5 Mundane Things That Caused Earth-Shattering Destruction

#2. A Squirrel Finds a Shiny Thing, All of Nasdaq Crashes

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1987 was not a good year for the stock market. In October, the market nosedived so hard that it brought on a mini recession. By December, brokers were scrambling just to keep their heads above water. And then, at 10:43 a.m. on December 9, the power to the automatic quotation system suddenly went out, marking the abrupt end of all trading.

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Though the screaming at each other remained.

For almost 90 minutes, Nasdaq was without the system. Investors panicked. The outage kept 20 million shares from being traded that day. They ended up losing $7 million worth of trading before power was restored. Fingers were pointed, blame was laid -- was it the Russians, some sort of electronic cyberhacker, or Gary, the inept intern, tripping over a power cable?

Nope: It was all the fault of one happy, curious little squirrel who had found a piece of aluminum foil that was just too damn shiny to pass up. Our little squirrel friend carried it up a utility pole and ran across a power line that, among other things, made possible all of the trading for Nasdaq. The aluminum touched the line, and our squirrel friend was no more.

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If only he'd found and choked on plastic, like a normal squirrel.

Or perhaps we are wildly misgauging his fuzzy little intentions. After all, if he was some sort of squirrel super-terrorist, he had just unquestionably struck the largest rodent-based blow against humanity this side of the bubonic plague.

Oh, we know it was the fleas that actually spread the plague. But who do you think gave those fleas their marching orders, hmm?

#1. Mylar Balloons Cause Hundreds of Power Outages a Year

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Hey, you know Mylar balloons -- those helium-filled foil hearts you buy every year for Valentine's Day because you're lazy and uncreative and blissfully unaware of your own impending divorce? They probably rank toward the bottom of your "threat to public infrastructure" scale, somewhere between ice cream sundaes and the pop stylings of Wham!

They're balloons -- what are they gonna do, lightly startle you by popping?

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Other than steal our precious helium and take it to the cloud people.

In the state of California in 2013 alone, there were over 300 reported power outages caused by Mylar balloons. That harmless teddy bear balloon who purports to "wuv u so much" does not, in fact, "wuv" you at all. He's responsible for power outages to 165,000 homes and businesses. He has denied vital energy to schools, traffic lights, and even hospitals. How much life does it take to slake your thirst, Mr. Fluffybottom?

The problem is so bad that, 18 years ago, legislators enacted the "California balloon law," which regulates the sale of Mylar balloons. Unfortunately, it does not authorize use of military funds to deploy against the Fluffybottom regime. It merely requires that merchants include warning labels and weights with every balloon sold. Then came salvation: In 2008, Bill 1499 was brought to the California State Senate, which proposed to outright ban Mylar balloons throughout the state. The people rejoiced, both lives and livelihoods would be saved!

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"We can stick to inflating condoms from now on, which is never not funny!"

It was never put into action, in part because the bill was strongly opposed by the balloon lobby, which is a for-realsies actual entity with balloon lobbyists and everything.

Does anybody else smell a Grisham thriller?


Evan V. Symon is a workshop moderator, personal experience team member, and the interview finder guy at Cracked. If you have an awesome personal experience you wish to share, send it to tips@cracked.com.

Related Reading: Tiny things cause huge disasters more often than you think. Like how a tiny fleck of space pretty much broke Hubble and cost NASA billions of dollars. Or that time in 1980 when a cheap computer chip almost caused a nuclear war.

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