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News Quirks 02.08.06


Published February 8, 2006 at 5:00 p.m.

Curses, Foiled Again

Police in Kansas City, Mo., accused Virgil Dennis, 22, of ordering three pizzas, then pressing a knife against the delivery driver's neck and taking the pizzas without paying. Investigators found that the address the suspect had given Pizza Hut was a vacant apartment, but the phone number belonged to an apartment two floors up. When officers knocked on the door, a young couple answered, holding a small girl who was eating a slice of pizza. "That was our first clue," Officer George Springer told the Kansas City Star after the driver identified Dennis.

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Britain's Alfille Innovations Ltd., introduced ButterWizard, a portable, temperature-controlled butter dish featuring a built-in fan and a chip that keep butter at 65 degrees Fahrenheit, which the company says is the optimal temperature for spreading. "We were trying to find out what people's frustration with butter was," David Alfille, the company's managing director, said. "It's either too hard or too soft. ButterWizard heats or cools the butter, and you can adjust the temperature to suit yourself."

Occupational Hazards

Cheerleading injuries more than doubled in just 13 years, according to a study by the medical journal Pediatrics, even though the number of cheerleaders increased only 18 percent. From 1990 to 2002, an estimated 208,800 people were treated at hospitals for injuries suffered while performing difficult and dangerous stunts. "Cheerleading is not what it used to be," Erin Brooks, a former cheerleader who teaches a cheerleading safety course in Mississippi, told the Associated Press. "It's no longer standing on the sidelines looking cute in a skirt."

Cosmic Congestion

More than 9000 pieces of debris, measuring 4 inches or more and totaling more than 5500 tons, are orbiting the Earth, according to NASA scientists, who reported in the journal Science that the hazard will only worsen. Most of the junk is crowded between 550 and 625 miles up, where it threatens commercial and research satellites and other unmanned space activities, according to J.-C. Liou and N.L. Johnson. The debris exists and will continue to increase, Liou and Johnson said, because orbiting objects keep colliding and breaking into smaller pieces.

- An asteroid the length of three football fields could strike the Earth in April 2036, according to former astronaut Russell L. "Rusty" Schweickart. He warned that the asteroid, 99942 Apophis, had one chance in 6250 of hitting the Pacific Ocean, possibly causing a tsunami and $500 billion in damage, unless its course is deflected by crashing a spaceship into it or using a spacecraft's gravitational pull to deflect it. Schweickart is the chairman of the B612 Foundation, which intends on using controlled methods to change asteroid orbits by 2015.

Glitches of the Week

Bank officials in the Philippines acknowledged that an "insignificant" number of 100 peso notes had been released into circulation with the president's name misspelled. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's last name was spelled "Arrovo," with a "v" instead of a "y."

- The Japanese financial-services firm Mizuho Securities received an order to sell one share of J-Com Co. at 610,000 yen ($5080), but instead sold 610,000 shares at 1 yen (less than 1 cent). The mistake, which the firm's president, Makoto Fukuda, blamed on a simple data-input error, also sent the benchmark Nikkei 225 index down 301.30 points, or 1.95 percent. The Tokyo Stock Exchange refused to cancel the transaction, which could cost Mizuho Securities at least $225 million.

- Wal-Mart officials blamed a computer error for suggesting that shoppers who visited its website to buy a DVD of the TV series "Planet of the Apes" might also be interested in film biographies of famous black Americans Martin Luther King Jr., actress Dorothy Dandridge, boxer Jack Johnson and singer Tina Turner. According to Wal-Mart's Mona Williams, a "mapping" program that selects alternate recommendations "does not work correctly, and at this point is mapping seemingly random combinations of titles." As evidence that the "Planet of the Apes" recommendations weren't intended as a racial slur, Wal-Mart pointed out that the film Home Alone yielded the same suggestions.

Missionary Position

Israel's Foreign Ministry said that it has halted efforts to convert some 7000 people in northern India who believe they are members of Bnei Menashe, one of the 10 biblical "lost tribes" of Israel. Efforts to convert them by a team of Israeli rabbis stopped after India, a major buyer of Israeli defense exports, voiced displeasure. "When the Indian government issues a complaint," ministry official Mark Regev said, "we take it seriously."

Technology to the Rescue

Moments after a man held up a bank in Spokane, Wash., police stopped his getaway van and recovered the stolen money. "You guys are good," the driver, Thomas R. Fricks, 38, told Officer Tim Moses. Police were able to track the suspect thanks to a global positioning satellite device that a bank employee had tucked inside the black duffel bag that the robber had ordered filled with $40,000 "and no bait bills."

Early Bird Special

Officials in India's Assam state announced the opening of "restaurants" for vultures. The open-air feeding stations near the state capital of Guwahati allow the scavengers to feed on healthy carcasses, according to forestry officials hoping to save the birds from extinction. Since 2001, at least 200 vultures have died from eating carcasses of cows treated with the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, and another 300 died of avian malaria.


The British government is considering changing the law that currently allows only one prostitute at one address to permit two prostitutes and a receptionist, provided that they aren't "a nuisance to neighbors." The proposed change also prescribes tougher penalties for people caught cruising for sidewalk prostitutes.

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