Ideally there wouldn't be any links to alaska/articles until there's something worth linking to.
Absolutely, we do this most of the time.
Possibly they noticed that assorted queries all lead to the identical page content.
That's probably a good assessment, content not identical but definitely thin and similar.
This feels a lot like some pretty serious machine learning. To be able to correctly asses the on page content of a one off site like this is to say the least impressive. If this was a wordpress site or some other opensource CMS then no big deal, it'd be pretty easy to put together a footprint for soft 404's en mass