Urban legends. Old wives' tales. It doesn't matter what you call them. They add up to one thing: A bunch of scary, if unlikely, events that could maybe, possibly, if the right set of circumstances were met, be true.
So, yeah, the whole thing about urban legends is that they're mysterious and shrouded in the fear of the unknown. But thankfully, we live in the era of unlimited information at our fingertips (and one great TV show called Mythbusters), so we actually have answers. Here are four of our favorite urban legends that have been scientifically tested:
Can a rat really crawl up a toilet?
Rats as pets? Adorable. Rats as unwelcome guests, coming into your home via the most intimate seat in the house? Terrifying. And, technically, possible. This video from National Geographic explains it all, but basically: The rat creepily sneaks into the sewer from the street, then uses it's creepy little claws to scale up pipes and get into your walls, then squeezes it's creepy flexible little body through the twists and turns of your toilet, grabbing breaths from air pockets like it's drowning on the Titanic. And before you ask, yes, rats are apparently really good swimmers.
Can you be electrocuted by taking a shower during a thunderstorm?
The reason you're safe from lighting inside is because electricity from a lightning strike will travel around you and eventually dissipate. But there is a lightning risk when you're indoors: If you're touching something connected to plumbing, wiring or any other electrical conductor when the building is hit, you'll certainly feel the shock, and yep, it can be fatal. The New York Times confirms the chances of it happening are slim, but certainly not impossible.
Can wearing sunscreen near a grill light you on fire?
Sunscreen is flammable, but does that mean you're likely to go up in flames when you're doused with it? Likely no, according to Discovery channel's Mythbusters. They tested the theory and found that there's only a real risk of catching flames for the first 5 seconds after you apply sunscreen.
Can a dog bowl sitting in the sun start a fire?
If you were a devilish sort of kid, you might have spent some time outside on the sidewalk, torturing ants with a magnifying glass. Through the glass, the sun's rays get refracted and, well, magnified enough to cause some serious burns. The scary part is, a glass bowl of water at home can do the same thing. An article in Scientific American describes a house fire in Washington State which investigators speculated was caused by a dog's glass water dish which "magnified the sun's rays onto a wood deck, sparking a blaze that caused more than $200,000 worth of damage." The local fire department re-enacted the scene and determined that, yep, the glass bowl theory did hold water.
If you're interested in more tested urban legends, browsing Snopes is always a great way to lose hours of your day to the internet. And Discovery channel's Mythbusters have a sort of urban legends confirmed/busted/plausible cheat sheet on their site.