News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



Bangkok economics student Panupol Sujjayakorn interrupted his studies in November to defend his World Scrabble Championship in London, one of many non-English-speaking competitors who achieved top-of-the-line ranking by memorizing up to 100,000 words in English without ever knowing their meanings. Like the others, reported the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mr. Panupol learned first those premium words that overuse the prominent Scrabble letter tiles (such as "aureolae"). (Alas, this time around, a native English speaker, Dr. Adam Logan, a number theory researcher, won the title, building actual words like "qanat" and "euripi.")

Cliches Come to Life

-- Scientists at Syracuse University, recently describing for a British journal their study of body measurements of bats, found an inverse size relationship between a male bat's brain and testicles. The researchers hypothesized that both sperm and brains are metabolically costly to produce, and in species with relatively stable monogamous relationships, brains are allowed to grow, but where females are promiscuous, males that do not overdevelop testicles get left out of the race to procreate.

-- (1) In November in Murfreesboro, Tenn., U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucrats Joseph Haymond and Natalie Coker were charged with taking kickbacks from suppliers on government purchases of 100,000 rolls of red tape. (The tape is distinctive, red "security" tape used on packages of VA pharmaceuticals.) (2) According to a November Washington Post profile of federal examiner Russell Stormer, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has, since 1790, granted about 30,000 patents to people who have imagined unique ways to reinvent the wheel (or at least improve upon it).


-- Most Convenient Ambulance Chase: In November, according to an Indianapolis Star report of a local accident, an SUV driver collided with another car, causing the SUV to crash into an office building, partially smashing through a wall. Among the building's tenants: the personal-injury law firm Mitchell Hurst Jacobs & Dick, which specializes in automobile accidents.

-- Mr. Rayfran das Neves Sales was convicted in Belem, Brazil, in December of the widely reported murder of an American rain forest-activist nun, who was gunned down as she argued with Sales over who owned the land he was working. Sales claimed self-defense, in that, according to him, the nun reached into her bag as she was proclaiming that "the weapon I have (for fighting for preservation of the rain forest) is this," and Sales, sensing that she was about to pull a gun, shot her. The nun's "weapon," was, of course, her copy of what countless preachers refer to as a primary "weapon" against sin: the Bible.

Can't Possibly Be True

-- After trying for 22 years to get Hattie Siegel, now 83, to mow her lawn and clear the other critter-infested vegetation from her yard according to regulations of the village of Tequesta, Fla., officials finally cracked down on the accumulated $1.8 million in fines they had levied, and in December, a bankruptcy court ruled that she must liquidate her estate to pay the tab. Two other properties of hers were sold, and she stands to lose more (everything except the Tequesta house itself, which is protected by state law). However, Siegel has finally sought help in the matter and plans to challenge the constitutionality of the village's fines.

-- A bold weight-loss program of the Life of Life Healing Spa in Hong Kong involves actually setting fire briefly to the parts of the body holding the most fat, according to a December dispatch in London's Daily Telegraph. According to owner Karen Chu, the fire follows an energy flow "reading," full-body exfoliation, high-pressure hose spray, and herb-and-potion and alcohol rub-downs (but wet towels and a fire extinguisher are at the ready in case of problems). Chu said about 100 clients have undergone the treatment, with no complications, and the ones interviewed by the Daily Telegraph reporter praised the service. Chu said the treatment is based on traditional Chinese medicine, but a Hong Kong doctor interviewed by Agence France-Presse said, "I have never heard of such a thing."


The land developer Bigg Homes, creator of the Eagle Mountain community near Salt Lake City, touted in its online promotional materials the fact that the development's "(b)lack race population percentage (is) significantly below state average." After hearing complaints, Bigg co-owner David Adams removed the phrase in November, blaming the agency that designed Bigg's materials. (Whoever wrote the phrase must have thought that Utah's "state average" of 1.3 blacks per 100 was somehow suffocating.)

Unclear on the Concept

In September, based on the complaint of only one letter-writer (and that man later said he was more being provocative than complaining), the band director of C.D. Hylton High School in Prince William County, Va., dropped from his playlist the popular Charlie Daniels Band song, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," because it centers on Satan. Daniels, interviewed by The Washington Post, was appalled: "I am a Christian, and I don't write pro-devil songs."


Sidney Hale, 31, was arrested in Bluefield, Va., in November after enlisting a female friend to help him to, as he put it, sharpen his reflexes in case an intruder broke into his trailer home. The woman was to knock at the front door, and Hale was then to quickly grab his handgun. (A third person was to gauge Hale's reaction time.) According to a sheriff's detective, she knocked, and Hale grabbed the gun. However, it accidentally fired a slug through the door into the woman's back (but she is fine following surgery). And in December in Lake Worth, Fla., a 16-year-old boy found a .45-caliber bullet, began eagerly pounding it with a hammer and screwdriver, and shot himself in the stomach. (He was treated and released at a hospital.)

Hapless Criminals

(1) Francisco Torres, 52, wanted for murder in New York City, was arrested at Lincoln Hospital in November, after he checked in at the emergency room. According to police, he had suffered a severe asthma attack apparently triggered by the gunpowder residue from the bullet he fired at his victim. (2) Former Miami police officer Jesus Gutierrez, 35, charged with having sex with an underage girl, was initially offered a plea bargain that would have meant probation and no jail time, but he decided to go to trial. In September, he was convicted, and in December, a judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

Recurring Themes

Guilty Despite Deformity: In November, engineering student Mischa Beutling, 22, became the most recent rape defendant to profess innocence by impossibility, arguing that his penis is simply too large to have committed the crime. Beutling, who stands 6-7 and weighs 240 pounds, called a urologist to the stand in Newmarket, Ontario, to testify that Beutling's is 8 1/2 inches long "semi-relaxed" and 6 1/2 inches in circumference and that a woman who has not given birth could not accommodate it without serious injury. (In December, a judge named Margaret Eberhard found Beutling guilty.)

Undignified Deaths

Same Gun? Same Bullet!: In November, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Jon Shuler, 20, aiming to settle an argument with Kenny Berry, 27, over a small amount of money, got a gun and shot Berry. Seriously wounded, Berry struggled for the gun, wrested it from Shuler, and shot him dead, just before Berry himself collapsed and died. Also in November, in Sun City, Calif., an 84-year-old man put a gun to his head after a quarrel with his wife and killed himself. However, according to sheriff's deputies, the woman, 71, standing about 8 feet away, was also killed when the bullet passed through him and into her forehead.

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