s — before Cruz was even born.
Sit tight, Florida. We’ll come back to you later.
Florida wasn’t the only state with confused residents this year — an Oregon woman’s car was “accidentally” stolen and later returned with gas money and a most unusual explanation note.
Erin Hatzi shared surveillance footage from outside her home as a woman entered her red Subaru Impreza in October before driving off. Hatzi and her husband reported the strange theft to police when, just a day later, the situation became even more bizarre.
Police stopped a woman attempting to return the car outside Hatzi’s home as her husband was taking out the garbage.
The woman said she had sent a friend to the neighborhood to pick up her car and she accidentally took Hatzi’s vehicle instead, as she explained in a note left inside the vehicle along with some gas money.
“Hello, So sorry I stole your car. I sent my friend with my key to pick up my red subaru at 7802 SE Woodstock and she came back with your car,” the note read. “I did not see the car until this morning and I said, ‘That is not my car.’ There is some cash for gas and I more than apologize for the shock and upset this must have caused you. If you need to speak further, with me, I am ******* and my number is ………. So so sorry for this mistake.”
Police told Hatzi older Subaru keys are interchangeable and can occasionally be used to open different cars.
Not all of 2016’s oddest news stories were based on accidents. Some incidents seemed to have occurred very much on purpose, such as the case of a large lizard in Australia that showed its superiority to a snake that would have been deadly to almost any other creature.
A Western Australia Parks and Wildlife officer captured a photo in February showing the aftermath of the confrontation between the snake and heath monitor lizard.
The photo, snapped by Frankland district flora officer Janine Liddelow, shows a “highly venomous” tiger snake’s reign of terror coming to an end at the jaws of a hungry heath monitor.
“Dinnertime! This highly venomous tiger snake didn’t stand a chance when a hungry southern heath monitor came looking for something to munch on,” the department wrote on Facebook.
Yep, we’re back in Florida.
With the country divided by a tense presidential election, it should come as no surprise that rifts also occurred in the animal kingdom, with multiple incidents of beast-on-beast violence making our list of top stories of the year.
The second such story dealt with a South Florida alligator photographed making a meal of an unusual prey — a massive Burmese python.
The South Florida Water Management District tweeted a photo in August snapped by staff in western Miami-Dade County.
The picture shows an alligator swimming away with the Burmese python in its jaws after apparently winning a battle with the rival predator.
Burmese pythons, native to Asia, are considered a nuisance species in Florida and have no natural predators in the area.
Not every incident of animals attacking animals ended tragically. At least one confrontation made a hero out of a pack of hungry predators’ would-be prey.
An elephant in Zambia demonstrated his ability to keep a cool head under pressure when he escaped being made into a meal by 14 female lions.
The video, filmed by Jesse Nash on a tour with Normal Carr Safaris at the Chinzombo Safari Camp in Zambia, shows a group of 14 lionesses descending on a young elephant.
The elephant, keeping calm, swats at the lionesses with his trunk while making his way to a nearby body of water.
The pachyderm reaches the water, but only a handful of the predators decide to stay on shore while the more daring members of the pride give pursuit in the shallows — including one lioness riding piggy-back on the elephant’s rear.
The elephant flees further into the water, causing the lioness to jump off its back, but the big cats continue to stalk the elephant.
The video ends with the elephant, finally fed up, charging the lionesses and causing them to flee.
The safari tour group said the elephant survived the encounter and earned the nickname Hercules.
The next story on our list features something of a hat trick: An attacking animal, a human making poor decisions and the state of Florida.
A video posted to YouTube by Braddock Baskett shows what happened in May when he encountered a large group of raccoons accompanied by “a chill cat.”
“I’ve never seen this many raccoons,” Baskett says in the video.
Baskett holds out a piece of food for one of the raccoons, which initially appears to be approaching him in a friendly manner.
The surly trash panda instead teaches Baskett an important lesson about feeding wild animals by chomping down on his finger.
The video shows Baskett walking away with what appears to be blood on his finger, but he admitted in a Facebook comment that he added that portion of the video in after the incident using simulated blood because the raccoon’s bite “didn’t even scratch me.”
“Strolled up on this large raccoon family and a chill cat. I found something to feed one and he bit me. The rest is fuzzy, luckily I have time to write this before I pass out,” Baskett wrote in the video’s description. “DISCLAIMER: Feeding wild animals is dangerous and can result in getting bit and possibly contracting rabies.”
Despite the above examples, not every animal that became famous in 2016 did so through acts of violence. One Dublin dog found widespread recognition for saving a life, rather than attempting to end one.
The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shared a photo of an approximately week-old puppy named Autumn, which was found in a pile of garbage in an area away from the public thanks to an alert dog
“Autumn is only 7 to 10 days old and would not have lasted probably even 24 hours if she had not been spotted by a very clever terrier called Poppy who, when out for a walk with her owner, ran over to the rubbish pile and refused to return when called,” the association said.
Poppy’s owner went to check on the terrier and discovered the puppy underneath the garbage pile and brought it in to the SPCA.
According to the society, it was a “miracle” Autumn survived.
“Autumn will now go to an experienced foster home and hopefully will grow up to be a happy, healthy dog all thanks to Poppy and her vigilant owner,” the SPCA said.
Proving that some discoveries are less heart-warming than others, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers said an Arizona woman was arrested with two packages of meth that had been disguised as burritos.
The agency said officers at the Morley Pedestrian Gate referred the 23-year-old Nogales woman for further inspection May 20 when attempting to return to the United States.
A narcotics-detecting canine alerted officers to the presence of drugs and a search determined the woman was carrying more than a pound of methamphetamine in two packages that had been wrapped in tortilla shells to make them look like burritos.
Officers estimated the meth had a street value of more than $3,000.
The case was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.
Speaking of discoveries, a Texas kayaker appears to have confirmed a local “urban legend” by capturing footage of a large alligator swimming in a San Antonio lake.
Eugene Mora posted a video to Facebook showing the gator he found swimming in Calaveras Lake, where alligator sightings have occasionally been reported but widely dismissed as an “urban legend.”
“The myth, the urban legend is true. There is at least one gator here and he’s pretty big. He’s a pretty animal,” Mora told KSAT-TV. “I noticed something out on the water and that log started moving. It was a 7-foot, 8-foot gator.”
“He was just minding his own business,” Mora said. “He was just scoping me out the way I was scoping him out, so no aggression whatsoever.”
We close our list of the Oddest Stories of 2016 on a high note.
A California man built a makeshift wheelchair for his girlfriend’s dog after the pet lost use of its back legs.
James Stewart Paniagua, 22, found a cost-effective way to help his girlfriend Briana Ibarra’s dog by building a wheelchair out of PVC pipes.
Ibarra’s family faced thousands of dollars in medical expenses when the 3-year-old Pomeranian suddenly began acting strange.
“A couple of days ago Benny started acting very weird and skittish. The following morning he woke up dragging his hind legs. This scared everyone and my girlfriend’s mom ended up taking him to the animal hospital. They informed her that the surgery would cost beyond $8,000,” Paniagua told Victor Valley News.
After learning that a custom wheelchair for Benny would cost at least $1,000 Paniagua told CBS Los Angeles that he began to search for ways to make one himself.
“I started off by Google searching ‘dog do-it-yourself wheelchair.’ I said, ‘you know, that looks simple enough and you only need a couple pieces to it so why not? Let’s try it out,'” he said.
While certain parts were hard to come by, Paniagua wound up spending $40 in total to create his own fully functioning dog wheelchair.
“I had a ton of trouble finding wheels and ended up just buying a $20 scooter from Wal-Mart and salvaging the wheels,” he said. “$5 on Velcro straps, less than $5 on nuts and bolts and close to $8 on PVC pipes, joints and PVC cement.”
Benny has been more mobile since receiving his homemade wheelchair and Paniagua hopes to make a few changes to further improve the wheelchair.
There you have it, Odd News UPI’s 10 Oddest Stories of the Year. Maybe 2017 will compensate for its predecessor by being the most boring, uneventful year we’ve ever covered — but somehow, that seems doubtful.