Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "2004 Election: Countdown," Oct. 23, 2004

Special order

Visitors may want to leave the room when a special treadmill, now under construction in Alaska, is finally put to use. That's because the first-of-its-kind treadmill is for a 9,120-pound African elephant named Maggie, who lives at the zoo in Anchorage. Zoo director Tex Edwards says zoo officials decided to build the treadmill, at a cost of between $150,000 and $250,000, to combat Maggie's unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle: "Elephants are just like people, they will be as lazy as they can be and still eat."

A big stink

Hundreds of sightseers lined up on Oct. 7 at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Sydney, Australia, to catch an eyeful and a noseful of a Titan Arum, nicknamed the "corpse flower," the world's largest type of flower. Corpse flowers grow up to 10 feet tall in their native Indonesia but have only twice bloomed in captivity in Australia. They get their nickname from the foul aroma they produce to attract insects. Just how bad is the stench? According to Alistair Hay, director of the Botanical Gardens Trust, "It smelled exactly like overripe Camembert cheese on a bed of roadkill."

Head case

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A yard sign and a bumper sticker weren't enough for Kerra Fowler of Bedford, Ind., to express her preference in this year's presidential election. So the 29-year-old mother of four offered internet bidders space on her shaved head for an anti-Bush tattoo. An eBay bidder gave her $103.50, and now Mrs. Fowler has a large "W" and a cowboy hat with a red slash across it tattooed on her head. Mrs. Fowler says she used half of the money to pay for the tattoo and the rest to buy a gift for her children, pay a bill, and buy beer.

Fire starter

Everyone knows that oil and water don't mix, but who would have thought gasoline and water would be a problem? Apparently not a man in Salt Lake City, who decided to dispose of some gasoline leaking from his car by flushing it down a toilet in his apartment. City officials, who did not identify the man, say the pilot light of a water heater ignited the fumes, and the resulting blast destroyed the toilet and set the home on fire. No one was injured.

Hoop dreams

Lau Yat-fai, a 23-year-old delivery worker in Hong Kong, dreams of playing basketball in America, and he took a very American approach to his lack of NBA height: He called his lawyer. Mr. Lau, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall, sued two beauty centers because their treatments did not make him taller, and on Oct. 7 the two centers settled out of court. They agreed to refund part of Mr. Lau's $1,379 in payments and to give him 20 more treatments, which involve electrical currents and drugs, for free. Mr. Lau plans to undergo the treatments: "This is my future career, after all. I won't give up my dream of becoming a basketball star."

Not exactly pocket change

Sales clerks probably couldn't make change for it, and it won't work in vending machines, but a 14.5-inch, 68-pound coin unveiled on Oct. 6 by the Austrian Mint is real currency. The AFP news service reports that the pure 24-carat gold coin has a face value of 100,000 euros (about $121,000) but has a retail price of $500,000. The gold coin carries a tribute to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and is nicknamed "Big Phil." Austrian officials hope to have Guiness World Records certify it as the world's largest gold coin.

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