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The Odd Truth, April 29, 2003

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Prison Laughing Contest

BANGKOK, Thailand - "Doing time" is not usually considered a laughing matter, but the people running Thailand's prisons would like to change that — for a day, anyway.

The country's Corrections Department will hold a laughter contest for convicts Wednesday as part of a program to ease stress in overcrowded prisons.

The project — called "A Little Laugh A Day Brightens Your Day" — will award a trophy to the contestant whose laugh, performed in front of other prisoners, is judged most contagious, a news release from the department said Tuesday.

A separate competition will be held for telling jokes, the department's director-general, Kwantai Wasawong, was quoted saying.

Particularly tense and mentally-ill prisoners will be encouraged to take part, said Sorasith Jongcharoen, director of the Special Rehabilitation Center in Pathum Thani on the outskirts of Bangkok, where the event will be held.

The laughter competition is the latest in a series of measures promoted by the authorities to attempt to ease stress among prisoners. Other officially sanctioned activities have included meditation, choir singing, cooking lessons and soccer tournaments.

The country's 132 prisons, designed to hold 100,000 inmates, are currently jammed with more than 250,000 prisoners. There has been an influx of prisoners in recent years convicted of drug offenses.

Naked Man Found Lodged In Air Duct

DAYTON, Ohio - The naked guy said he could explain how he got stuck in an air duct — wearing only a pair of socks. Firefighters in Dayton, Ohio, freed the man from the air vent, after dismantling some of the duct work. Firefighter Scott Bennett says the man claimed that bad guys made him take off his clothes and climb into the vent on the roof of a clothing store. The man said it was an attempt to rob the place. The store's owner called for help after hearing a muffled voice. The naked guy said he had been stuck in the vent for two days. The firefighters said he looked a little worn and took him to a hospital.

Ahh, Young Love!

HONOLULU - A woman faces terrorism-related charges accusing her of planting threatening notes aboard a cruise ship in hopes of halting a family trip so she could return home to her boyfriend.

Kelley Marie Ferguson of Laguna Hills, Calif., appeared in federal court Monday on two counts of violating terrorism laws. She was arrested Saturday.

Ferguson, 20, admitted writing two notes threatening to kill all U.S. citizens aboard the Legend of the Seas if the ship, which had sailed from Ensenada, Mexico, stopped at an American port, U.S. Attorney Edward Kubo said.

The discovery of the threats on April 22 and 23 in the same sixth-deck public restroom led authorities to reroute the ship to an anchorage off Honolulu so FBI could search the vessel and question its 2,400 passengers and crew members. The diversion canceled the ship's scheduled stop at Hilo.

More than 120 members of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force scoured the Royal Caribbean ship for biological, chemical, radiological and explosive weapons, officials said.

"The defendant said she never wanted to go on this cruise ship with her family to begin with and that she wrote these notes hoping that it would shorten her time on the cruise," Kubo said.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Kubo said his office also would seek restitution for the cost of the investigation.

Lost And Found

ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. - A Colorado woman's $7,000 ring she lost at the beach has been returned. And now she hopes for an opportunity to say thank you.

Toni Curran, 49, of Littleton, Colo., was visiting a friend when she went to the beach. She took off all her rings, including the one her husband gave her for their 16th anniversary, and left them on a beach chair. When she returned, the ring was gone.

"I was just sick. My husband and I both cried. I felt like someone had died," Curran, who filed a report with city police, said last week.

A few days later, the ring was returned to the police department wrapped in a letter written in green pencil in what appeared to be the penmanship of a child. The envelope had no return address, but the person signed his name "Tommy Smith."

He wrote he found the ring and gave it to his mother as a present.

"I am sorry for what I done was wrong," he said in the letter. "Mom says to ask you to help find the lady who lost her wedding ring... She must be really sad. I lost my ball one time and I feel bad."

Curran now hopes to find the person's identity and give them a reward.

Speeding Ticket Protest

EDMONTON, Alberta - Police in Edmonton call it a pretty expensive protest.

Charges have been laid against a man who protested his speeding ticket by deliberately parking his vehicle in front of the photo radar van to block its camera.

When the van operator asked the driver to move his car, the driver replied with a middle-finger salute and refused to leave.

It turns out the disgruntled driver had been nailed by photo radar at the same spot the week before.

So on top of his two speeding tickets, he now has a parking ticket and faces a charge of obstructing a police officer.

Alligator Discovered In Queens Park

NEW YORK - New Yorkers enjoying an afternoon of sun and relaxation in the park found an unlikely companion — a 4-foot-long alligator.

Police took an emergency call from people who had seen the alligator strolling through a park in the New York borough of Queens on Monday. Police and city park rangers captured the animal with a noose and took it to a reptile specialist.

No one was injured by the reptile, which was captured peacefully, police said. Police didn't know if the animal was a pet or had been living in a pond in the park.

In June 2001, a 2-foot-long baby spectacled caiman, a member of the crocodile family, was captured in Central Park by an alligator wrestler from Florida and his wife.

City park officials said then that the Central Park reptile probably was a pet somebody dumped in the Harlem Meer after it got too big. The same thing happened four years earlier, when a pet alligator outgrew its owner's bathtub and was dumped in Kissena Lake in Queens.

Wimbledon Scraps Bow, Curtsy

WIMBLEDON, England - One of Wimbledon's most enduring traditions is finished — players will no longer have to bow or curtsy to the Royal Box at Centre Court.

But while one custom fell Tuesday, the All England Club confirmed that another will remain: Men will be paid more than women.

Players have been required to bow or curtsy to the royal family when walking onto or leaving Centre Court. From now on they will have to do so only if Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Charles, her eldest son and heir to the throne, is in the box.

The queen hasn't attended Wimbledon since 1977 when she presented the women's trophy to Virginia Wade. Prince Charles made his only appearance in 1970.

The decision to scrap the tradition was made at the request of the Duke of Kent, who has been the All England Club's president since 1969.

"It's been part of a discussion that's been going on for some time," All England chief executive Christopher Gorringe said. "It's sad, but we have to move on. We know there is very little bowing or curtsying done in royal circles now."

The men's winner will receive $914,250 and the women's champion will get $850,650. Lleyton Hewitt received $834,750 for winning last year while Serena Williams earned $772,740.

Two-Wheel Wedding

IOWA CITY, Iowa - An old-fashioned wedding it was not — no wedding dress, no walk down the aisle, no champagne — just a couple of bike enthusiasts taking their marriage vows in cycling gear and helmets.

Andrea Mugge rode on a tandem bike with her father down a pedestrian path on the University of Iowa campus. She met the groom, Lee Venteicher, under an arch made of bicycle tires.

"I've never been conventional," Mugge said. "I can't stand wearing dresses, so this was perfect."

Along with vows to be lovers, companions and friends, the couple promised to be each other's "water carrier" and "healer of road rash."

Rick Paulos, who has been a bicycle race official for 23 years, performed the ceremony during the 26th Annual Old Capitol Criterium & Chris Lillig Memorial Cup on Sunday. The event included eight bicycle races.

During their reception at a pizza parlor, Mugge, and Venteicher, both 26, raised glasses of Gatorade to toast their union.

"This isn't one of your traditional weddings," Mugge said.