According to a December Boston Globe report from Xi'an, China, the Three Brothers Scorpion Restaurant claims to be the first in the country to have reintroduced the 18th-century fascination with the scorpion into domestic cuisine. Health benefits are a major factor in the arachnid's renewed popularity: Scorpion venom (reduced in potency by a six-month process of preparation) is believed to aid against fever, chills, skin problems, immune disorders, bad kidneys and possibly tumors. Other favorite dishes at Three Brothers are silkworm larvae, cicadas on sticks and poisonous tree ants.
Pick of the lizard
According to December wire service reports, Erik Sprague, 27, a doctoral student in philosophy in Albany, N.Y., has undergone several bodily modifications in order to appear like a reptile. Sprague's teeth have been sharpened, his tongue forked, bumps implanted in his forehead and "scales" tattooed on his body. Described as an "excellent" student by a professor, Sprague told reporters that he knows of four other people who have made such "single-theme conversions." (Their chosen design motifs were a zebra, a tiger, a leopard and a giant puzzle, whose bearer is now called "The Enigma." ) Sprague will appear on the TBS network's "Ripley's Believe It or Not" program this month.
White line fever
After resisting for five years, Missouri was forced by a federal judge in November to allow the Ku Klux Klan into its Adopt-a-Highway program, publicly recognizing the organization for keeping clean a one-mile segment of Interstate 55. And the Army revealed in September that its new lead-free combat bullet will not be ready before 2003 (although some local police departments already use a less-powerful model); the Army needs the bullet because 1,000 indoor military firing ranges are currently shut due to lead contamination. And in June, researchers at Ontario's University of Guelph reported that they had genetically engineered a pig whose manure is 20 to 50 percent lower in the pollutant phosphorous than is customary.
Fakes, hope and love endure
According to a September Reuters news service report, nonordained "pastors" in Tokyo are exploiting the Japanese fascination with Christian weddings. (1 percent of Japanese are Christians, but 70 percent of all weddings follow the faith's rituals.) The fake ministers' justification: The Bible condemns the holy marriage of a believer to a nonbeliever, but does not mention the union of two nonbelievers.
As with weddings in Japan, Christmas shopping in Singapore is a huge national pastime, despite the fact that only 13 percent of its people are Christians. Half of the country's annual retail sales occur during the season, shopping malls turn into extravagant theme parks and traditional hymns saturate cities. An interdenominational leader explained that Singaporeans merely view the Christmas season as a long year-end celebration leading up to the Chinese New Year in January.
New Jersey entrepreneurs recently proposed a series of memorial theme parks ("The Final Curtain" ) in which creative people's self-designed tombs, urns and sculptures will house their remains in world venues attractive enough or spectacular enough to compete for the public's entertainment dollar. One proposal: A man wants to be buried with a camera that will televise his decomposition to spectators.
Christian soldiers of fortune
After protests in October, Grand Canyon University -- a small Christian college in Phoenix, Az. -- canceled its scheduled fund-raising game called "Assassins," in which gun-carrying players pay for the privilege of shooting colleagues with Nerf darts. (The last competitor standing receives a restaurant gift certificate.) Many students originally failed to connect the game to recent occurrences of school violence; as one freshman woman told a reporter, "This is a Christian university, so we know the difference between right and wrong."
A spider comes along
In June at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, a tarantula the size of a salad plate underwent two CAT scans to save her from an infected, coin-sized abscess. She came through the ordeal in fine shape, and is expected to live another 10 years to reach age 20. According to the aquarium's senior herpetologist, the tarantula's only remaining problems are her bad habits of showing her fangs and ejecting barbed hairs from her posterior.
If you can't stand the heat ...
Ski-mask-wearing Floyd Brown, 24, was charged with robbing a Holiday Inn in Anchorage, Alaska, in November. He was apparently oblivious to the 40 police officers who had gathered just off the lobby for a law-enforcement training conference (and whose attendance was advertised on a marquee out front). And in December in Las Vegas, robber Emilio Rodriguez, 19, was shot to death as he rushed into Mr. D's bar, a favorite lawmen's haunt that was filled with off-duty police officers.
Junkie see, monkey do
In July, police in Dhaka, Bangladesh, rescued two spider monkeys that were chained up in a drug seller's house. To reduce human intervention in drug sales, police said, signs had been posted by the dealers ordering customers to pay the monkeys in either of two denominations, which the animals could distinguish by color. The monkeys would then fetch the appropriate quantity of drugs from their hiding places.