Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Passing the Olympic torch," Sept. 4, 2004

Dating game

Lonely men in Hong Kong can now experience the costs of having a girlfriend without actually having one. Artificial Life Inc. is offering "virtual girlfriends" on a new line of cell phones with video screens.

The animated ladies are very high maintenance: Users have to buy-with real money-virtual gifts and flowers to move the "relationship" to higher levels, and inattention will make the electronic companion "unhappy and she won't talk to you," said company spokeswoman Ada Fong.

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Ms. Fong said that none of the interactions are sexual in nature, and that the company plans virtual boyfriends for women next year.

Nasty neighbors

Nur Malena Hassan of Kuantan, Malaysia, is sharing a room this month with 6,000 scorpions in an attempt to reclaim the world record for the longest stay in a room full of the poisonous arachnids. She plans to spend 36 days in the locked glass box at a local shopping mall, in order to break the record of 32 days with 3,400 scorpions set in 2002.

That record broke Ms. Nur Malena's 2001 record of 30 days with 2,700 scorpions, during which she was stung seven times and fell unconscious. Her current stay began on Aug. 21, and she says that she passes time by watching DVDs. Among her favorites: Spider-man.

Man in motion

A trip from Moscow to Madrid is a long one even in a car; Vladimir Ksenchak used a wheelchair and made the 3,000-mile journey in a little over two months. Having left Moscow on June 11, the 65-year-old Mr. Ksenchak, who lost a leg eight years ago, rolled into Madrid on Aug. 24. He says that he undertook the trip, which included a night in a ditch after a fall and 11 tire changes, in order to denounce illegal drugs and "to lend moral and spiritual support to all disabled people."

Harsh holiday

Tourists in the former East Germany will soon be able to spend a night in a notorious communist jail, eat sloppy prison food, and be deprived of sleep-all for only $122.

The Reuters news service reports that the German company Artemis GmbH is planning to turn Hoheneck Castle, which the East German government used as a political prison for women, into a place for tourists to "relive history firsthand" as prisoners for a day.

Human-rights activist Karl Hafen and a group of former Hoheneck prisoners have called on the government of Saxony to block the plan: "It's simply unacceptable to turn a prison into a holiday resort."

Two and one

Not many families have two golfers who have shot a hole-in-one-much less on the same day, at the same course, on the same hole, and in back-to-back shots. Steve Percassi of Rochester, N.Y., and his son Steve Jr. achieved that distinction on Aug. 21, making their once-in-a-lifetime shots on the 12th hole at the Stafford Country Club as partners during a doubles match. "It was quite a day," said the elder Mr. Percassi.

Bought the farm

Lightning struck more than twice for Danish cattle farmer Kurt Nielsen during an Aug. 24 rainstorm that killed almost half of his herd. The farmer lost 31 of his 85 Jersey cows, thought to be a Danish record for a storm, after lightning repeatedly hit the trees under which they had sought shelter. The Danish Meteorological Institute reports that at least 5,808 lightning strikes hit central Denmark during the storm.

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