“What Is This Thing?”: 50 Times People Stumbled Upon Mysterious Objects And The Internet Offered Them An Explanation (New Pics)


If you ever—and we do mean ever—need a mystery solved, ask the internet for help. The amount of collective wisdom, combined with the Holmesian skills of amateur sleuths, is absolutely staggering. And you’re likely to feel your jaw drop at how quickly they find the answer to your question.

The r/whatisthisthing subreddit is a 2.2-million-member-strong online group that solves mysteries. And quite successfully, we might add! Internet users share a photo of an odd, bizarre, and often vintage item that puzzles them. Then, the community comes together to explain what it is, what it’s used for, and (if they happen to know it) share the broader context. It’s honestly one of the most interesting digital communities out there. You’ll find their latest successfully solved queries as you scroll down below.

Here at Bored Panda, we’re pretty big fans of what the r/whatisthisthing community has been doing for the past 12+ years. When you’ve finished upvoting the posts in this list that you think are very best examples of unraveled mysteries, consider taking a peek at our other recent articles about the sub here, here, and here.

More info: Reddit | Wiki | FAQ (Frequently Asked Things Archive) | Guide

#1 What Are These Medal Things On The Corner Of These Stairs And What Is Their Purpose?

Answer: Corner dust guards. They make it easier to sweep dust out of the corners.

Image credits: LocalSalesRep

Bored Panda reached out to Matt Johnson, Ph.D., a professor of consumer psychology at Hult International Business School and Harvard University, and he told us about the apparent functionality of products, as well as the law of the market. Moreover, he explained the difference between market-driven and market-driving products. Johnson is the host of the Neuroscience of Branding blog and is the author of 'Branding that Means Business: How to Build Enduring Bonds between Brands, Consumers and Markets.'

According to consumer psychology expert, whether it's vital for an object to have its function apparent from the moment someone sees it depends on the product itself, the industry, and how it's sold. "While consumers will always use a product in the greater context, they don’t always encounter them in this way, especially if its a product they’re unfamiliar with," he said.

"If, for example, the product is being sold via online marketplaces, the 'apparent functionality' can be an important factor in consumer decision-making. Consumers want to understand, intuitively, how to work the product. If they can simulate this in their heads, they can imagine using it, and if they can imagine using it, they can imagine owning it."

#2 Iron Cone On Either Side Of A Gate Outside The Entry To A Building In Bath England

Answer: It's a snuffer. A visitor to your house would use it to put out their torch.

Image credits: pepperjobe21

#3 Object Found While Hiking Off-Road In Bosnia. Notice The Spikes Near The End! Wondering What It Is

Answer: DON'T GO HIKING IN BOSNIA IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE ARE YOU GOING. it is full of unmarked mine fields.

Image credits: FreezeHuddle

However, when it comes to digital products like "mobile apps and digital interfaces with high substitutability," immediate functionality becomes especially important.

"User experience is, of course, very important for digital products and experiences. Being able to 'see' this in the product is typically a reflection of its general intuitiveness," the creator of the Neuroscience of Branding blog told us.

Bored Panda asked Professor Johnson about the extent to which the products that we use are a reflection of our needs as a society, and how much brands themselves influence these needs.

"To a large extent, the products we use follow the 'law of the market': they reflect consumer demand and companies’ ability to capitalize on it. Ultimately, many of the products that have gone out of use have become obsolete, given other technological advancements. We don’t need stationary phones in houses anymore since nearly everyone has mobile devices, etc.," he gave an example.

#4 Old Ruler. I Don’t Know How It Is Used Or What Does It Measure

Answer: Slide rule, logarithmic calculating device. These put humans on the moon.

Image credits: anewerab

#5 Sunset Pic I Took From Jfk Airport. Could These Shadows Be The Manhattan Skyline?

Answer: I live near Mt. Rainier and this happens too, only at dawn. The mountain casts its shadow on the underside of the clouds. This is just as impressive as that.

Image credits: Jazzyfart

#6 Small Elephant Filled With Water Left At Flat After Party. Debating With Flatmates Over What It’s Purpose Could Be

Answer: It's a melted reusable ice cube

Image credits: A1DANN

"These are called market-driven products: they reflect the ability of companies to serve existing needs and capitalize on existing consumer demand."

However, there's also another influence—market-driving products. "Brands also have the ability to create needs that didn’t already exist, and then create and market products that serve these needs," the author of 'Branding that Means Business' said.

"The classic examples are luxury brands, which have an outsized influence on what society deems cool, attractive, and aspirational. However, other popular brands have the power to 'create' needs as well; Nike, Apple, and even Starbucks are great examples of brands that do this at relatively more accessible prices. There’s no deep-seated human need for a pumpkin spice latte. And yet, every Fall, there’s a massive market for PSLs, of which Starbucks created and continuously dominates," Johnson explained.

"All in all, the products on the market reflect commercial technologies best abilities to serve existing human needs. At the same time, the consumer world shapes these needs, and delivers products that purportedly assuage them. It’s a complex interplay between brands, consumers, culture, and market forces."

#7 Found On The Dashboard Of An Old Gmc. A Lucite Like Material, With Ridges

Answer: It's a traffic light viewer. Traffic lights back in the day were mounted on the same side you stopped on which sometimes made it difficult to see the light if you were first in line, this helped reflect the light from above so you could tell when the light changed.

Image credits: harrekrsna

#8 What Are These Blue Reflecting Markers For? Mounted On A Pole, Facing The Field

Answer: They are reflecting the headlights of cars to the fields, so that deer avoids crossing the road. So it's for safety of cars and animals.

Image credits: Z1337M

#9 Random-Ish Straight But Not Paralel Lines Next To My Office Building… What’s Happening Here?

Answer: You probably live in the UK, where planning authorities often require developers to do "evaluation trial trenching" to make sure there are no important archaeological artifacts that might be destroyed by excavation. If the trial trenches turn up anything interesting, a more serious archaeological dig may be required before building can begin.

Image credits: putonurseatbeltz

Created all the way back in September 2010, the ‘What Is This Thing’ subreddit has a very orderly, neat, and systemic approach to solving mysteries. Members of the moderator team have created a series of pages detailing solutions to pretty much any question you might have about becoming a member of the community.

They have a fully functioning Wiki, a great FAQ, as well as a guide for new members. The FAQ, in particular, is fascinating: it’s a compilation of commonly perplexing objects. Check it out before posting anything and asking for help: someone else may have already answered your question years ago.

The subreddit has been so successful that some members of the community actually work with international law enforcement. They are, in a very literal way, making the world a better place using their amateur sleuth skills.

#10 Came Across This While Hiking Behind An Old Mine In Southwestern Pennsylvania. Several Miles Off Of The Old Access Road. Appears 40 Feet Long, Nothing Written On It, Appears Nothing Is Inside Of It. 25 Feet Or So Off Of The Ground. No Sign Of Life Around It For Miles

Answer: That, my friend, is the daddy of all deer stands.

Image credits: Ok_Olive_6733

#11 4m High Funnel With 3 Outlets Near A Playground And A Beer Garden In Germany

Answer: It's a three-way basketball hoop (Balltrichter mit drei Ausgängen). You can score, but you don't know who gets the ball next. My kids school just got one. The kids love it.

Image credits: PietOnTheRoad

#12 What Is This Growth On My Mugs After I Microwave Them?

Answer: Ceramicist here. So clay bodies are porous, depending on the material. Porcelain is dense, and earthware and stoneware is less. Either way liquids can move through fired clay. Glaze that goes on the outside can look solid, but can have hundreds of tiny cracks and holes. When you microwave liquids or just let them sit in a ceramic vessel they can seep through and crystallize in the cracks and holes. This usually only happens with hand made or cheap ceramics.

Image credits: munizfire

Everyone can take part in helping solve the mysteries. However, if you do that, it’s best to provide a source to back up your claims. That helps filter out facts from opinions. On the flip side, those searching for answers ought to do their best to provide as much info and context about the object as they can. “Help those trying to help you. This will help to eliminate vague posts,” the r/whatisthisthing moderator team notes.

Meanwhile, members who get the answers they were looking for are encouraged to reply, ‘Solved!’ in their threads. They’re also reminded not to delete their posts after this. The idea is to slowly create a massive internet archive of answers. Deleting your posts can lead to a (temporary) ban.

#13 Found At A Used Book Store. All Parts Rotate And The Markings/Months Makes Me Think It Could Be For Mapping?

Answer: An astrolabe, the ancient times GPS. Used usually for navigation, also for time measure and other science uses. I got one similar as a keyring.

Image credits: sterling97

#14 Brass Or Copper Like Thing In Bathroom Door Handle

Answer: Copper kills bacteria and germs.

Image credits: nukkumattii

#15 What Is This Hatch I've Seen On The Outside Of Houses In The UK?

Answer: It's a boot scraper, for getting the mud off your shoes before going in. They are pretty common.

Image credits: Kattfiskmoo

One of the moderators running the subreddit previously told Bored Panda that there are a wide range of reasons why someone would want to become an amateur detective on the internet. For some, it’s the “thrill of the chase,” as people want to show off their talents and skills. Others, however, are drawn in by their curiosity.

“Many [people] have unique and obscure knowledge and they like to use it. Get enough of them together and they cover most things,” the mod said that this is a very extensive group of knowledgeable individuals. Less than 1 in 10 cases go unsolved on the sub. Most people get an answer within 15 minutes. These redditors are incredibly good at what they do.

#16 This Little Hole Appeared In My Parents' Bedroom

Answer: Was a kid. Shot my parent’s window with a bb gun once and got grounded for a month. Hole was exactly this.

Image credits: kiwisupremo

#17 Blue Glass Thing Found At Goodwill. About 5 Inches High With A Hole In Top

Answer: That is a whale oil lamp. Hand blown glass. Very odd blue color. Not cheap !

Image credits: Red-Bell-Pepper

#18 Sliding Tray With Holes On Both Sides Of This Sofa

Answer: Tray table. It has another piece to it. It’s a tray with matching pegs. Tray goes on top and the pegs slide in. They fit together so the tray sits tightly. Then you take the tray back to the kitchen and put the sliding part back so it’s not in the way.

Image credits: belokan

#19 Thumb Protector Possibly, But For What? Found At A Yard Sale

Answer: Old timey fish monger/butcher thumb guard.

Image credits: deceptiveshadow

#20 This Is A Steel Wire Frame With Two Glass Marbles. It Was Found In An Old Garage Among Various Stuff. The Marbles Can Turn Inside The Frame

Answer: It's a razor blade sharpener.

Image credits: samburket2

#21 What Is This Thing Used For? A Book With Black Blank Pages Alternating With Thin Translucent Pages

Answer: Photo-Album. You stick paper photos on the black pages. The transparent pages are for protection.

Image credits: gahyeonology

#22 These Little Specs On My Bed? Every Time I Dust Them Off, They Reappear Within 2 Hours And I Have No Idea How. They Just Kind Of… Spawn? It’s Really Grossing Me Out

Answer: The shape (slightly oblong) looks like termite frass (poop). It's likely they are eating the wood beams in your ceiling and have made a hole through the non-wood material of your ceiling to have a place to dump their poop. You should get the place inspected ASAP.

Image credits: Prncssbbykitten

#23 A Scissors Like Device I Bought Years Ago On Flee Market

Answer: It’s a vintage umbilical clamp. That’s why it’s shaped like a stork! Eventually this style did evolve into several types of embroidery scissors that the midwives would use while awaiting labor.

Image credits: OffpeakPL

#24 Found A Large Metallic Cylinder On The Beach Of Husavik, Iceland. What Is This?

Answer: Solved! We asked around and it turns out that these are submarine detectors, nothing to worry about, no explosive inside!

Image credits: TheRealWarrior0

#25 What Are These Sets Of Seven Dimples On Styrofoam?

Answer: While many plastic objects have little marks on them where the liquid plastic is injected into the mold, expanded polystyrene objects ("Styrofoam") aren't made this way. Instead, small granules of plastic are pre-treated with steam in a large hopper, which causes them to expand into little foam pellets. These foam pellets are poured into the mold, and then additional steam is injected in, causing the pellets to swell even more until they completely fill the mold. The little seven-dot marks are steam injection points.

Image credits: spencerwnelson

#26 Small Plastic Pouch With Red Gel And A Metal Disc Inside

Answer: Hand warmer. You can "click" the metal piece and it will start a chemical reaction and heat the pad.

Image credits: nullbuilt_

#27 What Is This Big Round Well-Type Thing In The Middle Of The Women’s Restroom? It’s In An Older Bathroom And It Doesn’t Seem To Have Any Water Running To Or From It… Just A Big Cylinder With A Drain In It

Answer: It's a sink. For washing your hands. You step on the ring to start the water.

Image credits: lilithrebbecca

#28 What Is This Drain In Front Of The Door Of This House? Living In Snowborne Areas, I Never Saw A Drain Like That Anywhere. Anyone Know The Purpose?

Answer: To kick snow off your shoes.

Image credits: bpwoods97

#29 What Is This Thing? Several Surgical Instruments Were Found Nearby, But It Might Be Not Related To Them At All

Answer: It looks like it was a primitive tool used in the past to assist in birth. Yeouch. A bit of further googling tells me they were used to reduce the size of a babies head if it was too big to deliver, by drainage of the cerebrospinal fluid. Known as destructive delivery. Generally (I hope) for cases where the fetus is already non-living. Frightful.

Image credits: Bright-Antelope4029

#30 These Bakery Window Decorations From Kiki's Delivery Service

Answer: Knäckebröd. The movie's aesthetics is heavily inspired by a trip Miyazaki took to Sweden. Yes just to clarify its a Swedish/Scandinavian hard bread.

Image credits: Dr_Sodium_Chloride

#31 What Is This Large Vessel I Found In The Basement Of An Old Psychiatric Hospital?

Answer: Looks like a great big autoclave.

Image credits: BonelessHotdogs

#32 What Is This Silver Metal Thing With Narrow Bridge And Spoon Like End?

Answer: Ear cleaners, use them to scoop wax more common in eastern countries. Might be confused for a drug utensil by American police as they imagine people snorting the tiniest cocaine hit ever.

Image credits: Mist4h20

#33 What Is Using This Little Wooden House In My Garden?

Answer: It's for any of the solitary bees, like mason bees.

Image credits: bendog1616

#34 I Found This Odd Set Of Disposable Cutlery (?) In A New Flat I Just Moved Into

Answer: Yes, definitely cake or clay modeling.

Image credits: Riverendell

#35 Bunk Beds (?) In A Crawlspace Of A Home From 1959

Answer: Yep, bomb/fallout shelter. For 1959, effectively the same thing.

Image credits: AFThrowaway777

#36 Piece Of Silver Found On Mustang Island Right Off Of The Gulf Of Mexico. It Was On The Beach

Answer: Definitely a coin. For a second there, I thought you hit the jackpot, too bad its just a replica.

Image credits: Puzzleheaded_Sea_423

#37 Older House 1960. Chimney But Opening Is On The Outside Not Inside ?

Answer: Looks like a chimney cleanout door.

Image credits: Joshyyboyy

#38 This Piece Of Brass And Possibly Lead Is Embedded In A Piece Of Planed Wood. It Has Been Sitting On A Shelf For Years And I Have No Idea What It May Have Been

Answer: That's a bullet. Someone shot it into a tree and cut it in half. The rough part of the wood is the bullet path.

Image credits: junkcollector1979

#39 Small Black Balls That Came Out Of My Cat’s Fur When Brushing

Answer: OK, hear me out, does the furminator brush yhat you have have a black handle with bumps and are some of those bumps missing? Because it looks like the grippy bumps on the handle of mine broken off...

Image credits: Lewca43

#40 Seen While Walking Down The Street. A Ziplock Bag Tacked Above A Door. Seems To Contain Water And A Few Pennies. What Could This Be For?

Answer: Homemade mosquito/fly deterrent. The light reflecting off the water and pennies is supposed to scare off pesky bugs.

Image credits: Charker21

#41 Signs On The Truck Say ‘Radioactive’. Metallic Dumbbell-Shaped Container

Answer: It's a radioactive waste transport cask.

Image credits: smellerr

#42 What Is This House In The Middle Of Ocean? This Was About A Mile Off The Coast Of Mobile Al When I Went On A Cruise

Answer: It's the Middle Bay Light.

Image credits: Jacknut187

#43 Witt I Found A Bunch Of These Small Red Cylinders Under My Couch. They're Filled With Cement Like Material Wrapped In Paper Similar To The Paper Crayons Are Wrapped In

Answer: That is a firecracker my dude! Watch your fingers!!

Image credits: OnlyDansPhilosophy

#44 Black Stone Object Found Buried In A Garden In Somerset, UK. Ornate Carving On Front, Uneven Scratch Marks On Back

Answer: The material appears to be “Whitby Jet”, a material that occurs on the Yorkshire coastline. It was made extremely popular by Queen Victoria as mourning jewelery but it has been used and carved by people in the Bronze Age, Roman era, Viking era etc.. to me it looks like a Victorian amateur carved plaque in Whitby Jet but could be an earlier thing. You can tell if it’s jet by rubbing it-it will retain a static charge and attract dust or lint. Edit-just realized how small it is. Probably part of a bracelet or necklace from Victorian era.

Image credits: The_Eret

#45 Hotel Room Bed Leg Has Red Flashing Light Coming From Rubber Piece…

Answer: There's a YouTube video that says it's a mesh bed bug detector. Video calls it Wirepas.

Image credits: kikogeruk

#46 Weird Symbols In Saskatchewan Taken From 21,000ft

Answer: Here’s your answer: Ducks Unlimited waterfowl habitat.

Image credits: Ace_Laminar

#47 Paper-Wrapped Substance Inside Plastic Box Inside 60s Czech Military Bag

Answer: This looks like the soap that was used to prevent a gas mask from fogging up.

Image credits: Skaramuche

#48 Thin Decorated Metal Plate, 7 Inches Long

Answer: From the catch tray for a Kuerig coffee maker.

Image credits: yeti_button

#49 Witt I Found At A Thrift Store? Compass, Clock (?) And Springloaded Slots

Answer: 80s car insert. Compass for use with maps Slots for holding coins for tolls. Ford or mazda is my guess.

Image credits: Toadkalle

#50 I Was Watching A Remastered Clip Of Netherlands In 1919. What Are These Reflectors On Their Caps?

Answer: They're called 'oorijzers'. Started out as hat pins, became their own bit of pointless fashion.

Image credits: Tod_Lapraik

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