Wonder is everywhere. That’s why, every other week, Atlas Obscura drags you down some of the rabbit holes we encounter as we search for our unusual stories. We highlight surprising finds, great writing, and inspiring stories from some of our favorite publications.

The Vanilla Queens of Mexico

by Leila Miller, Los Angeles Times

In Papantla, Mexico, the queen is crowned with vanilla. To celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi—May 30 this year—the stems of the Vanilla planifolia orchid are twisted into ornate wreaths and bestowed on the reina of the festival. The Los Angeles Times has a visual ode to the fragrant tradition.

Inside the Graffiti-Covered L.A. Skyscraper Drawing Global Attention

by Kelsey Ables, Washington Post

When the Chinese developers behind Oceanside Plaza, an under-construction skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles, abandoned the project, it became a canvas for the city’s graffiti artists—“perhaps the most legendary roll call in the history of Los Angeles,” says one scholar. But it has also raised questions about urban blight and foreign investment.

Learning to Live with Musk Oxen

by Megan Gannon, High Country News

Today in Nome, Alaska, musk oxen are a main attraction for visitors, the subject of photo safaris and souvenirs at the town’s gift shops. But the animals that roam the region today are not descendants of those who called the land home centuries ago; they were reintroduced by settlers in the early 20th century, and local communities are still learning how to live with the shaggy, horned ruminants.

Stolen Van Gogh to Go Back on Display

by Agence France-Presse

In March 2020, an early Van Gogh painting was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam. More than three years later, the 1884 Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring was delivered to an art sleuth in a blue IKEA bag. Next month, the painting—which now has a deep white scratch near the bottom of the canvas—will go back on display at the Groninger Museum in the north of the Netherlands.

Are These Ancient Board Games?

by Sonja Anderson, Smithsonian Magazine

When archaeologist Veronica Waweru saw rows of shallow pits carved into a rock ledge in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, she realized she might be looking at “an ancient arcade.” Waweru hypothesized that the pits were once used for mancala, a two-player strategy game. “It’s a valley full of these game boards,” she says.

A 639-Year-Long Performance Strikes a New Chord

by Rob Schmitz, National Public Radio

In the Sankt Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, Germany, an epic performance is underway. Since September 5, 2001, an automatic organ has been playing avant-garde composer John Cage’s Organ2/ASLSP (As Slow as Possible). And the note just changed, for the first time in two years. This tone will continue until August 5, 2026; the song is scheduled to end in 2640.

Can AI Unlock the Secrets of Ancient Rome?

by Ashlee Vance and Ellen Huet, Bloomberg Businessweek

The volcanic eruption that froze Pompeii and Herculaneum in time almost 2,000 years ago also buried a vast library in a villa in the Italian countryside. To date, 800 of the fragile, charred scrolls—known as the Herculaneum papyri—have been excavated from the site, and now a corps of volunteers are working to decipher them using the latest technology.