We spend so much time here debunking silly things we see in fiction that it's easy to forget how truly ridiculous real life is in comparison. Even the silliest, most implausible characters or plots from action movies have come true. Not often, mind you, but they do happen. We're talking about things like ...
#6. Badass Adventurer Scientists
Indiana Jones movies, The Mummy movies, The Da Vinci Code movies, those Nicholas Cage movies that basically rip off The Da Vinci Code -- they all feature ridiculous but popular characters: university professors who throw away their mortarboards and "research" history by punching it right in the goddamn face. Truly, being an academic is one incredible Nazi-fighting adventure after another.
"Before you start killing everyone, would you mind fact-checking my thesis on Ancient Egyptian religion?"
Nobody believes it's really like this, or at least we hope not. Otherwise you'll get your archaeology degree and cry yourself to sleep for the remainder of your boring life.
But It Has Happened ...
Meet Roy Chapman Andrews, the rumored real-life inspiration for Indiana Jones, who divided his time between searching for fossils and gun-fighting with Mongolian bandits.
"I try to carry at least one thing that could impale a Nazi at all times."
Beginning his career sweeping the floors of the American Natural History Museum in New York, Andrews eventually worked his way up to director of the museum and became an accomplished hunter of dinosaur fossils, even where those fossils were guarded by gun-toting brigands. After all, they belong in a museum. One anecdote tells of the time Andrews battled a 20-foot-long python, ultimately shooting it in the head and watching its dying body writhe and flail in the underbrush. Apparently he didn't think much of snakes, either.
"You're my next hat."
There's now an award named after Andrews, given every year to people who continue his legacy of giving zero fucks in their quest for scientific kickassery. Winners include Lonnie and Ellen Mosely-Thompson, who explore "the most inhospitable places on the planet" in hot air balloons and on yaks, and once dragged a bunch of ice cores across the Gobi Desert simply because that seemed like something that couldn't be done. Then you have Mark Moffett, adventurer entomologist, who apparently once fought off Colombian drug lords with a blowgun.
And discovered this thing. We'd probably go another round with the Colombians.
#5. Over-the-Top Supervillain Lairs
Where superheroes have their Fortresses of Solitude and Batcaves, so too do supervillains need vastly implausible lairs just to show how evil they are. Think of the giant submersible in The Spy Who Loved Me or Blofeld's volcano lair. There's nothing particularly scary, after all, about a villain who goes home every night to a rented apartment in Brooklyn. Surely, though, such extravagances don't translate very well to the real world, as most of today's villains are too busy running banks into the ground to bother installing giant shark tanks into their houses.
This thing can liquidate five small businesses an hour.
But It Has Happened ...
Probably the closest things we've ever had to genuine comic book villains are the guys we were fighting in World War II -- and yes, there were lairs. In fact, we've already shown you what Mussolini's National Fascist Party headquarters looked like.
"We are the good guys, right? Because that giant face is sorta giving me doubts."
But Hitler, too, had an evil fortress -- the Wolfsschanze ("Wolf's Lair"), which was a castle in Germany obscured by trees and reinforced by a frankly stupid amount of cement. After the Third Reich fell, it took over eight tons of TNT to destroy it, and 10 years to uncover all the 54,000 land mines planted around it. Hitler also had a Sonderzug (translated rather unfortunately as "Special Train") that was equipped with two anti-aircraft guns and four cannon batteries. Have you ever seen a train shoot down an aircraft? Hitler wanted to make that happen.
So yeah, the man had exactly one good idea in his entire life.
But you don't need to search back through history. Even today there exists a man with a strange foreign accent, living out of reach of the law, who uses his vast technology to bring world governments to their knees. We're talking about Julian Assange, and he works here:
"The shark tank gets installed next week, so for now we've got a huge box of starving cats."
That's not a scene from one of the early Bond movies. That's the Pionen data center in Sweden, a high-tech server farm inside a former Cold War bunker that provides data storage for websites that nobody else wants to have on their servers, including WikiLeaks. Although Assange's dangerous stash of leaked documents don't require much server space, he was kicked out of so many Web hosts that he eventually had to move it to a building that looks like it houses a giant moon-destroying laser cannon.
#4. Critical Computer Systems Protected by Ridiculously Easy Passwords
In the movies, when our hero needs to crack the password in the villain's lair, he or she usually succeeds within the first three tries or so -- more often than not, it's the name of the villain's beloved daughter or dead wife, or the name of an object that's sitting there next to the computer. Movie logic therefore suggests that we have no ability to memorize the name of anything that isn't always in our direct line of sight.
But It Has Happened...
We've mentioned before how most people don't heed those warnings from the IT department about complex passwords because our stupid brains can't handle memorizing too many random sequences of symbols. But this degree of password slackness must be limited to Gmail and Amazon accounts, right? You could never hack into something really important, like a government facility, just by guessing some common phrases.
Well, as 4chan's militant wing Anonymous discovered, the Syrian government, for one, has a disturbing propensity for obvious passwords. Anonymous found that a large amount of Syria's sensitive information could be unlocked by using the password "12345," or if it's really top secret, "123456." But we probably don't have much to lose by giving control of Syria over to Anonymous. It's not like they have nuclear weapons or anything.
And really, who wouldn't trust that face?
Actually, talking about nuclear weapons ... it turns out that through most of the Cold War, America's Strategic Air Command, the military division responsible for launching nuclear weapons and thus causing or preventing the apocalypse, kept all their weapon codes set to "00000000," because they were afraid a more complicated code would interfere with launch. Nobody wants to delay the end of the world just because someone can't remember their password.
It's the Caps Lock key that will ultimately save us.
That's right: During a time in history when we almost destroyed the world every five minutes or so, the only thing between us and nuclear Armageddon was the default code on your bike lock.