Think you know your rights? Take our test to see how well you really know the letter of the law.
When New York City–based attorney Nathan Belofsky decided to pen The Book of Strange and Curious Legal Oddities: Pizza Police, Illicit Fishbowls, and Other Anomalies of the Law That Make Us All Unsuspecting Criminals
(Perigee, $14), he started sizing up his competition. What he discovered was that many of the books on the topic are filled with fabrications.
“People were just making them up,” Belofsky says. “These laws get circulated and repeated and become urban legends.” Bothered by the discovery, he was determined to not make the same mistakes other authors did. Besides, he adds: “The real laws are funnier than the made-up ones.” Exhibit A: It’s illegal to annoy another person for no legitimate purpose in Brighton, Mich.
What’s the reason for these wacky regulations? Some are holdovers from days long gone, and some simply reflect the quirks of the personalities of people in power. Though at first glance such odd edicts seem worthy of little more than a chuckle, think again: “Some of these laws do really have effects on people’s lives,” Belofsky says.
So before you get put away for housing your goldfish in a spherical fishbowl (they’ve been banned in Rome since 2004), test your knowledge with our handy quiz.
DECIDE WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING LAWS ARE TRUE OR FALSE:
1. When visiting a haunted house in Topeka, Kan., keep your wits about you — disorderly behavior is not welcome.
2. Want to save the rest of that ice-cream cone for later? If you’re in Kentucky, don’t store it in your back pocket. They could haul you in for such a crime.
3. If you’re playing a patriotic-music medley in public in Michigan, don’t even consider working “The Star-Spangled Banner” into it.
4. Those bicycle handlebars are there for a reason! And in Illinois, riding without at least one hand on them will net you some trouble.
5. Prefer a cornmeal crust on your fried chicken? You’ll be out of luck in South Carolina. The state requires a flour crust on all restaurant orders of fried bird.
6. When packaging food in Vermont, don’t you dare try to pass off your product as “mapley” if there isn’t real maple syrup inside.
7. The upkeep of your beautifully green lawn shouldn’t cost anybody else their new shoes. In Helena, Mont., no lawn sprinklers are allowed in a spot where they might spray passers-by.
1. True. No punching any goblins in the nose, y’hear? Such behavior is punishable with a fine of up to $500 and a maximum of 180 days in jail.
2. False. The Internet wrongfully attributes this law, one of Belofsky’s least favorite, to states from coast to coast. The faux reason for the law: An ice-cream cone in the back pocket would distract horses.
3. True. In Michigan, the national anthem must stand alone. Pairing it with other tunes could land you in the clink for up to 90 days.
4. True. Fines for such handlebar-holding tomfoolery vary by municipality.
5. False. We totally made that one up. But we think you’re crazy if you go cornmeal over flour.
6. True. The people of Vermont are serious about their syrup. Offenders may see their dealer license revoked, be fined up to $5,000 or spend a year in the big house.
7. True. Violators would be charged with a misdemeanor and taken to court, where a judge could order that the sprinkler be moved. People of Helena, we salute you!