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Wide World of Weird

September 18, 1998

A weekly roundup of unusual news stories from around the globe:

Dear Dead President: Robin Leach is known for wooing the rich and famous. Now he's offering Caribbean vacations to a president who's been dead more than a century. The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio, recently received a letter that read, "Dear Rutherford: Robin Leach says pack your bags. This is real and no mistake. Please respond promptly so that we may process you."

So far, Hayes hasn't replied, said a spokeswoman: "Rutherford's a little lethargic these days. He's been dead 105 years."

35 Candles on Easy-Bake's Cake: It isn't every day that French gastronome Jean-Michel Vienne gets to savor Hamburger Cookies or Fruit Pizzas, much less Slappy Dogs. If those sound like culinary creations only a child could imagine, it's because they are. Each item was a semifinalist in a cooking contest celebrating the 35th birthday of the Easy-Bake Oven. Hasbro, which has sold 16 million of the light bulb-heated toys, will award a $5,000 savings bond and two-year supply of cooking materials for the best recipe using one or more of its mixes. Five kids will go to the finals Oct. 9.

Space Diapers a Hit With NASA: Forget mousetraps. If you build a better diaper, you'll go very far. Susan Schreter learned that principle when she used a thin pad of compressed pulp to make a diaper one-eighth the size of most adult diapers.

NASA got interested. With no bathrooms in space, the agency has relied on Schreter's brand of cheap adult diapers for the last year to let astronauts take care of business while they work.

"Like people with bladder-control problems, the astronauts were restricting their fluid intake. They didn't want to be moving around in a big bushy diaper," said Schreter, who also sells her invention to nonastronauts.

Attention, Robin Leach: Wondering if a semifamous celebrity is still among us? Maybe Sally Struthers or Ricardo Montalban?

Then check the Dead People Server, an irreverent Web site that keeps its finger on the pulse of various celebrities.

Laurie Mann, the 41-year-old Pennsylvanian who maintains the site, explained: "If you don't see someone regularly, suddenly they're out of sight, out of mind and you're like, 'Gee, whatever happened to Chet Huntley?' " Answer: He died in 1974. Struthers and Montalban are both alive.

Other entries include Dick Clark, who was born in 1929 and remains immortal, and Kenny of TV's "South Park," who dies in every episode. Although some of the entries seem harsh, Mann said, "if you don't offend a few people here and there, you're probably not saying anything." There are also links to other Web sites filled with gallows humor, such as Find-a-Grave and Celebrities for Whom the Bell Tolls.

Give Us Back Our Guano: Haitian officials are disputing the ownership of a rocky island that was claimed by the United States more than a century ago as a rich source of bird droppings.

Navassa, an uninhabited isle about 35 miles west of Haiti, was claimed by the United States in 1857 under the U.S. Guano Act. Nitrogen-rich guano was mined as a source of fertilizer and also was used in the manufacture of gunpowder.

News McNuggets:

* Veteran Miami weather researcher Jose Fernandez Partagas had his ashes scattered in the eye of a howling hurricane. "It's a rare honor," said a friend. "We didn't want Jose sitting on a shelf."

* A New Mexico vasectomy patient has sued his one-armed doctor, alleging that the physician botched the procedure.

* A South Carolina thief ignored the thou-shalt-not-steal rule when he broke into a car and stole $2,200 worth of props owned by an actor who portrays Jesus.

* Wide World of Weird runs on Friday. Off-Kilter appears Monday through Thursday.

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