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News of the Weird



Lead Stories

In August the town of Bartow, Florida, responded to a rising influx of complaints about stray chickens by repealing a 1922 ordinance that made it illegal to kill, capture, or "annoy" birds. And also in August, at the Indiana State Fair, Purdue University entomologists presented "Roachill Downs," a series of cockroach races on custom-built tracks--American roaches on an oval and giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which can top three inches in length, on a straightaway (the big bugs also competed in a "tractor pull," towing tiny green toy tractors a few feet).

In April in Moncton, New Brunswick, 44-year-old George Pavlovsky, a tree cutter for the city, stalked through his office drunk, carrying a sawed-off shotgun and looking for two supervisors who'd passed him over for promotion; Pavlovsky was fired at once, and in November he was sent to jail for two years. Seven days after his dismissal, though, his union (Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 51) filed a wrongful-firing grievance on his behalf, and he's said he wants his job back when he gets out. Several of Pavlovsky's colleagues who witnessed the incident are still on stress leave.

Latest Cutting-Edge Research

In September a team led by Trevor Cox, professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford in England, concluded that (contrary to conventional wisdom) a duck's quack does indeed have an echo. In October biologist Nette Levermann of the University of Copenhagen, whose group had monitored walruses near Greenland, noted that 89 percent of the animals are "right-handed" (that is, they use their right flippers, not their left, to dig for clams). And in November an aerodynamics expert at Britain's Open University wrapped up two months of work designing and machine-testing beer coasters and presented the finished product: a model deemed ideal for the popular pub game of coaster flipping.

Questionable Judgments

After Norm and Darlene Scott's Montana farmhouse burned in 1996, they collected $75,000 from the Mountain West Farm Bureau insurance company but weren't satisfied: they sued the company, claiming it was dealing in "bad faith," and won another $52,500 in 1999. Then the Scotts chose to pursue the bad faith issue to a higher court, looking for still more money ($250,000 in damages), and in November a federal jury in Helena rejected their claim--and determined that the Scotts had in fact started the fire, a finding that likely never would've been made if the case hadn't been kept open. (Due to the statute of limitations no criminal charges can be brought, but the insurer will sue to get its money back.)

In October in Ridgefield, Washington, 44-year-old Toni Lynn Lycan got into a shouting match with a downstairs neighbor over his loud music; after he upped the ante by pounding on his ceiling with a broom, she jumped into the air and stomped down with both feet at once, breaking both her legs about four inches below the knee.


In September the Rouse Company, a developer and owner of shopping malls, acknowledged that it had forgotten to renew the lease on its own headquarters in Columbia, Maryland. In October the firm avoided eviction by agreeing to buy the building for $11 million.

In October in Tampa, Florida, imprisoned child molester Kevin Kinder, 31, was placed in a holding cell with about 60 other prisoners while awaiting a routine hearing; among the other inmates was a 22-year-old who recognized Kinder as the man who'd molested him when he was 11. The victim reportedly knocked Kinder unconscious with a single punch, putting out one of his teeth, and though he's been charged with felony battery his mother says flooring Kinder was "therapeutic" for her son.

Least Competent Criminals

In November in Chillicothe, Ohio, 15-year-old Chance Copp, on probation for arson and worried about testing positive for marijuana, submitted the urine of a male relative instead of his own, only to discover that the substitute urine tested positive for cocaine.

Dignified Death

California author and filmmaker Timothy Treadwell, much of whose work was part of a personal campaign to make people more tolerant of brown bears, was killed and partially eaten by bears in October near Alaska's Kaflia Bay. Treadwell carried no firearms or bear spray, and was mindful of but unruffled by the huge predators' potential ferocity. (He liked to ease up close to the animals, chanting "I love you" in a high, soft voice.) He'd told one associate, "I would be honored to end up in bear scat."

In the Last Month

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, thousands rioted in the national stadium after a prominent duo of Nigerian midget comedians, Aki and Paw Paw, failed to show up for a performance and promoters tried to substitute two local dwarfs. In Chicago a brother and sister who'd thrown away a winning lottery ticket worth $10.5 million were able to recover it from their garbage--because it had remained uncollected during a nine-day sanitation workers' strike. And Dog Plus K-9 flavored water (in varieties such as "liver and bacon") went on sale in Australia for about two dollars a bottle; said the inventor, "Dogs get bored with plain water."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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