The 21 best optical illusions that went viral and stumped the internet
The most famous one is The Dress, a photo that made a dress seem possibly black and blue or possibly white and gold, depending on who saw it and under what conditions. It ignited a firestorm of controversy around the web.
Here are 19 0f the most puzzling optical illusions that have gone viral in the past few years, along with some explanations of how they work.
This looks like a beach scene...
On July 2, Twitter user @nxyxm posted a confounding photo with a caption that posited that those who can see "beach, ocean sky, rocks, and stars" are artists.
... but it's actually the broken bottom of a car door.
The shadow on the "sand" is actually the shadow of the car over a rocky road. The area where the ocean waves are breaking is actually the cracked plastic at the bottom of a car door in need of repairs.
Do these legs look oily to you?
This image went viral in October of 2016 after Hunter Culverhouse, an art student, posted it on Instagram. It looks like Culverhouse's legs are covered in oil.
It's actually just streaks of white paint.
With the image cropped, it's a little easier to tell what's really going on: streaks of white paint make it look like a glare of light is coming off of Culverhouse's legs. They're actually dry.
Culverhouse told INSIDER that the effect was completely unintentional. They took the photo after finishing up some homework for an art class.
"[I] had some white paint left on my brush and put random lines on my legs," Culverhouse wrote in an email. "Turned out to be a completely confusing picture for everyone on the internet."
Kendall Jenner seems to be missing a leg.
Earlier this year, InStyle magazine posted an Instagram photo of Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, and Hailey Baldwin hanging out together after the Golden Globes.
They are all very leggy. So it's odd that one went missing. Kendall's left leg is nowhere to be seen. Where'd it go?
It's under her dress.
Eventually, the internet figured it out. It was under her dress all along! If you look really closely, you can see the horizontal top of her leg. She's pointing her knee to her right and twisting her body forward to be more prominent in the picture.
This illusion of six girls with five pairs of legs flummoxed the internet.
Legless women are a staple of the viral optical illusion genre. This photo that went around Reddit in late 2016 showed six women sitting on a couch.
But - yet again - a leg was missing. The person sitting in the middle of the couch seems to have no legs at all.
What's really going on is a little more tricky.
If you look closer, you'll see what's really going on.
The woman in the middle of the couch does, in fact, have legs. She's leaning her torso to her left and her head to the right. So it's hard to tell that those legs on the viewer's left are hers.
The legs of the woman all the way on the left are also pretty clear. She's wearing black jeans.
So that leaves the person second from the furthermost left. If you look closely, you can see that she's also wearing black jeans. One of her legs is simply completely behind the other woman's legs. You can see a sliver of the other one in the image. It helps if you adjust the photo's lighting.
There's something off about this viral photo. Can you spot it?
This particular image went viral on Imgur, uploaded by a user going by the name of what047. It has the caption "It took me forever to find what was wrong here..."
Do you see it?
All the faces in the background are the same.
You may have been looking too closely at the women in the foreground. Nothing is off about them.
But in the background, everyone has the same head. Someone edited the image so that everyone's head was replaced with one belonging to a curly-haired guy looking down.
The image's trick is a good reminder that the details you're looking for aren't always in the foreground. Sometimes they're in unexpected places.
Is this dress blue and black or white and gold?
The dress! How can anyone forget the dress? black and blue? white and gold? Why does it look different to everyone?
The original image was posted on Tumblr by a woman named Caitlin McNeill, a singer-songwriter from Scotland, after she sent the picture to her friends, who disagreed on the colour.
It's black and blue. Here's the science behind why it looks different for different people.
It's black and blue.
The science of why people saw the dress differently is a little complicated, and scientists offer different explanations for some of the details. The peer-reviewed Journal of Vision even published several articles about it.
Stated plainly, the way your brain determines colour relies on two things: the colour of the object you're seeing and the colour of the light source. The image was overexposed, meaning the light in the image overwhelmed the colour of the subject. Parts of the dress were also in shadow. This all implies that the dress had a partial light makeup of bluish shadow, reflecting off the dress itself, and yellow light, from the store's bad lighting. Parts of the image also seem to indicate that the dress is backlit.
Depending on whether your brain saw the dress more in shadow or more in a direct light, you'd see the colours differently.
This looks like a 3D, urban city.
Daniel Hoerr posted a photo of Colorado's farmland to Reddit after he realized the flat land seemed to be 3D.
It's actually flat farmland in Colorado.
The Colorado Climate Center believes it's because of the unusual way snow fell in the region, along with the unique terrain itself.
These strawberries aren't red.
The image was made and posted on Twitter by Akiyoshi Kitaoka?, a professor of psychology at Ritsumeikan University who studies visual perception. This pixels have been completely drained of any red. So why do so many people still see red strawberries?
It's because of a phenomenon called colour constancy.
The image above, posted by "Silicon Valley" writer Carson Mell, separates specific pixels to show that they are, in fact, grey and green. They're not red.
Your brain may think they're red because of a phenomenon called colour constancy. It's related to the science behind The Dress: Your brain looks at the colour of the object and the colour of the light to determine the colour presented to you.
But the brain also knows that the colour of the object is more useful than the colour of the light for actually determining the colour of the object. So it's trained to ignore information from the colour of the light.
In this manipulated images, the colour of the light has been manipulated so there's no red whatsoever in the image. But your mind recognizes the objects as strawberries, and it knows that strawberries (at least as most people know them) are red, so it understands the strawberries to be red even if the image has no red in it.
"You brain says, 'the light source that I'm viewing these strawberries under has some blue component to it, so I'm going to subtract that automatically from every pixel,'" Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist at the National Eye Institute, told Motherboard. "When you take grey pixels and subtract out this blue bias, you end up with red."
These shapes are mirror images of each other.
This illusion is called the "Ambiguous Cylinder Illusion." Developed by Meiji University professor Kokichi Sugihara, it won the "Best Illusion of the Year" contest in 2016 from the Neural Correlate Society.
If you watch the full video, you can see Sugihara placing the shapes and rotating them - only for entirely different shapes to appear in the mirror. It's really cool.
"Ambiguous cylinders" are somewhere between a circle and a square.
If you pause the video at around the 15 second mark, mid-rotation, you'll see the object's "true" shape.
Ambiguous cylinders, Sugihara writes in a paper cited by Motherboard, are somewhere between a square and a circle. In this case, the shape also has wavy top edges. Depending on your perspective, your brain corrects the shape of the image to appear as a circle or a square. You can create the same illusion with more elaborate shapes that are made up of circles and squares, which is what Sugihara did with the other objects.
There are 12 dots in this image. Can you see them all at once?
This particular illusion comes from an academic paper published in 2000 in the journal Perception by Jacques Ninio and Kent A. Stevens. If you have access, you can read the paper through here.
It went viral online when Akiyoshi Kitaoka? posted it on Facebook and game designer Will Kerslake reposted it on Twitter.
There are 12 black circles in the image, but most people can't see them all at once.
Your peripheral vision isn't very good.
You should be able to see any dot you look at directly. But the ones in your peripheral vision pop in and out.
That's because humans simply don't have very good peripheral vision, as vision scientist Derek Arnold explained to The Verge. For something like this - black dots against grey lines - your brain simply makes the best guess it can to fill in the information. In this case, it just guesses the dots aren't there. The white in between the grey lines makes your brain think the dots are lighter than they really are. Thus, it just sees more grey.
"That can counteract the blurry black dot that is actually, physically there," Arnold told The Verge.
What does this look like to you?
Just a brick wall, right?
There's a cigar in there.
The photo went viral when U.K. resident Arron Bevin posted it to Facebook. He said it took him "a good 5 minutes" to figure it out.
There's a cigar wedged between the bricks, blending into the shadows. The ashy end of the cigar looks like a grey stone.
Is she underwater or not?
In 2015, a debate raged on Reddit over whether the girl in this photo was underwater or not. It was originally posted on Imgur by the user maskari.
She looks like she's underwater already because it seems that she's under filtered light and because air bubbles seem to be floating up. But she also looks like she's just jumping into the water.
She's definitely not underwater.
For one, you can't be both underwater and splashing into water at the same time. That makes no sense.
Furthermore, her hair is dry and her ponytail isn't floating around, which it would if she were underwater. The "air bubbles" are just drops.
Either overexposure or a digitally added filter makes the lighting look like she's underwater. But she's not, really.
One of the trickiest illusions is the "café wall."
The café wall illusion dates back to the late 1800s and was named in the 1970s by psychologist Richard Gregory.
In reality, the larger lines form a perfect grid - but it doesn't look that way.
This new version of the illusion went around the web when it was named a finalist for the 2017 "Best Illusion of the Year" contest. It won second place (the first place winner was a rendering of traditional optical illusions in video form).
It was made by Victoria Skye, who was inspired by the original. In her version, diamonds and wavy lines come into play, making every line look wonky.
Blurring the image shows that it's really a grid.
As Skye showed in her video, by blurring the image until the details disappeared, you can see the larger picture. The lines are, in fact, straight. They're perfectly parallel and perpendicular to each other.
These two train track segments are the same size.
One example of the illusion went viral when BBC presenter Marc Blank-Settle posted a video of it on Twitter, using his son's train set.
Both curves in the track are the same size, but one the one on the left appears larger than the one on the right when they're next to each other.
Yes, really. The illusion is called the Jastrow illusion.
There are a few different theories for how the Jastrow effect works. But basically, your brain compares the two sides of the respective track pieces that are next to each other. So instead of comparing the right side of one piece to the right side of the other, it compares the right side of the left track to the left side of the right track, because those two sides are next to each other.
These are supposed to be sand dunes.
While flying a few hundred kilometres over a desert in 2013, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano took a photo of some sand dunes.
"Like an Escher painting, sand dunes seem to reproduce the same shape indefinitely," he wrote.
A lot of people didn't see it. The photo looks like a bunch of pits, not hills. What's going on?
Flip it over and you'll see what they really are.
As Phil Plait pointed out on the blog Bad Astronomy, the image makes more sense when you look at it upside-down.
The illusion is pretty simple. Your brain thought the sun was in the 1:00 position, meaning they were casting shadows from the upper-right. In fact, the sun was casting shadows from the upper-left. Turning the image upside-down puts the image into a format we're more used to.
You can see the same effect in a famous National Geographic photo of camels in the desert.
The baffling carpet looks like it's full of craters.
The floor itself is flat, but the curvy lines make it disorienting.
Because of the way the carpet is crosshatched, bigger holes between the lines make it look like there's additional depth. In reality, it's still flat - just headache-inducing.
That's not the only flooring illusion.
This checkered floor designed by the UK-based tile company Casa Ceramica went viral in September. It looks like it's dipping downward on one side.
It's only an illusion: The floor is totally flat.
The design, only visible from one end of the hallway, is meant to stop people from running down it. It you look at it from the opposite direction, it's clearly part of a design.
"The inspiration was to create an entrance themed on illusions and [exceed] expectations of how tiles can be used," a representative of Casa Ceramica told INSIDER in an email.
You can watch how the company made it here.
The artist Liu Bolin made himself invisible. Can you find him?
Liu Bolin, known to some as the "Human Chameleon," published a series of self portraits.
The one catch: It's hard to actually see him. He's camouflaged himself so he resembles the world around him.
When you zoom in, it's easier to see the shadows his body casts.
It takes up to 10 hours for Bolin to get painted, and he has to stay very still. This photo is just one of many examples.
This woman's face clearly doesn't look right.
Mimi Choi's different face styles went viral back in April. She isn't modifying her face with Photoshop or using CGI. So what's going on?
She's a very talented makeup artist.
All of it is, in fact, makeup. Choi is a makeup artist who uses deep blacks to add illusory depth to her face.
"When I do illusions now, I draw my inspiration mostly from my surroundings, photography, paintings, and emotions," Choi told Allure. "I try not to look at other makeup artists's work too much and challenge myself to produce original, unique work."
She's not the only one to use makeup to create such dazzling images. The South Korean makeup artist Dain Yoon went viral in October for similar effects.
Like The Dress, no one could tell what colour these shoes are.
In October, a single sneaker went viral and caused a debate as virulent as the one over The Dress: Was it pink with white trimmings? Or grey with teal?
As with The Dress, you can blame lighting for playing tricks on your eyes.
If you look at the original photo, you'll see that there's a tealish tint on the hand holding the shoe, indicating that the image's lighting had that colour artificially increased.
Also, DSW sells the shoe, pictured above, which you can clearly see is pink.
Look for the phone.
"Let's play a game," a user posted on Facebook in 2016 along with this photo. "Look for the cellphone."
The image went viral, with thousands of people trying to spot it. Can you figure it out?
There it is.
The floral-patterned case looks remarkably like the carpet, making it blend in nearly seamlessly with the right placement.
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