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BUILDING BLOCKS OF LIFE (2001)
To promote their “Life on Mars” line, the LEGO company had a parcel containing 300 “miniature aliens” shuttled to the ISS and back again as part of a contest, in which the toys would be awarded as prizes. Cosmonauts were photographed playing with the toys before they were packed up for their return trip. According to Jay McGill, publisher of
Popular Mechanics
(which has also been marketed on the ISS), “Anything can be done for rubles.”

Q: What makes an acupuncturist proud? A: A jab well done.

DUMB CROOKS OF THE OLD WEST

Here’s proof that stupidity is timeless (and sometimes deadly
).

T
HE DALTON BROTHERS
In the little town of Coffeyville, Kansas, in 1890, Bob, Emmett, and Gratton Dalton, along with two other men, formed a gang of outlaws. Inspired by the exploits of their cousins the Younger Brothers—who 15 years earlier had stolen nearly half a million dollars from trains and banks with the James Gang—the Daltons pulled a few small-time robberies. But they wanted a big payoff and the fame that goes with it—and that could only come from a bank heist. So they planned it all out…all wrong:

1.
The Daltons aimed to rob two banks at once: two men would rob the First National Bank, while the other three hit Condon & Co. across the street. They thought they’d get double the loot, but they only doubled their chances of getting caught.

2.
Instead of traveling to another town where no one knew them, they chose Coffeyville—where everyone knew them.

3.
The street in front of the banks was being repaired the day of the heist. They could have postponed it, but went ahead anyway. Now they had to hitch their horses a block away, making a clean getaway that much more difficult.

4.
Smart:
They wore disguises.
Dumb:
The disguises were wispy stage mustaches and goatees. Locals saw right through them.

The bank robberies were a disaster. The townsfolk saw the Dalton boys coming and armed themselves. The Daltons did get $20,000 from First National, but came up empty at the other bank when a teller said she couldn’t open the safe. When they emerged from the banks, an angry mob was waiting for them in the street. A hail of bullets followed, killing every member except Emmett Dalton, who spent the next 15 years in prison. He emerged from the penitentiary to discover that the Dalton Gang’s story had indeed been immortalized, but not as legendary outlaws…only as hapless screwups.

Thomas Edison proposed to his second wife by Morse code.

LUCKY FINDS

Have you ever found something valuable? It’s one of the best feelings in the world. Here’s another installment of a regular
Bathroom Reader
feature—a look at some folks who found really valuable stuff…and got to keep it
.

I
T MAY BE UGLY, BUT IT’S MINE
The Find:
Painting by Jackson Pollack
Where It Was Found:
In a thrift shop
The Story:
Retired truckdriver Teri Horton, 70, of Costa Mesa, California, bought an abstract painting for a friend at a local thrift shop. The price was $8, but Horton thought it was ugly and told the store owner, “I ain’t paying eight dollars for this thing.” She got it for $5. As it turned out, the painting wouldn’t fit through her friend’s front door, so Horton kept it. When another friend, an art professor, saw the painting, he told her it might actually be an original work by the 20th-century master Jackson Pollack. He was right: in July 2003, forensic specialists found one of Pollack’s fingerprints on it—making it worth $20 million. “I still think it’s ugly,” Horton said, “but now I see dollar signs.”

SHELL SHOCK

The Find:
40-carat emerald

Where It Was Found:
In a conch shell

The Story:
An elementary school teacher and part-time salvage diver was searching the wreck of a Spanish galleon that had sunk off the coast of Florida during a hurricane 380 years ago. Finding nothing of value, the diver collected a bucketful of seashells for his students instead. Later, as he was washing the shells, a 40-carat emerald estimated to be worth millions rolled out of a queen conch shell. According to Doug Pope, president of Amelia Research & Recovery, the man didn’t even know what he’d found. “He thought it might be a piece of a Heineken bottle.”

PRICEY WATERHOUSE

The Find:
Victorian masterpiece painting

Where It Was Found:
In an old farmhouse

Q: What animal has the longest tail in the world? A: The male giraffe—it can be up to 8 feet.

The Story:
In 1973 a British couple bought a run-down farmhouse in Canada. They requested that an old painting in the house be included in the sale—because they thought it looked nice on the wall. Nineteen years later, they decided to have the painting appraised by Odon Wagner, an art dealer in Toronto. “Odon nearly fell off his chair,” said a spokesman for Christie’s auction house. It was
Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May
, a 1909 work by the Victorian master John William Waterhouse that had been missing for almost a century. “Nobody knew where it was,” he said, “and we still don’t know how it got to Canada.” It was expected to sell for about $5 million. He said the couple was “very, very pleased.”

YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!

The Find:
More than 500 unknown photos of the Beatles

Where They Were Found:
At a university in Scotland

The Story:
Dundee University in Scotland was working to digitize its archives in 2002 when someone came across a cache of 130,000 photos by the late Hungarian photographer Michael Peto. Peto’s son had given the collection to the university in 1971. Included were hundreds of black and whites of the Beatles from 1965, including candid shots of the band eating, drinking tea, and relaxing between takes on the set of the movie
Help!
Many of the images had never been seen by the public before. A spokesperson for Christie’s auction house wouldn’t put a dollar figure on the photos, but expected them to be worth a “significant” amount.

*        *        *

IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS

Joe Purkey of Knoxville, Tennessee, lost his high school ring in 1964. Then he got a phone call about it…37 years later. It was Bob’s Septic Service on the line. It seems that between when he bought the ring and when it was delivered, Purkey had lost 40 pounds. The ring was too loose and slipped off his finger…into the toilet
just as he was flushing it
. An employee of the septic service found it in their filtering system. She cleaned it off, researched the date and initials, and in November 2001 gave it back to its original owner. Purkey claimed to be grateful, but wasn’t thrilled about wearing it again. “It was never really lost,” he said, “I just didn’t wanna go get it.”

Worldwide, about 20% of all married couples are first cousins.

PRIMETIME PROVERBS

Reflections on life from some of today’s most popular shows
.

ON LAWYERS
Corporal Cortez:
“They’re not going to be glad to see us.”
Harm:
“I’m a lawyer, Corporal, no one’s ever glad to see me.”


J.A.G

ON LISTENING
Kelly:
“Dad, you haven’t heard a single word I’ve said!”
Ozzy:
“Can I explain something? You haven’t been standing in front of 50 billion decibels for the past thirty years! Leave me a note!”


The Osbournes

ON ENDANGERED SPECIES
Stan:
“Dolphins are intelligent and friendly.”
Cartman:
“Intelligent and friendly on rye bread with some mayonnaise.”


South Park

ON LOVE

“My love for you is like this scar: ugly, but permanent.”


Grace,
Will and Grace

ON EATING

“Cheese: it’s milk that you chew.”


Chandler,
Friends

ON DEATH
Frasier:
“There’s nothing you can do when the cold hand of Death comes knocking on your door…”
(
knock at door
)

Frasier:
“Would you get that?”
Niles:
“I most certainly will not!”


Frasier

ON HIGHER EDUCATION

“College is for ugly girls who can’t get modeling contracts.”


Kelso,
That ‘70s Show

ON ANIMALS

“If frogs could fly…well, we’d still be in this mess, but wouldn’t it be neat?”


Drew,
The Drew Carey Show

ON HIGH SCHOOL
Andie:
“You guys are a bunch of cynics, you know that? I mean, what kind of high school memories will you have if all you did in high school was bitch and moan about everything?”
Joey:
“Bitching memories.”
Dawson:
“Moaning memories.”


Dawson’s Creek

First coast-to-coast paved highway in U.S.: Lincoln Highway (N.Y–S.F.). It opened in 1913.

NAME THAT SLEUTH

It took us a while, but using time-tested sleuthing techniques, we finally solved…The Mystery of the Fictional Detective Names
.

P
ERRY MASON
(1933)
As a youngster, author Erle Stanley Gardner subscribed to a boy’s fiction magazine,
The Youth’s Companion
, and learned a lot about writing from the stories he read.
The Youth’s Companion
was published by…Perry Mason and Company.

SPENSER FOR HIRE
(1973)

Robert B. Parker first introduced his streetwise, Chaucer-quoting, beer-drinking, gourmet-cooking, Bostonian, ex-boxer private investigator in
The Godwulf Manuscript
. Parker saw Spenser as a tough guy but also as a knight in shining armor and named him after the English poet (and Shakespeare contemporary) Edmund Spenser.

MIKE HAMMER
(1947)

Writer Mickey Spillane had been in and out of the comic book business for years when he tried to sell a new detective strip to some New York publishers in 1946. The character’s name was Mike Danger. When no one would buy, he decided to turn it into a novel and changed the name to Mike Hammer, after one of his favorite haunts, Hammer’s Bar and Grill.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND DR. JOHN WATSON
(1887)

Dr. Watson is believed to have been inspired by author Arthur Conan Doyle’s friend Dr. James Watson. It’s less clear how he named the famous sleuth whom he originally named
Sherringford
Holmes. Most experts say Doyle took “Holmes” from American Supreme Court justice, physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, well-known for his probing intellect and attention to detail. Sherringford was changed to Sherlock, Doyle enthusiasts say, for a famous violinist of the time, Alfred Sherlock. Fittingly, Doyle made his detective an amateur violinist.

Workplace Hazard: Beavers sometimes get crushed by the trees they gnaw down.

INSPECTOR MORSE
(1975)

Morse’s creator, Colin Dexter, was once a Morse Code operator in the English army—but that’s not where he got the name for his character. Sir Jeremy Morse, the chairman of Lloyd’s Bank, was a champion crossword-solver in England. Dexter, once a national crossword champion himself, named his melancholy inspector after Sir Jeremy.

HERCULE POIROT
(1920)

Some say the meticulous Belgian detective was named after a vegetable—
poireau
means “leek” in French. But it’s more likely that Poirot’s creator, Agatha Christie, took the name from the stories of another female author of the time, Marie Belloc Lowndes. Her character: a French detective named Hercules Popeau.

TRAVIS MCGEE
(1964)

John D. MacDonald began working on his Florida boat-bum character in 1962, calling him Dallas McGee. The next year, President John Kennedy was shot—in Dallas—and MacDonald changed the name to Travis.

KINSEY MILLHONE
(1982)

Sue Grafton spent 15 years as a Hollywood scriptwriter before the birth of her first Kinsey Millhone novel,
A Is for Alibi
. Where’d she get the name? From the birth announcements page of her local newspaper.

JOHN SHAFT
(1970)

Ernest Tidyman was trying to sell the idea of a bad-ass black detective to his publisher, but was stymied when the publisher asked the character’s name—he didn’t have one ready. Tidyman absent-mindedly looked out the window and saw a sign that said “Fire shaft.” He looked back at the publisher and said, “Shaft. John Shaft.”

*        *        *

“Ninety-eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hard-working, honest citizens. It’s the other 2% that get all the publicity. But then, we elected them.”


Lily Tomlin

Q: How many time zones are there in North America? A: 8.

CELEBRITY LAWSUITS

It seems that people will sue each other over practically anything. Here are a few real-life examples of unusual legal battles involving celebrities
.

P
LAINTIFF:
President Theodore Roosevelt
DEFENDANT:
Newspaper publisher George Newett
LAWSUIT:
In 1912 Newett wrote an editorial in his Ishpeming, Michigan, paper,
The Iron Ore
. “Roosevelt lies, and curses in a most disgusting way,” he wrote. “He gets drunk too, and that not infrequently, and all of his intimates know about it.” Roosevelt happened to be campaigning for another presidential term at the time and jumped at the opportunity to be the center of a big news story. He sued Newett for libel, insisting that he hardly drank alcohol at all. Roosevelt arrived in the small town with a phalanx of security, some famous friends to act as character witnesses, and a horde of reporters and photographers. Huge crowds showed up for the trial.
The National Enquirer
even gave the start of arguments a banner headline:
DRUNKEN ROOSEVELT TRIAL BEGINS
! On the stand, Roosevelt mesmerized the judge, the jury, and the crowd with long stories about his many adventures around the world.

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