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News Quirks 

Curses, Foiled Again

Wayne Harvey Martell, 68, left without paying for gas after filling his vehicle at the same station 11 times in three months, according to police in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who arrested him when he showed up a 12th time and was promptly recognized. (Halifax’s the Chronicle Herald)

High-Fi

Boeing engineers used sacks of potatoes to solve the problem of spotty signals with in-flight Wi-Fi. The tubers stood in for human passengers because their water content and chemistry absorb and reflect radio wave signals much the same as the human body does. “They didn’t go in with potatoes as the plan,” Boeing’s Adam Tischler said, explaining that one of the researchers stumbled across an article in a food journal describing the way 15 vegetables and fruits transmit electric force without conduction. The team bought 20,000 pounds of potatoes to fill seats on their test plane for days while collecting data for the project, which they dubbed Synthetic Personnel Using Dialectic Substitution, or SPUDS. Boeing said the research eliminated weak signal spots on its 777, 747-8 and 787 airliners. (Associated Press)

Problem Solved

Less than a month after the Sandy Hook massacre, the National Rifle Association released its Practice Range app, recommended for citizens as young as 4. Described as a “new mobile nerve center” providing access to “the NRA network of news, laws, facts, knowledge, safety tips, educational materials and online resources,” the app also offers a target-practice feature. Users can choose from “nine true-to-life firearms” to aim at coffin-shaped targets with red bulls-eyes at head and heart levels. (Britain’s Daily Mail)

A Maryland company began selling bulletproof white boards that teachers can write on with dry-erase markers during lessons or turn into a shield if someone opens fire. Hardwire CEO George Tunis explained the boards are similar to those used by soldiers, police and federal agents, and can repel gunshots from handguns and shotguns, the types of weapons most commonly used in school shootings. Bullets that strike the board don’t ricochet, Tunis added, calling it a “bullet sponge.” He said the 3.75-pound boards are light enough for teachers to carry around while conducting lessons and called the $299 per board price tag “a one-time cost to armor every classroom and every adult, the janitors, the coaches, the lunch ladies.” (New York’s Daily News)

Slightest Provocation

Police charged Eric Keith Rice, 52, with assault for slicing a 28-year-old person’s hand with scissors after the two argued over which one won a foot race outside a barbershop in Silver Spring, Md. Employees and customers placed bets on who would win. As the argument escalated, witnesses said Rice grabbed scissors from the shop and attacked the 28-year-old. Police reported they arrived in time to see Rice punch a 40-year-old person in the face. (The Washington Post)

Timing Is Everything

Two brothers waited nearly seven years to claim a $5 million lottery jackpot just 11 days before the deadline. Andy Ashkar, 34, bought the ticket at his parents’ convenience store in Syracuse, N.Y., according to a front-page story in Syracuse’s the Post-Standard, explaining he waited so long to claim his prize because he worried the windfall might “negatively influence” his life until he planned how to handle it and because he didn’t want it to influence his engagement and subsequent marriage. He also decided to share the winnings with his brother, Nayel Ashkar, 36. The article said that because the claim involved a ticket sold by a relative, New York Lottery officials conducted an inquiry that determined Andy Ashkar bought the ticket legitimately.

Later, however, lottery officials said they planted the story after the brothers offered to take less money if they could avoid a news conference. The investigation actually found the two brothers had tricked the real winner, a customer at their parents’ store, by telling him the ticket was only a $5,000 winner. Onondaga County district attorney William J. Fitzpatrick said the article was intended to “have the real winner come forward,” and he did. (The New York Times)

Asking for Trouble

Sheriff’s deputies said that while they were checking on a stranded motorist in Maries County, Mo., David L. Williams, 31, pulled up next to them “and asked them if they wanted to race,” according to Sheriff Chris Heitman. Williams sped off, pursued by deputies at speeds exceeding 90 mph. They finally cornered him and had to break out his vehicle’s window to remove him. (Pulaski County Daily)

Lawmaking, Virginny Style

While longtime civil rights leader Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, was absent from the capital attending President Obama’s inauguration on Martin Luther King Day, Republicans found themselves with a one-vote edge in the otherwise evenly divided Senate. They pushed through a redistricting plan that blatantly favors white Republicans. Then Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, moved to adjourn the Martin Luther King Day session in honor of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson. (The Washington Post)

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About The Author

Roland Sweet

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

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