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The Odd Truth, Feb. 19, 2004

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.



Attention Gun Owners!

HOWARD, Wis. - A man and his wife took cover behind a refrigerator when bullets began exploding in their oven, authorities say.

Capt. Craig Kohlbeck of the Brown County Sheriff's Department said the husband had put the ammunition and three handguns in the oven before the couple left on a vacation.

He told officers he thought the items would be safe there in case someone broke into the home while they were away.

They had apparently forgotten about the bullets by the time they returned from their trip Tuesday - the wife turned on the oven to prepare dinner and the bullets ignited, Kohlbeck said.

No one was hurt.

Tree Climbing Championship

PITTSBURGH - This gathering in the Steel City will be all about the wood.

The International Tree Climbing Championship has been planned for Aug. 7-8 in West Park, where the world's top tree climbers will test their skills on the mammoth oaks near the National Aviary.

The competition, which attracts climbers from around the world, is part of the 80th Annual International Society of Arboriculture Conference and Trade Show, Aug. 7-11 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

"We have everything from the guys who climb and drag bush every day to Ph.D.'s doing research on trees," said Jim Skiera, interim executive director of the Arboriculture Society. "And all those people will be in the park ... for the finals of the International Tree Climbing Championship."

Up to 3,000 people are expected to attend the convention, including 50 elite male and female tree climbers.

Man Dies After Eating 12 Pounds Of Coins

BOSTON - Babies will put anything in their mouths, but how about a 62-year-old man eating coins, necklaces and needles?

Doctors say the man suffered from pica, a compulsion to eat things not normally consumed as food. He also had a history of psychiatric illness, and family members had warned doctors that he ate strange items.

When the man could not eat or move his bowels, an X-ray revealed a 12-pound non-digestible mass in his stomach - big enough to drop his stomach between his hips.

Five days after his arrival at a French hospital in 2002, doctors cut him open and removed his badly-damaged stomach and its contents. Hundreds of coins that he'd been eating over a ten-year period were found inside. He died 12 days later from complications.

The story is only now appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Chocolate, Ketchup Used In Robberies

HONG KONG - A thief chewed up chocolate, spit it into his hand then smeared it onto a businessman as a diversion so accomplices could steal the victim's money, a newspaper reported Thursday.

But Freddy Horta Espitia, a 31-year-old Colombian, was caught and convicted after authorities matched his DNA with samples from the chocolate stains left on the man's clothing, the South China Morning Post reported.

In a separate but similar case, a Mexican man got 32 months for stealing cash from a Hong Konger after spraying him with ketchup, the Post said.

The man who used the chocolate smears, Horta, was sentenced to 32 months in jail after pleading guilty Wednesday to a theft that netted $15,000, the newspaper said.

The gang targeted people seen making large withdrawals from ATM machines, the newspaper said, but Horta's accomplices were not caught.

The man who used the ketchup smears, Edilberto Valencia Rios, 43, was pursued and caught by his victim after the theft of $32,000, the Post said. He also pleaded guilty.

Woman Fined For Registering Cows As Voters

LONDON - Brenda Gould is in trouble again for registering her cows as voters.

For the second year running, the woman from Newmarket, near Cambridge in eastern England, has listed two names on the registration form that turned out to be cows, East Cambridgeshire District Council said Thursday.

The previous year, in addition to registering two cows as "Henry and Sophie Bull," she listed "Jake Woofles," later found to be a dog, as eligible to vote in local government elections, the council said.

This year she indicated that her address had been split into two properties, that she resided in one part and that two other persons lived in the second, a council spokesman said. The persons she claimed lived in the second property were, in fact, her cows, the spokesman said.

Gould had been scheduled to appear at Ely Magistrates Court on Tuesday but did not arrive. She was convicted in her absence and ordered to pay a $189 fine and $208 in costs.

"This was the second time that Mrs. Gould had given false information on electoral forms and so, regrettably, the council felt it was necessary to take action to prevent this abuse of the election system from continuing," said Maggie Camp, the council's senior legal assistant.

Gould later said she and her husband Barry had put the names down as a joke because they had been irritated when the council addressed a letter to the occupants of their barn.

"We just thought they were being stupid. So my husband said, 'if they want to know who's living in the barn we'll tell them.' So we did. We didn't tell any lies. We just put down the names of the animals.

"It was a joke that's all gone a bit haywire, really. We never thought it would come to this," she said. "I don't suppose we'll be doing it again."

U.S. Firm Offers Taiwanese 'Space Burials'

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taiwan is one of the most densely populated places in the world, and there's not much more room for new cemeteries. But a U.S. firm is offering a solution: shooting people's remains into space.

The Houston-based Celestis Inc. announced Thursday that it has signed a deal with one of Taiwan's biggest funeral homes, Baushan Enterprise, to provide "space burials" to the Taiwanese.

Robert Tysor, chief executive of Celestis, explained how it works at a contract-signing ceremony in Taipei. He said the ashes are packed into an aluminum tube about the size of a lipstick container. The tube is shot into space on commercial rockets from bases in the United States and Russia, he said.

The tube orbits Earth once every 90 minutes before re-entering Earth's atmosphere and burning up, he said. It can orbit for months or even years, he said.

"It helps one fulfill the instinctive desire to explore space," Tysor said.

Baushan manager Yeh Feng-chiang told reporters, "Whenever the moon rises, you can look up into the sky and remember the deceased."

Space burial costs about $12,000, about the average price of a burial in Taiwan, Yeh said.

He said people can also send their ashes to the moon's surface for about $30,000.

In Asia, Celestis said it began offering the service in Japan two years ago.

Gym Class Goes Digital

FORT WALTON BEACH, Florida - Does it count as "physical education" if the only things they're exercising are their thumbs?

A Florida school superintendent apparently doesn't think so. He's canceling a plan to let students play video games like "Big League Slugger" and "NFL Blitz" in gym class.

Fort Walton Beach High School wanted to use a PlayStation next year as part of a team sports course. The principal said it would help motivate more students to take phys-ed.

But Superintendent Don Gaetz has halted registration for the course - calling it "an idea whose time will never come."

It would have included a day of classroom instruction in football, baseball and basketball, two days of physical activity, and two days of PlayStation tournaments.

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