-- Erik Sprague, 27, a doctoral student in philosophy in Albany, N.Y., has undergone several body modifications (teeth sharpened, tongue forked, forehead bumps implanted, "scales" tattooed) in order to appear like a reptile, according to December wire service reports. Sprague, described as an "excellent" student by a professor, told reporters that he knows of four other people who have made such "single-theme conversions" (as a zebra, tiger, leopard and a giant puzzle called "The Enigma"). He will appear on the TBS show "Ripley's Believe It or Not" in January.
After resisting for five years, Missouri was forced by a federal judge in November to allow the Ku Klux Klan into its Adopt-a-Highway program, publicly recognizing the organization for keeping clean a one-mile segment of Interstate 55. And the Army revealed in September that its new lead-free combat bullet will not be ready before 2003 (although some local police departments already use a less-powerful model); the Army needs the bullet because 1,000 indoor military firing ranges are currently shut because of lead contamination. And in June, researchers at Ontario's University of Guelph reported genetically engineering a pig that produces manure 20 to 50 percent lower in the pollutant phosphorous than ordinary pig manure.
-- Latest from Weird Japan: Nonordained "pastors" in Tokyo are exploiting the Japanese fascination with Christian weddings (1 percent of Japanese are Christian, but 70 percent of all weddings are), according to a September Reuters news service report; the fake ministers' justification: The Bible condemns holy marriages of a believer to a nonbeliever, but does not mention marriages of two nonbelievers. And in May, a Times of London story reported the frequent installation in Nagasaki and other cities of "unwanted-dog postboxes" into which pets can be directly placed for pickup if the owners tire of them.
-- As with weddings in Japan, Christmas shopping in Singapore is a huge national pastime despite the fact that only 13 percent of the people are Christians. Half of the country's annual retail sales come during the season; shopping malls turn into extravagant theme parks; traditional hymns saturate cities. Explained an interdenominational leader: Singaporeans merely use the Christmas season as a long year-end celebration leading up to the Chinese New Year in January.
-- Among those caught up in the consequences of Florida's Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act of 1998 (which requires license applicants to read a 16-page booklet heavy on parenting techniques and responsibilities and gives a $32.50 license discount for taking a four-hour course): Max Gordon and his bride, Mollie Levy, who planned to marry in Delray Beach last September until Max had trouble reading the book because of his cataracts. Max is 90, Mollie 82, and between them they have six children and 31 grand- and great-grandchildren.
-- When government minister Yuksel Yalova attended the grand-opening ceremonies at a veterinary hospital in Izmir, Turkey, on the symbolic World Animal Day in October, he was treated to the traditional tribute to a visiting dignitary: the ritual slaughter of a healthy sheep.
-- After protests in October, Grand Canyon University, a small Christian college in Phoenix, canceled its scheduled "Assassins" fund-raising game, in which gun-carrying players pay for the privilege of shooting colleagues with Nerf darts, with the last one standing getting a restaurant certificate. Many students originally failed to connect the game to recent school violence, such as the freshman woman who told a reporter, "This is a Christian university, so we know the difference between right and wrong."
-- In June at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, a tarantula the size of a salad plate underwent two CAT scans to save her from an infection from a coin-sized abscess and survived in fine shape, expected to live another 10 years to age 20. According to the aquarium's senior herpetologist, the tarantula's only problems now are her bad habits of showing her fangs and ejecting barbed hairs from her posterior.
-- In July, police in Dhaka, Bangladesh, rescued two spider monkeys that were chained up in a drug seller's house. To reduce human intervention in drug sales, said police, signs ordered customers to pay the monkeys in either of two denominations, which the monkeys could distinguish by color, after which the monkeys would fetch the appropriate quantity of drugs from their hiding places.
New Jersey entrepreneurs recently proposed a series of memorial theme parks ("The Final Curtain") in which creative people's self-designed tombs, urns and sculptures will house their remains in world venues attractive enough or spectacular enough to compete for the public's entertainment dollar. One proposal: A man wants to be buried with a camera that will televise his decomposition to spectators.
News of the Weird reported in 1996 on the then-brand-new testicle implants for dogs ("Neuticles," invented by Gregg Miller of Independence, Mo.), thought to be helpful to neutered dogs that somehow would feel embarrassed after castration. In November, Miller said he had scheduled his first human for an FDA-approved Neuticle implant: Californian Jim Webb, who had had a testicle removed to relieve chronic swelling.
Ski-mask-wearing Floyd Brown, 24, was charged with robbing a Holiday Inn in Anchorage, Alaska, in November, apparently oblivious of the 40 police officers just off the lobby in a law-enforcement training conference (advertised on the marquee out front). And in December in Las Vegas, robber Emilio Rodriguez, 19, was shot to death as he rushed into Mr. D's bar, which is a favorite haunt of (and was filled with) off-duty police officers.
Hormel Foods announced it would open a 16,550-square-foot Spam Museum and Visitor Center next year (Austin, Minn.). Miss America of 1998 took a job waiting tables at Artie's deli in New York City. A 41-year-old man carrying his unwrapped shotgun to a pawn shop innocently stopped by a bank to make an inquiry, provoking a major police response (Athens, Tenn.). Two sociology professors announced a new "Journal of Mundane Behavior" for rigorous study of the inconsequential (Fullerton, Calif.). Robert Wald obtained a patent for boxer shorts with built-in briefs, sewn inside in a shared waistband (Toluca Lake, Calif.).
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Weird@compuserve.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)