We've all come up with at least one clever scheme that's gone wrong. Usually, that only means ruining Thanksgiving dinner with our slapdash Sous-Bot or having to dismantle a structurally unsound tree house. But this article is about simple schemes which wound up leveling neighborhoods and/or killing people. So we're going to go ahead and file the patent for Sous-Bot anyway, spontaneous knife-throwing be damned!
Men frequently try to impress the ladies with expensive cars. Captain Francesco Schettino went a little further and tried to impress his girlfriend with a multi-million-dollar cruise ship, the Costa Concordia. Because there's no compensation like overcompensation. The captain was sailing the ship -- with its 4,252 passengers -- around Tuscany in 2012 when he decided to take a several-mile detour off its approved route. He'd invited his mistress, Domnica Cemortan, up to the bridge (against regulations), and wanted to give her a closer view of a nearby island. Hell, whoever carefully planned out the approved route surely didn't have a beautiful Eastern European dancer on their lap at the time, or they would've factored sexy island views into the trip.
Not to mention a stop at whatever island sold the cheapest self-tanning spray.
The Costa Concordia immediately struck a reef and began to sink. Oh right, reefs are a thing. Schettino could have owned up to his mistake and started getting people into lifeboats. But that would have meant admitting defeat in front of the lady he was, against all odds, still trying to bone. Instead, he tried to sail on to port, ignoring the water filling the hull, and even responding to emergency services to tell them that they were merely suffering "an electrical problem."
Yeah, he didn't make it. He really, really didn't make it.
Roberto Vongher / Wiki Commons
"Quick! Help ... me think of an excuse to tell my wife."
The sinking of the Costa Concordia resulted in 32 deaths, instead of the much more reasonable zero deaths which would have occurred if Schettino hadn't been steering the ship with his dick. To make things worse, Schettino was one of the first people to get off the ship, despite the well-known seafaring law that the captain must be the last one to leave. The Italian media would go on to refer to him as "Captain Coward." Not the sexiest nickname.
Schettino wound up being convicted of manslaughter, incompetence, abandoning his passengers, lying to the court, and generally being a shitty human being, netting him a prison sentence of 16 years. It cost over $2 billion to ultimately remove the wreckage, making this possibly the most expensive case of adultery in history.
O Captain! My Captain! your prison trip has begun.
In 1988, the internet was relegated almost exclusively to government agencies and universities. As ubiquitous as it is today, it's hard to believe that it was almost completely killed by one nerd before it had a chance to flourish. That nerd is Robert Morris Jr., a college student who was curious about just how large the internet had become in November of 1988, and who thus decided to write a program to map it. The idea was to release his self-replicating code onto the web, where it would eventually infect every computer connected to the internet, thereby giving him a good impression of its scale. Today, we refer to this kind of thing as a "virus." And this one in particular was one of the worst in history.
Despite Morris's benevolent intentions, his virus decided to play out a digital version of a zombie movie. Instead of innocuously planting itself on hard drives, it wound up murdering every computer it touched, but not before rapidly infecting every other device on the network. Within days, a large percentage of all computers connected to the internet had been converted -- as if by shitty alchemy -- into expensive paperweights.
All those hours spent downloading one percent of one side boob pic, wasted.
In the meantime, Morris was desperately trying to close Pandora's Box. Being the only person who knew how to stop the virus, he tried to contact the relevant people with instructions on how to halt its spread. But he sent those instructions via email, which meant that nobody saw them, because of the whole computer-breaking virus thing.
The internet was eventually rescued, as evidenced by the fact that you're reading this right now on a computer, rather than scrawled on the wall of a bathroom stall. Cleaning the infected computers came with a cost of up to $50,000 per device. Morris came forward and became the first person to be charged under the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, for which he was fined $10,000 -- one-fifth of the price of fixing even one of the thousands of computers he broke, but still a fortune back then. Probably. We're not looking up the rate of inflation.
Thanks to the internet Morris almost destroyed, we have all the information available all the time ... but we're too busy watching porn and Googling Simpsonswave to bother finding it.
markusmarcinek / pixabay
In 1983, Dan Lee Webb was a lowly worm farmer with big aspirations. "Worm farmer" sounds like a joke occupation, and for Webb, it kind of was -- he raised worms to sell to local bait shops. But that didn't really pay the bills. To make a little extra cash, he and a bunch of his friends and family started manufacturing and selling illegal fireworks out of his barn. Before long, he became the Walter White of slipshod bottle rockets.
"I am the one who ... gets caught and convicted super-quick. Not good TV, I know."
Of course, it turns out that there are some pretty good reasons high explosives are illegal, and it's not that the American government hates seeing freedom in the skies. Webb's barn-based fireworks operation ended in catastrophe in May of 1983, when it exploded, as fireworks are designed to do, taking a not-insignificant amount of the state of Tennessee with it.
Witnesses reported seeing a mushroom cloud from as far as 20 miles from the farm. If this were a cartoon, this is where onlookers would gather to watch a free fireworks show. Unfortunately, this was real life, which means that it started raining body parts instead. Eleven people were inside the barn when it erupted, and 10 of them were killed instantly. And by "killed," we mean something closer to "obliterated." Corpses actually fell from the sky and through the roofs of houses hundreds of feet away.
IT'S RAININ' MEN! HALLELU-- no no, that's too dark.
Twenty people in nine states were indicted in what has become known as the largest illegal fireworks operation in American history. But hey, if you're going to be a murderous idiot, might as well be the best.
For almost as long as the concept of insurance has existed, there has been insurance fraud. If someone is willing to pay you cash money in the event that your house burns down, what's stopping you from burning your own shitty house down and using the windfall to buy enough whiskey to make you forget that you don't even have a shitty house anymore?
Such was the reasoning of lovers Bob Leonard and Monserrate Shirley, who decided to burn Shirley's house down in November 2012. But Leonard and Shirley didn't do anything by half measures. Instead of a simple fire, they enacted a scheme to practically erase their house from the fabric of reality.
After two previous attempts, Leonard became frustrated that arson was harder than he'd assumed, and decided to go full Michael Bay on it. After sending Shirley, her daughter, and their cat out of the house for the weekend, he coated the rooms in gasoline and filled the whole house up with natural gas. Then he put a canister in the microwave to make a spark -- a trick he learned from every Van Damme movie we've ever seen.
"It's also where I got the hairstyle ideas from, too."
Not only did Leonard's absurd overkill scheme succeed in destroying the house, but it also either damaged or destroyed 80 other houses in the neighborhood. Two people were killed -- which, though tragic, is a miraculously low number, considering the scale of the catastrophe. The damage caused by the explosion was around $4.4 million, which is considerably more than the $300,000 payout Leonard and Shirley had expected to make from the insurance. And they didn't even get that, because they're both in prison as hard as they can possibly be. It turns out that arson investigators are big Van Damme fans, too.
Demetris Christofias, then-president of Cyprus, stumbled into a great political boon in 2009, when Cypriot authorities confiscated a ship transporting an apocalyptic load of illegal munitions from Iran to Syria. By helping put a dent in the international arms trade, tiny Cyprus reminded the world that it existed, and that it was totally helping. Unfortunately, Cyprus now had no idea what to do with the tons of seized gunpowder and explosives, so they stored them in a field outside a naval base. Yes, seriously. Just "in a field." As in, out in the open.
Did we mention the field was right next to a power plant?
Eli Shany / Wiki Commons
They left a large smoldering hole only surpassed by the one in their brains.
After almost three years of baking in the open sun, the shipload of explosives did what explosives are designed to do. The result was, as described by Commerce Minister Antonis Paschalides, a "tragedy of Biblical dimensions." The blast killed 12 people and wounded 62 others. Trees were flattened for miles around. Houses in a nearby village had their roofs ripped off and their windows smashed. Nearby farmers recounted their tractors being thrown into the air. And, of course, the power plant (which someone had stupidly built right next to a field, the maniacs) was crippled, cutting off electricity to most of the country.
IDE Technologies ltd / Wiki Commons
Crippling power plants due to off-the-charts stupidity is only funny when Homer Simpson does it.
It later came out that the Cypriot government rejected offers to collect and store the hazardous material from the U.S., Germany, and Britain. The president's excuse was that it was a politically delicate matter, and they didn't want to piss off Syria. So they chucked high explosives in a field for three years. We appreciate sensitive international relations and all, but if nobody will take your collection of live antique grenades, that doesn't mean your only option is to store them in the oven.
Micky McMichaelson occasionally writes moderately funny things on the internet. You can read more of them here.
Zoroastrianism used to be one of the biggest religions in the world, but their idea of heaven had a slight twist on it: To get there you'd have to cross a bridge, sometimes rickety, sometimes wide and sturdy. If you fell off, you'd go to the House of Lies for eternity. Fun! Not terrifying at all! This month, Jack, Dan, and Michael, along with comedians Casey Jane Ellison and Ramin Nazer discuss their favorite afterlife scenarios from movies, sci-fi, and lesser-known religions. Get your tickets here, and we'll see you on the other side of the bridge!
For more people who maybe should've definitely thought twice, check out 6 Stupid Bets That People Won As Insanely As Possible and The 5 Most Disastrous Marketing Failures Of All Time.
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