News of the Weird

A Continental Cuisine, With Sliders

• Fast-Food Culture Shock: Since December, the White Castle restaurant in Lafayette, Ind., has provided diners with a stylish experience that includes table service and a wine selection to go with its iconic "slider" hamburgers. A state wine industry expert told The Wall Street Journal in February, after a tasting, that she would recommend the Merlot, although the Moscato was "fun" and the Chardonnay passable (though all wines come in $4.50, screw-off-top bottles and is served in clear plastic glasses). (As for the sliders, said the wine expert, eyeing the burgers on her plate, "At some point, that was a cow, I guess.")

Leading Economic Indicators

• When workers at the Carlsberg Beer plant in Vilnius, Lithuania, decided to walk out over poor pay and conditions, the company went to court to block them, and in March, a judge ruled for the company, temporarily halting a strike as not in the national interest because Carlsberg Beer is "vitally essential," thus placing the brew in the same legal category as medical supplies. (Said a British labor union official, "This is probably the most ridiculous decision in the world.") (Daily Telegraph, Feb. 3, 2012)
Recurring Theme: In March, a new peak was reached in New York City's ongoing search for the most preposterously underpriced (because of rent control) apartment in the city. The Gothamist website identified a one-bedroom apartment at 5 Spring Street in Manhattan's SoHo district renting for $55 a month even though, according to a real estate agent, it should be drawing $2,500. The tenant's parents moved in upon immigrating from Italy in the 1940s, and since the tenant, now in his 70s, has a much younger wife, the apartment could remain under rent control for decades. (New York City rent controls were imposed to meet an "emergency" in housing during World War II, but the law gets routinely renewed.)

Trail-Blazing Science

The Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia recently won a $36,000 grant to study the genetic basis of Trimethylaminuria, otherwise known as the disorder that causes sufferers to smell like dead fish. The first case reported in medical literature was in the 1970s, but according to a Science News report, "an ancient Hindu tale describes a maiden who 'grew to be comely and fair, but a fishy odor ever clung to her.'"

Animal Tales

Eight to Go: (1) After the year-old house cat Sugar survived a 19-floor fall at a Boston high-rise in March, an Animal Rescue League official explained to MSNBC that extra fur where the legs attach to the body enables cats to "glide" and partially "control" their landing. Research suggests that steep falls are thus easier to survive, as cats have time to spread themselves out. (2) The 5-year-old cat Demi survived a 40-minute tumble-dry (temperature up to 104 F) in Whitchurch, England, in March (although she needed oxygen, fluids and steroids to recover). Jennifer Parker, 45, had tossed a load of clothes in, unaware that Demi was in the pile.
Something Else to Worry About: A computer science professor working with the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary in Des Moines, Iowa, has developed a bonobo robot that can be controlled by live bonobos. Among the first applications of the robot, said Dr. Ken Schweller in March, is a water cannon that bonobos will be taught to operate via an iPad app in order to "play chase games" with each other — "or to squirt guests."

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