Originally created 09/05/01

Odds and ends



ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The mechanical hippopotamuses at Disneyland will no longer have to stare down the barrel of a gun, thanks to a change in one of the park's oldest rides.

Tour guides won't fire guns at hippos anymore on the Jungle Cruise ride, which takes park guests on a river voyage. Park officials said they decided to make the change after receiving comments from patrons.

"At the end of the day, they come here to experience what they want to experience, not stuff they might find out of place or out of date," said Disneyland spokesman Ray Gomez.

Under the new policy, the tour boats' skippers won't reach for their handgun when they see the hippos - although, curiously, the boats will still cruise past a gun-wielding gorilla.

"It's sad to see the tradition go," said Mike DeForest, a former safari-hat-wearing skipper on the ride.

But others liked the change.

"I wouldn't have taken the kids on the ride if it had guns," said Karla Jervis of Ohio, who rode the Jungle Cruise for the first time. "I don't even buy toy guns."

Debbie Leahy, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also applauded the new policy.

"I don't think somebody would find it funny," Leahy said. "It's not humorous. It's really a form of animal cruelty."

* * * *

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Ever feel bad about being beaten at chess by a computer? Imagine losing a tic-tac-toe match to a chicken.

The Tropicana Casino and Resort is offering $10,000 cash to anyone who can beat one of its 15 live chickens in a tic-tac-toe video game.

That may sound like a sure bet, but Tropicana doesn't expect to give away much money, based on the chickens' record elsewhere.

"It doesn't happen too often, but it does happen," said Dennis Gomes, president of resort operations for Tropicana's parent company, Aztar Corp.

The chickens are trained by Bunky Boger on a family farm and petting zoo in rural Tennessee.

The chickens will make the first move, pecking at X or O on a video display inside hen houses to be set up in the casino's main concourse. Gamblers will stand outside and press buttons on a separate panel.

The "Chicken Challenge" will be offered to all gamblers who join the casino's frequent-player program.

Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns, a group that promotes compassionate treatment of domestic fowl, worries about treatment of the chickens and the methods used to train them, which Boger doesn't reveal.

"This bird is being used as a joke," she told The Press of Atlantic City for Monday's editions. "This environment in no way is suited to the chicken."

* * * *

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The National Weather Service's automated radio voice, otherwise known as Paul, has been handed a pink slip.

The robotic voices named Donna and Craig will now provide automated weather reports and storm warnings across the country for the weather service's Weather Radio. They were the top choices in an online poll conducted by the service.

"We got an overwhelming response," said Joanne Swanson, coordinator of the Weather Service project. "It was a very clear signal of who everybody liked."

In fact, 95 percent of the votes cast picked Craig as one of the top two voices. Donna was rated No. 1 or No. 2 by 80 percent of the votes.

The National Weather Service began automated voices on Weather Radio in 1997 with Paul. But some people complained Paul was monotonous and had a thick accent, similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger's.

Some people wanted to hear a real human, but the automated voices can provide warnings much faster, Swanson said. "We'd lose a lot in terms of getting our warnings on the air faster," she said.

Each local Weather Service office will decide whether to use Craig, Donna or a combination of both next year, Swanson said.

* * * *

ST. LOUIS -- An annual event in which top graffiti artists get the green light to decorate a flood wall has been canned after allegations that the artists haven't been staying within the lines.

Last year over Labor Day weekend, about 200 artists in town for "Paint Louis" spent the holiday painting a mile-long stretch of Mississippi River flood wall. But police believe that a few of the artists got carried away, vandalizing public property.

Organizer Elani Meyers didn't apply for a permit to hold the event this year.

St. Louis police reported that vandals spray-painted some railway cars last year, and Paint Louis organizers said vandals also struck downtown businesses. In nearby Bridgeton, two businesses were damaged, one of them a restaurant chain whose four trucks were spray-painted.

"I went down there, and some of the stuff I saw was amazing, but once you do it without permission, then you're talking property damage," Bridgeton Detective Lance Harris told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year.