It's a weird world - and that's a fact


Published: Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 11:53 p.m.
The world can be a very weird place. And some of its weirdest aspects are proudly displayed in two recent books.
These large-format, fact-filled and generously illustrated volumes bear the stamps of Guinness and Ripley, two franchises that for many years have excelled in exploring, explaining, examining and exhibiting the extraordinary.
"Guinness World Records 2006" (Guinness World Records, $27.95) shows how far some people will go to become a superlative and thus win a place in Guinness annals.
The book itself is a superlative: According to Guinness, it's the world's best-selling copyrighted book.
This year's edition of the annual volume features a metallic-green cover with a 3-D design that gives the illusion that small spheres are embedded in it.
Between those glitzy covers are thousands of additions, indicated by a star - a red one for a new entry and a yellow one for an updated entry. Also, some record-holders are displayed with "actual size" labels: These include the smallest dog (6 inches long), largest cockroach (almost as long) and the largest kidney stone (a painful 4.66 inches at its widest point).
Records have been sorted into chapters that cover arts and entertainment, human achievement, science, nature, sports, engineering and modern life.
Readers will learn that Regis Philbin is the regent of TV, with the most face time (more than 15,000 hours) racked up during his 44-year career; a Finnish man finished first in the rubber-boot throw (209 feet, 9 inches); and the world's fastest piece of furniture is a motorized sofa that reaches 87 mph.
The most curious will cherish knowing that the record for the most Valentine cards sent to a guinea pig - 206 - was set in 2001 by an apparently irresistible critter from South Wales.
Next time you wolf down a Big Mac, keep in mind that an American man has set a record by eating one every day for 33 years - and ate No. 20,000 in March 2005. Another man, this one from France, regularly eats metal and glass - he has ingested TV sets, bicycles, shopping carts and computers - but can't eat bananas or hard-boiled eggs, which "make him sick."
A strong stomach might be required also for viewing some achievements: the furthest eyeball-popper, stretchiest human skin, heaviest weight lifted with the tongue, and most drinking straws stuffed into the mouth.
Not weird enough? "The world's weirdest facts" is what "Ripley's Believe It or Not! Planet Eccentric!" (Ripley Publishing, $27.95) claims to offer. It also offers a warning: "Some of the stunts and activities in this book are undertaken by experts and should not be attempted by anyone without adequate training and supervision."
The "unbelievables" are presented in chapters about animals, inventions, food and drink, human achievements, vehicles, and "extremes" - the latter including a man who hiccuped for seven months, a Canadian couple who got married in the funeral chapel where they met, and the World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things, a museum housed inside a Ford van.
Ripley's has its share of superlatives, including some also featured in Guinness: the world's most pierced man, the champion simultaneous hula hoop spinner, and our old friend (see above) with the mouthful of drinking straws.
The Ripley's volume introduces readers to Twiggy, a gray squirrel from Florida who water skis; a Turkish man who can squirt milk from his eye a distance of more than 9 feet; a Tennessee man who, in 1934, was able to whistle with four golf balls in his mouth; and an Australian chap who has been saving his navel lint since 1984 and has amassed a bundle that, at more than half an ounce, is the largest such collection.
Sidebars abound. Scattered throughout are curious-fact boxes about bras, pizza, Elvis, tattoos. chewing gum and other topics; top-5 lists that include weird museums (for asparagus, bowling ball art and lawnmowers) and celebrity phobias (Sid Caesar's fear of haircuts); and various other oddities, including the California man who collects banana-related objects, and the online auction that sold several pieces of gum allegedly chewed by Britney Spears.
According to Ripley, readers who want to stay on the right side of the law must take care not to wear a fake mustache in church in Alabama if it causes laughter, carry an ice cream cone in their back pocket on Sunday in Georgia, or allow their donkey to sleep in a bathtub in Arizona.
All are illegal - believe it or not!
The most curious will cherish knowing that the record for the most Valentine cards sent to a guinea pig - 206 - was set in 2001 by an apparently irresistible critter from South Wales.

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