NewsQuirks 661

Curses, Foiled Again

Police investigating the theft of a car in Columbus, Ohio, that contained a costume belonging to the Ohio State University mascot, Brutus the Buckeye, spotted the stolen vehicle parked near the campus. They staked it out until two men approached, one of whom was wearing the mascot's shirt, which had "BRUTUS" written on it. "These were not exactly brilliant thieves," police Sgt. Earl Smith said.

Payback Time

Rio de Janeiro Mayor Cesar Maya asked prosecutors to file charges against television meteorologist Luiz Carlos Austin, who predicted heavy rains on New Year's Eve that did not materialize. The forecast came a week after torrential rains and mudslides killed 71 people. "Making those kind of declarations on the most watched television station in the country could have caused a massive panic in light of the problems we've been having with rain," Alberto Guimaraes Jr., the city's acting chief prosecutor, said. He added that Austin could be charged with sounding a false alarm, which is punishable by up to six months in prison.

Why Not Use a Burka?

The Justice Department spent about $8,000 to cover two statues of semi-nude figures in its Great Hall, where Attorney General John Ashcroft was photographed on Nov. 8 while announcing plans to restructure the department to focus on terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Pictures showed him in front of the towering female statue representing the "Spirit of Justice," which is clothed but has one breast exposed. When President Bush came on Nov. 20 to name the building in honor of Robert Kennedy, that statue and a male statue representing the "Majesty of Justice" were draped with rented curtains. Spokesperson Barbara Comstock said the department decided to buy curtains and install them because it was more "cost efficient" than renting them.

Ups and Downs

Paul Illian spent 16 years designing and building a human-powered airplane. In December, the 97-pound, pedal-powered craft finally lifted off the ground at Washington's Paine Field, near Seattle, trying to break the world flight record of 72 miles. It flew only 100 feet before crashing.

Paul Clary III, 67, called 911 to report that he was working on his airplane in Sonoma County, Calif., when it broke free from its moorings and took off. The unoccupied Aeronca Champ flew for about two hours before running out of fuel and crashing 20 miles away in Napa County. Aviation experts said that Champs have a history of taking off without their pilots because they require the pilot to open the throttle, then go to the front of the plane to turn the propeller to start the engine.

Fruits of Research

Dutch scientists have trained wasps to detect drugs and bombs. Felix Waeckers, a biologist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, explained that wasps which have been conditioned to associate certain smells with food move their heads in a feeding motion, which could signal police. The chief advantage, Waeckers said, is that whereas sniffer dogs take around six months to train, Bracon wasps can be trained in less than an hour.

Another Dutch team announced that it has found a way to make jars with screw-on lids easier to open: Don't screw the lids on so tightly to begin with. Liek Voorbij of Delft University of Technology and Bea Steenbekkers of the Wageningen Agricultural University measured the lid-twisting ability of 750 volunteers before calculating the optimum tightness that would seal the jar yet allow people of all ages to open it. The ideal figure is a torque of 2 newton-meters.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned that genetically modified crops could lead to an invasion of superweeds that resist herbicides and insects. The mutant weeds could result from modified crops polluting the gene pool of conventional relatives growing in the same area, the FAO said. "If there is no barrier to pollination, you get this potential hazard," Ricardo Labrada Romero, the FAO's weed and plant protection officer, explained.

Adios Senor Pitchman

Colombian coffee growers, who have been forced to cut their payrolls and advertising budget because of plummeting coffee prices, have retired the character Juan Valdez. The change means unemployment for Carlos Sanchez, who has portrayed Juan Valdez since 1969. "Juan Valdez is an integral part of Carlos Sanchez," Sanchez told The New York Times. "So if Juan Valdez ceases to exist, well, naturally it is like losing a limb."

Old Habits Die Hard

While Daniel W. Searfoss, 43, was on probation for using a video camera hidden in his sneakers to look up women's skirts at a Wal-Mart in Plant City, Fla., he was accused of using the same method to look up the skirts of a dozen women at a church where he was serving 25 hours of community service related to the first charge. "It's worse than that," prosecutor Dean Tsourakis told the judge when Searfoss appeared in court. "He was doing it at the probation office; for instance, the cashier at the probation office."

Gone but Not Forgotten

Posters recruiting extras for crowd scenes in "A Season on the Brink," the ESPN biography of basketball coach Bobby Knight, proclaimed that the filming sessions in Winnipeg Arena Dec. 10 and 17 would "be hosted by Telly Savalas." Savalas died in 1994. ESPN spokesperson Rob Tobias explained that Savalas's name was used to mark where the actual host's name would be inserted, but the people making the poster apparently forgot to delete it.

Make That Onan-daga

Ronald Castle, 55, a 30-year employee of the Onondaga County Department of Social Services in Syracuse, N.Y., was charged with masturbating into the coffee cups of co-workers.

In London, meanwhile, the scientific analysis firm LGC sent an e-mail asking its male employees to donate semen by visiting the first-floor toilets and providing samples, then placing them in a refrigerator. "We do technical DNA analysis," an LGC spokesperson said. "We have reason to call on staff sometimes to help us validate new scientific methods. It could be hair samples, or whatever."

Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306.

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