Short stuff

Big bird

Once numbering 15, the world's only naturally migrating flock of whooping cranes has continued its comeback. Researchers recently reported that a record 237 birds live in wintering grounds in Texas.

Tom Stehn, a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, has tracked the flock. He says that 45 cranes were born last year, including a rare seven sets of twins.

He credits the increase to mild weather at the birds' nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada, where they spend the summer. Then, in September, they usually begin their 2,500-mile migration back to Texas.

The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America. Some are five feet tall.

It's all about toys

Have a great idea for a toy or game?

In our Jan. 16, Kidspace article, "Big Ideas, Tiny Packages," online at www.csmonitor.com/2007/0116/ p18s02-hfks.html, kids learned how to patent an invention. Now, a national competition is putting kids to the test.

Earlier this month, two toy companies, By Kids For Kids and Mattel, kicked off the third annual "Invent-A-Toy World Games" contest in which youths, up to the age of 19, can turn their ideas into a commercially available product. No toy or game is off limits.

Last year's winner, 6-year-old Jacob Schwartz of Colfaz, Calif., invented bicycle training wheels that can be extended outward for support and stability. As kids become more comfortable riding, the training wheels can be moved closer to the bike.

Inventions can be submitted online at www.bkfk.com/challenge/subpage/ ideation.aspx. The deadline is April 6.

New flower

Not all flowers smell like roses.

First discovered nearly 200 years ago in the Sumatran rain forest, an unusual flowering plant with the largest single flower – about 40 inches wide and weighing up to 15 pounds – has finally found its home in the botanical tree of life.

The large flowering plant is named Rafflesia arnoldii. It's parasitic and lives off of a plant in the grapevine family. Its flower is red and smells of decaying flesh, which, according to scientists, attracts the carrion flies that pollinate it. Some of them can even generate heat to attract the flies.

Rafflesiaceae live in the understory rain forest in Southeast Asia.

Taffy is no laughing matter

Any good comedian knows that when a joke's not funny, it's time to get new material.

Nestlé, the makers of Wonka Laffy Taffy, is taking that advice seriously.

Earlier this month, as a joke to kick off a contest for kids, Nestlé announced the dismissal of the company's director of wrapper humor management. He was responsible for allowing "an unfunny joke to get in the hands of Wonka Laffy Taffy candy fans," according to Wonka.com.

The joke, which received few laughs, read: "Which garden has the fastest growing vegetables?" The answer? Flash Garden.

Apparently, the candy's biggest consumer – kids – didn't relate the joke to the 1950s Flash Gordon TV series or the 1980 movie of the same name.

This month, a humor study group was formed to review all wrapper jokes, including, "Where did the kittens go on the class trip?"

To the meow-seum, of course. Kids can enter their favorite joke for possible publication on candy wrappers at www.wonka.com. Are you funny enough?

Word of the year

Pluto is finally getting some respect – not from astronomers, but from wordsmiths.

"Plutoed" was chosen 2006's Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society.

To "pluto" is "to demote or devalue someone or something," much like what happened to the former planet last year when the general assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto didn't meet its definition of a planet.

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