Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Attack of the Invisible Gorillas

On May 25, 2005, an unsuspecting student in the Saitama prefecture, Japan, was going back home in his bicycle when he was attacked by an invisible gorilla. That is, he was hit in the legs by a sharp triangular metal shard maliciously stuck in the road guardrail — something very much like a trap, that you can check in the image below.

laminametal321hj The authorities quickly began to investigate. To their alarm, on the next days they would find no less than 4,200 triangular metal shards stuck on guardrails, ready to make more victims. Around a week later, more than 40,000 shards were counted in roads on all of the country’s prefectures.

It’s eerie,” the Asahi newspaper said about the issue. “Why are such objects, so many of them, all over the country? If they had been intentionally installed, it’s a serious crime.” Among the apprehension and confusion promoted by the media, the “mystery of the metal shards” motivated all kinds of speculations and statements. After all, this is the country where a cult of science-fiction psychos that drunk the bath water of their blind guru tried to start the Armageddon, one subway at a time. In this case, the Aum Shinrikyo cult of Shoko Asahara and its attack with sarin gas to the Tokyo subway in 1995, almost a decade earlier.

Mystery? Solved.



Before solving the Japanese metal shard mystery, though, we may remember another road enigma, a few decades before.

On March 23, 1954, reports of damaged windshields started to accumulate in the Seattle area. Small pits and bubbles that the police initially blamed on vandals using BB guns, but as in the Japanese case half a century later, they were soon overwhelmed by the dimensions of the phenomenon.

seattlemanchadt43On April 14, hundreds of calls were coming to the central, with thousands of damaged vehicles. The following day, the mayor called the president, Dwight Eisenhower.

The speculations as to the causes of the windshield pitting epidemic went from the adorable to the understandable. Maybe “the culprit was sandflea eggs that had somehow been deposited in the glass and later hatched.” Or they could be radioactive fallout from H-bomb tests conducted at the time. If they didn’t create Godzilla, they were affecting the windshields — and if they were affecting the cars, what were they causing on people?

But the solution to this mystery in particular couldn’t be more boring. As sociologist Robert Bartholomew tells, “an investigation by Nahum Z. Medalia of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Otto N. Larsen of the University of Washington determined that the pits had always existed and resulted from mundane events such as ordinary road wear, but had gone unnoticed. … During the episode, the Governor contacted the Environmental Research Laboratory at the University of Washington to analyze the reports. They reported that the mysterious black, sooty grains found on many windshields were cenospheres – tiny particles produced by the incomplete combustion of bituminous coal. Such particles, it was noted, had been common in Seattle for many years, and could not pit or penetrate windshields.”

Which means that the pits were there already for a long time, but they were only noticed, and on their thousands, when people started to look for them. No Godzilla, but that takes us back to Japan.



On the Eastern land, authorities also solved the question on a most disappointing way. Nothing about a bunch of kids with Scooby Doo uncovering a plot of a bizarre cult that tried to place occult triangles along Ley Lines to prepare for the Anti-Christ. Nothing like that.

The local authorities analyzed the chemical composition of the metal shards and conducted tests and trials with cars.

Analysis of the shards revealed they had the same composition of common vehicle’s bodies. They also had the same thickness. Some shards were visibly corroded, which suggested they were stuck in the guardrails for quite a long time before being noticed. But then, how would parts of vehicle’s bodies get stuck on guardrails?

On small collisions, of course. When hitting the guardrail with the car in movement, prominent parts of the rail like bolts can tear the body of the vehicle, and as the vehicle continues to move, the resulting shard will have that exact triangular shape. This being Japan, many tests were conducted and publicized.


Which means that the shards were there already for a long time, but they were only noticed, and on their thousands, when people started to look for them.

But more than metal shards or windshield pits, it’s what these two cases have in common that’s the point here.



Think you would spot a windshield pit or a metal shard on a guardrail? Next time you drive, try to take a look, you may discover a mysterious pit that was right in front of you for a long time, but you may never have noticed it before.

And then, if you still think you are better than that, you can try a visual cognition test. See if you are really exceptional, check this video and count how many times the ball is passed. Come on, it’s just some seconds, count the passes. Ready?

Well, congratulations, you have been duped. The real purpose of this was not to check if you could count correctly, but to see if you noticed the gorilla — that is, the person on a gorilla suit — that walks among the people during the video. If you didn’t notice it, congratulations once again: you’re fallible and human like the rest of us, from Seattle to Saitama.

If you did notice the gorilla, maybe you could try this amazing color changing card trick?

People usually look through windshields, not at them. Guardrails are also not of much interest. It’s not a surprise that pits or metal shards weren’t much noticed until people actually looked for them, by a complex and fortuitous conjunction of factors.

I would like to call them invisible gorillas, because they are invisible until you know what to look for. This may sound like mere curiosity, but the invisible gorillas are very important to all kinds of events.

In 2002, for instance, there was a wave of “cattle mutilations” in Argentina. Rumors about the chupacabras were almost instantaneous. More than 200 cattle “surgically” cut, but then, after governmental investigation, much like in the USA, natural causes were found. Tests and analysis showed how the “surgical” cuts were not that surgical, and were in fact exactly like those by common animals.

Nothing of this is convincing to many, though, because we have so many statements from veterinarians, cattle owners and “specialists” in general, claiming they “had never seen anything like it“. And if the causes were so common, so mundane, so natural, why does such mysteries are not commonplace? Why Argentina, why 2002?

Chupacabras and aliens that came from nowhere for who knows what would seem like a much more reasonable answer.

But then, invisible gorillas may be behind it all. Watch out for them.

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Posted in Fortean,Skepticism | 10 comments

10 Comments so far

  1. Rick Phillips January 16th, 2008 9:28 pm

    Cool story. I also think that Invisible Gorillas would be an excellent anomaly term. The original time one sees the `count the throws’ video can be quite shocking if one misses it. Even more shocking than the famous `count the F’s’ `action’ to many.

  2. Jade January 21st, 2008 7:53 am

    Yay!!! *clap, clap, clap* Excellent article!

  3. MA Hawk January 21st, 2008 1:24 pm

    I don’t really see how this is news, car accidents happen all the time and of course they would leave some remainder now and then. But, although going from metal shards in guiderails (which is what they are really called, worked for the DOT) to chupacabras does seem like a wee bit of a stretch at first the point was somewhat interesting.

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  7. Long Exposure Ghost | forgetomori November 14th, 2008 4:48 am

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