Oh, those blasted things!

You could understand Helec Noa Watson being upset when soldiers came to his home in Kamla, Nicaragua, and confiscated all six of the heavy objects he was using to hold its roof in place. After all, they'd been there for years, keeping the corrugated metal from blowing away in storms. But the troops wouldn't take no for an answer, and Watson was in no position to interfere ... especially after learning that the weights were live land mines that could explode at any time. The town is near a base used by leftist Sandinista guerrillas in the 1980s. An alert Army unit spotted the mines on the roof during a training exercise.

Ya kknow, he's right

Pope John Paul II often - um - pontificates on such subjects as man's inhumanity to man. But to what effect? Considerable - at least in the case of fugitive from justice Benedetto Marciante. He turned himself in to police in Rome after hearing a speech by John Paul II on radio. Said his attorney: "The pope's comments on family values really affected him in a kind of miraculous way."

The can-do spirit shines in the Big Apple

What do you get if you ask architects, engineers, and interior designers to do something creative with thousands of cans of food? The Canstruction Competition in New York City - a fun and effective project to fight hunger.

Canstruction began 10 years ago as a way to help feed the 1.5 million people who rely on help from food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens in the Big Apple.

Since then, the event has spread to more than 49 other US cities.

But the recipe for success hasn't changed. Five-member teams are asked to create free-standing sculptures made from cans of food that they purchase themselves. Teams may use as many cans as they like, as long as the final display does not exceed 10 by 10 by 8 feet. Tape and cardboard are used to hold the creations together. Designs may be drawn well in advance, but contestants have just one night to construct their displays.

This year's contest was judged Nov. 14. Entries included a motorcycle, a Mini Cooper car, Marilyn Monroe, Winnie the Pooh, an espresso machine, and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Most displays used an average of 1,000 to 5,000 cans. The largest - a cobra - was composed of 10,900 cans.

All of the cans used will be donated to the food bank, which distributes food to more than 1,000 emergency feeding programs throughout the five boroughs.

This year's entries will be on view at the New York Design Center, 200 Lexington Avenue, from now until Nov. 27. Admission is one can of food.

For more information, see

This onion's for crybabies

Imagine an onion that doesn'treduce cooks to sniveling crybabies. Some researchers say it could soon be on the menu.

Japanese scientists have identified an enzyme in onions that makes grown men and women weep. It could be the first step toward a genetically modified onion that tastes as good as the originalbut doesn't produce floods of tears when it is chopped.

"We discovered a novel enzyme in onion indispensable for the formation of lachrymatory factor - the tear-inducing compound," saysShinsuke Imai of the House Foods Corp. in Chiba, Japan.

But whilethe enzyme is responsible for the production of the pungent, irritating chemical that produces tears, Dr. Imai and his team suspect that other compounds give onions their characteristic taste.

The scientists, who reported their findings in the science journal Nature last month, are planning further studies to determine the role the enzyme plays in flavor production. They believe a genetically modified onion that does not produce the enzyme could be the answer.

Until that time, cooks may have to rely on less-high-tech solutions, such as placing an onion in the freezer for 10 minutes prior to chopping.

Here's what to buy if you want a high-mileage new car

Averaging 20.8 miles per gallon, the 2003 cars and trucks are a little less fuel-efficient than this year's models, reflecting a 15-year downward trend, a recent Environmental Protection Agency report says. Electric/gas hybrids were best. The EPA's top 10 in fuel efficiency, with average city and highway miles, respectively:

1. Honda Insight (electric/gas, manual) 61/68
2. Honda Insight (electric/gas, automatic) 57/56
3. Toyota Prius (electric/gas, automatic) 52/45
4. Honda Civic (electric/gas, automatic) 48/47
5. Honda Civic (electric/gas, manual) 46/51
6. Volkswagen Jetta Wagon (diesel, manual) 42/50
7. Volkswagen New Beetle (diesel, manual) 42/49 (tie) Volkswagen Golf (tie) Volkswagen Jetta
10. Toyota Echo (manual) 35/43

Today's Quote

'Hurry up, before we are accused of not cooperating.'

- A Rashid Hotel supervisor in Baghdad, jokingly ordering one of his waiters to make greater haste

in serving breakfast to chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix.

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