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Loch Ness Monster, AP PHOTO
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Ghost in the Machine: Top Paranormal Searches of 2008

Jay Schwartz, Yahoo! Front Page
Wednesday, December 24, 2008 3:36:01 PM PST

The Internet is great for: 1. Checking mail. 2. Getting stock quotes. 3. Finding proof that ghosts exist.

At least that's how it seems given all the people that click on stories, videos and more claiming to be evidence of encounters with spirits. Ghosts may be dead, but they aren't going away, and in fact emerged as the most sought-after supernatural phenomenon of 2008. Possibly the ghost-with-the-most this year was the weird blue mist at the gas station. Spirit from beyond, or trick of light? No one knows, but it was fun to search about.

Speaking of fun, in a year of serious global troubles and political milestones, the Web has to thank people like Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer. The two Georgia residents announced to the world that they had a frozen Sasquatch corpse. This claim melted like the ice around the rubber gorilla costume that they present to the public. The elaborate Bigfoot hoax kept the Internet buzzing for days.

The annual "discovery" of an alleged Chupacabra in Texas also provided the online world with a doozy of a diversion. The mythical goatblood-sucking creature of the American Southwest is often subject to supposed sightings, but the existence of an apparent specimen generated hype worthy of a horror film. Sadly, to the horror of many transfixed Web users, the body turned out to be a mangy pit bull.

These two hoaxes were cherries on the proverbial sundae of paranormal enthusiasm. People gravitating to old classics like aliens, the Loch Ness Monster, and vampires kept cryptozoologists busy updating their websites.

One last popular search term may prove that ultimately, the real monsters of the world are as impressive as those we can imagine. Megalodon was a prehistoric shark approximately 40 to 60 feet long. Yes, a shark as big as a truck. Some people believe that this terrifying creature still exists in the deep waters of the world, sparking fear and fascination across the collective cyber-unconscious. Who wouldn't want to see what one would look like?

As the remote corners of the earth vanish, and the few remaining natural secrets of the world are unveiled, the imagination will probably continue to run wild with new mystery beasts (we didn't forget about you, Montauk Monster!) Heck, even our president-elect has a fondness for terrifying fictional creatures.

Top 2008 Paranormal Online Sightings


AP Photo/Rob Griffith, File
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Most Popular Athletes of 2008

Joe Lago, Yahoo! Sports
Wednesday, December 24, 2008 1:11:48 PM PST

Michael Phelps accomplished the greatest individual feat in Olympic Games history by winning a record eight golds in Beijing. In competing with the most-searched athletes of 2008, though, the American swimmer couldn't even make it onto the medal stand.

Surprisingly, in a sporting year highlighted by the three-week summer spectacle in China, the top three spots were occupied by non-Olympians: Maria Sharapova, Gina Carano and Danica Patrick. Sure, sex appeal was a factor in their popularity, but these athletes were more than just pretty faces.

In January, Sharapova captured her third Grand Slam tennis title at the Australian Open and held the No. 1 ranking going into the French Open before suffering a shoulder injury that forced her to miss the Olympics and the U.S. Open. In April, Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar race when she passed up a late pit stop for fuel to outsmart the field at the Indy Japan 300.

Carano's sudden emergence mirrored the rapid rise of mixed martial arts. The sport's growing popularity led to mainstream acceptance in 2008 and to its network television debut (in prime time no less) on CBS, whose executives hyped their broadcasts with Kimbo Slice, the street-fighting YouTube sensation. The fighter who ended up stealing both of CBS's shows was Carano, whose girl-next-door looks belied her devastating fight skills demonstratedd in two highly entertaining victories.

Athletic achievements weren't the main reason why Olympian heartthrobs Amanda Beard and Leryn Franco as well as golfer Natalie Gulbis got more than their share of attention on the Web. Beard didn't come close to medaling in Beijing, but the U.S. swimmer did land a spot in People's 100 Most Beautiful list. Franco, a javelin thrower from Paraguay and a beauty pageant runner-up, won the hearts of many admirers despite finishing 51st at the Olympics. Gulbis, the glamour girl of women's golf, generated more interest with her off-the-course endeavors including a gig on the upcoming "Celebrity Apprentice."

Continuing this theme of beauty, the beautiful game of soccer placed two of its biggest names in the athlete searches' top 10. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 42 goals to help the world's most popular soccer club, Manchester United, win the championships of England and Europe and earned the continent's player of the year award. Former Man United standout David Beckham proved his star power by rounding out the list despite a disappointing season with the Los Angeles Galaxy. He managed to keep himself in the soccer spotlight by joining England's exclusive club of players who've made 100 national team appearances.

No athletic effort captured the public's fascination quite like Phelps' pursuit of Mark Spitz's record of seven golds in one Olympics. Dramatic victories in the 400-meter relay and 100 butterfly further cemented Phelps' legend, but despite being a familiar face to Olympic viewers (he won six golds four years ago in Athens), users were still curious about the Baltimore native, searching for information about his age, salary, well-documented diet and double-jointed arms as well as details about his personal life, namely his father absent from the Beijing scene and dating status.

With seven world records, Phelps looked good in surpassing Spitz's 36-year-old mark. He just didn't look that good to get the Search top spot.

Top Searched Athletes of 2008


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Top 2008 Heroes of Super Proportions

Jay Schwartz, Yahoo! Front Page
Wednesday, December 24, 2008 10:10:43 AM PST

Like Superman and Lois Lane, superheroes and the Internet have a classic love affair—but passion wasn't found online for the Man of Steel in 2008.

The honor of most popular superhero on the Web in 2008 goes to the dark defender of Gotham: Batman. Take one part sequel hype, one part tragic death, and one part comic book icon, and you get massive interest in the Dark Knight. Mouses clicked for film spoilers, rumors of a third installment, and just about everything concerning the late, lamented Heath Ledger. Prepare for 2009's great Web gossip blockbuster, "Who Will Play Catwoman in Batman 3?"

It's hard to say whether the fervor for "Iron Man" had more to do with Robert Downey Jr. or with the armor-plated hero, but the film's popularity spilled over to the Web. Costume sneak peeks and casting controversies helped keep interest alive even after the movie left the theaters.

All of the drama involving Spider-Man this year was off-screen, but there was plenty of it. After Peter Parker's marriage was magically erased in the comics, a mini-crisis spread across the Internet. And high stakes Hollywood negotiations over whether Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst would return as the hero and the damsel in distress in movie sequels "4" and "5" captivated gawking Web viewers.

While people focused on Spider-Man's future, the Incredible Hulk's new version of his past raised eyebrows online. A second movie try at the green guy's origin got people's attention, with people searching for everything from what the new hulk looked like to whether Captain America was hinted at in a small scene.

If you forgot to buy Superman a birthday gift in 2008, you still have a few days. His 70th birthday sparked all kinds of searches including speculation on when he would rejoin his friend with the bat wings at the cinema. But just as significant to Web surfers was a lawsuit regarding who owns the rights to Superboy. Sometimes a legal battle can excite Searchers just as much as a super villain with Kryptonite.

Hype for movies ("Hellboy," "Ghost Rider," and the notorious "Watchmen"), rumors of wild casting (Beyonce as Wonder Woman), and just plain old love of characters (Wolverine) kept the once-cult realm of comics in the mainstream. Even the drama of the 2008 presidential run for the White House got a graphic treatment.

What remains to be seen next year is whether 2008 was too much of a good thing for masked avengers. Will too many "Dark Knight" knock-offs ruin audience appetite for heroics? Then again, a rough economy could easily increase the desire to see rich men in cool outfits fighting societal ills. Maybe in "Iron Man 2," Downey should take on America's greatest foe yet: the nefarious Recession.

Top Superheroes of 2008

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