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News Quirks 

Curses, Foiled Again Two managers interrupted a burglar at a restaurant in Wilmington, Del., who stayed on the scene too long because he needed to find safecracking instructions. Police arrested Branden M. Tingey, 28, who they said was using an office computer near the safe in the manager's office to search the Internet when he was discovered.

All Business Some Japanese hospitals and private companies have begun paying $1000 a day to rent robot receptionists able to recognize about 10,000 words in routine conversations and speak basic sentences. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' "wakamaru" robots are bright yellow, 3 feet tall, weigh 60 pounds and move at 1.5 mph.

Jailhouse Rocks Indiana state prisons banned handshaking, ordering inmates to limit greetings to bumping knuckles. "It is recommended that people use a gentle 'knuckle knock,'" read a memo from corrections commissioner J. David Donahue. For inmates unsure what that meant, prisons posted posters illustrating the gesture.

Prisoners in Missouri's Scott City Jail mixed pancake batter and toothpaste to disguise a hole chiseled in the mortar of an interior wall. They were able to remove a block so a female inmate could slip into a cell housing a male inmate.

* Anita Rachel Thomas, 20, used cocoa butter, baby powder and extra socks to try to escape from a jail transport van in Las Cruces, N.M. Authorities said she was able to wriggle free of leg irons because she was wearing six pairs of socks, which she removed. She then greased her legs and hands with cocoa butter to slip out of the leg irons and handcuffs. Finally, she threw baby powder at a guard and started running. The guard grabbed her before she'd gone two feet.

Watts Happening Authorities in Myanmar reported thieves in Yangon are taking advantage of frequent power outages to steal the copper power lines. "It's just like playing Russian roulette," one Yangon police officer told Reuters, noting miscreants never know exactly when the power will come back on. "I've seen a few cases in which thieves were electrocuted."

When Erections Aren't Enough After lab tests with rodents to investigate claims that Viagra can alleviate jet lag, Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at England's Loughbor- ough University, concluded, "It might help globetrotting hamsters, but at the moment, there isn't any evidence to suggest it works in humans.

Highway to Hell The Roman Catholic Church issued 10 new commandments aimed at curbing "downright stupid and arrogant behavior by drivers or pedestrians." Proclaiming the need for "road ethics" based on "theological, ethical, legal and technological principles," the commandments, part of a 36-page Vatican document, "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road," declare driving is a matter of virtue and that charity require drivers to "allow someone who wishes to drive faster to pass."

The document, intended for bishops conferences worldwide, also points out that having vehicles serviced is a "duty" and encourages reciting the rosary on journeys because its "rhythm and gentle repetition do not distract the driver's attention." The document also recommends setting up chapels along roadways and having a "periodic celebration of liturgies" at major intersections, truck stops and restaurants.

* A 52-year-old German woman, who drove her Volkswagen Beetle across a sidewalk in downtown Düsseldorf and into a subway entrance, told authorities that she mistook the subway for an underground parking garage.

* Ben Carpenter, 21, was crossing an intersection in his wheelchair in Paw Paw, Mich., when the light changed. A tractor-trailer pulling forward bumped the chair, which lodged in the truck's grille, and pushed it at speeds of 50 mph for 4 miles before someone noticed and called 911.

Home Is Where the Urinal Cake Is A Moroccan family found itself homeless after authorities closed the public toilet the five had been living in for seven years. BBC News reported that Aze Adine Ould Baja worked cleaning the toilet in Sale, but when his daughter was kidnapped years ago, he had to sell everything he owned to get her back. Penniless, the family moved into the toilet as a temporary measure, and their official address on identity papers became "toilets, Sidi Ahmed Hajii district." Complaining about their living arrangement to the local newspaper, Baja's wife, Khadija Makbout, explained, "When my son went to school, the other children would tease him and call him 'the boy from the toilet.'" After appealing to authorities to help the family find other housing, Makbout said officials cemented over the toilet entrance to block its use.

Vehicular Justice The Defense Department authorizes discretionary condolence payments of as much as $2500 for Iraqi citizens killed "as a result of U.S. and coalition forces' actions during combat." A report by the Government Accountability Office found that compensation for damage to motor vehicles also has a $2500 maximum.

Unclear on the Concept Philippine police chasing a thief who broke into a house in Manila said the man became winded after running about 500 yards and signaled for a time-out so he could catch his breath. Erwin Buencesco, one of the officers, said they waited until the thief regained his composure, but instead of letting him resume his flight, they arrested him.

Packaging Follies After authorities charged six people in Orange County, Calif., with pimping and operating 10 brothels staffed by Chinese prostitutes, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said that in an apparent effort to economize, customers were asked to use plastic food wrap instead of condoms. Jian Shi, a 49-year-old Montebello resident and ringleader, purchased 7500 square feet of plastic wrap over a two-month period, according to Rackauckas, who added, "I really don't think about Saran Wrap in the same way anymore."

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Roland Sweet

Roland Sweet is the author of the syndicated column "News Quirks," which appears weekly in Seven Days.


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