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Quick Takes

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Issue: "Rethinking the death penalty," Oct. 19, 2013

New force

A long time ago a pair of scientists had a dream that seemed far, far away. But now, researchers at Harvard and MIT say they’ve channeled the power of photonic molecules to create a lightsaber like the one portrayed in Star Wars. Physics professors Mikhail Lukin of Harvard and Vladan Vuleti of MIT say the photonic molecules they discovered, when projected, emit a tangible beam of light. Besides having the look and feel of the iconic Jedi weapon, the researchers say that discovery of photonic molecules could lead to real advancements in computing.

Ploy disabled

Due to the widespread use of “disabled tour guides” who allowed patrons to skip long lines, Disneyland and Disney World announced they would change their handicapped policy beginning Oct. 9. According to Disney officials, able-bodied groups would often hire a disabled person to act as a tour guide through the theme parks. The presence of a disabled person in the party would allow patrons to zoom to the front of every line at will. Now, under the new rules, parties with a disabled member will be able to register for scheduled times and wait in a short line for each ride in a system that will mirror Disney’s current “FastPass” system.

Shoe security

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Armed with only a shoe, a Manchester, U.K., shop owner was able to fend off a pair of knife-wielding thieves attempting to rob his store. Police say the men, wearing hooded jackets and armed with knives, entered the gas station on Sept. 14 and began demanding money. Without hesitation, the clerk took off his shoe and began waving it menacingly at the blade-wielding ruffians. After a quick scuffle ended with a deep cut on the cashier’s arm, the attackers withdrew and fled the store. Local police hailed the clerk as a hero.

Misplaced millions

The clock is running out on an unknown lottery player who purchased, then lost, a jackpot lottery ticket in Spain in 2012. What lottery officials know is this: Someone purchased a winning lottery ticket worth $6.3 million in June 2012, carried it out of a store in La Coruna, then left it on the counter of a different convenience store across town a few weeks later. There, cashier Manuel Reija found the lost ticket and checked the numbers, discovered it was a winner, and nearly fell down. “I was standing up, but I had to sit down. I almost broke the chair, I was so flustered,” Reija told local reporters. But rather than pocketing the ticket, Reija turned the lost ticket in to authorities. On Sept. 16, more than a year after the ticket was purchased, the city began an advertising campaign to try to find the buyer of the ticket. Should they fail to authenticate the ticket’s actual purchaser within two years of its purchase date, the lottery authority will give Reija the $6.3 million jackpot.

Buzz ball

With two outs and runners on two bases, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim seemed poised for a third-inning rally. That is, until the swarm of bees stopped play. During a Sept. 22 game between the Angels and the Seattle Mariners, it was the bees that made the most impact, swarming right field of Angel Stadium and causing a 23-minute delay. It took the groundskeeping crew that long to disperse the swarm with a fire extinguisher before play resumed.

Stuffed and stolen

After a Sept. 19 show in Port Chester, N.Y., Willie Nelson’s road crew noticed something was missing: the country superstar’s armadillo. According to surveillance footage, the stuffed armadillo—which serves as a mascot for Nelson’s band—got swiped after the show by a woman who wandered onto the stage with a bag. Nelson, 80, on Facebook pleaded for his mascot’s return. The plea worked: A unidentified woman returned “Ol’ Dillo” to the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester on Sept. 27.

Beer machine

It sounds like a college student’s dream come true, but auto-brewery syndrome was no fun for one unidentified Texas man. The problem began when the wife of the 61-year-old Texan accused him of drinking alcohol behind her back. “He would get drunk out of the blue—on a Sunday morning after being at church, or really, just anytime,” Barbara Cordell, the dean of nursing at Panola College in Carthage, Texas, told NPR. “His wife was so dismayed about it that she even bought a Breathalyzer.” Eventually, the man ended up at the emergency room with a blood-alcohol rating of 0.37. After hearing the man’s promise that he hadn’t touched a drop of liquor, doctors quickly discovered his beer gut was to blame. High levels of brewer’s yeast in his stomach had effectively turned his digestive system into an alcohol-generating brewery. The International Journal of Clinical Medicine published over the summer the man’s travails with the disorder.

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