Offbeat: Is it Zonkey, Donkra or a Zedonk?

A rare ‘zonkey’ has been born in a China zoo, the result of a moment of passion between a female zebra and a donkey.

July 10, 2011

Fit for kings, queens ... and aces

Meet the world’s best card-stacker, who has spent 30 years perfecting his art. These buildings are fit for royalty — well, the two-dimensional kind.

The incredibly intricate and delicate creations are the handwork of Brian Berg, who claims to be the world’s best card-stacker and has built a number of breath-taking card constructions.

Iowa-based Berg cut his first deck of cards when he was only eight, and now he holds the world record having built a 26-feet-tall stack in Dallas, Texas, for which he used an amazing 1,060 decks. The 37-year-old has duplicated the New York skyline, Cinderella’s Castle and many other global landmarks.

“Cards are my form of architecture,” he said. “Most of the time my structures do not collapse. Because of the structural geometry and all the weight of the cards, they are very strong and stable,” he explained.

Berg has perfected his art for almost 30 years, and having trained as a professional architect at Harvard, he has broken his own Guinness card-stacking records a dozen times over his career. His largest work — a card recreation of the Venetian Macau Resort-Hotel — broke his own world record by using 4,000 decks or an amazing 219,000 individual cards, placed on top of each other over a period of 44 days.

“I have many techniques that I use to build my structures from standard commercially available decks of cards,” he explained.

“I’m never just randomly placing cards; I’m always following a set technique for a certain visual or structural goal.  All the cards are placed at right angles in such a way as to brace each other from falling over or bending under a load.  It’s important to note that all my structures are free-standing. There is no means of support or sticking the cards together,” he elaborated.

But what goes up must eventually come down — and Berg accepts the temporary nature of his spectacular houses of cards. “I also enjoy knocking the structures down because I consider the demolition of each project is part of the creative process,” he said. “My favourite method of destruction is a leaf blower because you can really control the wind, where it hits, and the damage it does. It’s great fun, and really interesting to watch tall towers sway in the wind — to see walls or columns collapse from a huge burst of air or from impact from some other portion collapsing.


Being thin is in

A Polish architect has come up with a design for the world’s narrowest house which will measure just 60-inches-wide and fit between two tower blocks in Warsaw, Poland.

The house will include one bedroom, a kitchen, bathroom and lounge over four floors. The design utilises the length of the tiny gap between the buildings, with each floor going back almost 40 feet.

Commenting on his design, architect Jakub Szczesny said, “I saw the gap and just thought it needed filling. It will be used by artists.”  The first person to live in the tiny house will be Israeli writer Etgar Keret. The writer will have to use a series of ladders to move between floors as the building is too small to accommodate sets of stairs.

At present the world’s narrowest house is located on Great Cumbrae, off Scotland’s North Ayrshire coast, but while measuring 47-inches at the front, ‘The Wedge’ stretches to 22-ft at the back.  Explaining the difference between the two buildings, a member of Szczesny’s team said, “Ours is the same all the way through, so we are narrower for longer.”


Cheeky monkey

A macaque monkey in Indonesia took a camera from a wildlife photographer to take snaps of himself in a variety of poses.

David Slater, from Coleford, Gloucestershire, was on a trip to a small national park north of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi when he met the incredibly friendly bunch. One of the primates went to investigate the equipment before becoming fascinated with his reflection in the lens. And it wasn’t long before the crested black macaque hijacked the camera and started snapping away sending award-winning photographer Slater bananas.

Slater, 46, said, “One of them must have accidentally knocked the camera and set it off because the sound caused a bit of a frenzy.  At first there was a lot of grimacing with their teeth showing because it was probably the first time they had ever seen a reflection. They were quite mischievous jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they were already posing for the camera when one hit the button. The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it. At first it scared the rest of them away but they soon came back — it was amazing to watch.”

“He must have taken hundreds of pictures by the time I got my camera back, but not many were in focus. He obviously hadn’t worked that out yet. I wish I could have stayed longer as he probably would have taken a full family album,” Slater added.


Squirrel pulls off incredible flying nut catch

This hungry squirrel took a large leap of faith in an attempt to find some lunch. The amazing natural acrobatic skills possessed by Britain’s grey squirrels was captured by wildlife photographer Brian Bevan. Taken just near his home in Bedfordshire, a series of snaps shows the lengths grey squirrels will go to bag a meal. The image was created when one of the critters leaped over the camera which was pointed skywards.

Often seen as a pest, the grey squirrel hoards food in a secure location for future feasts.  But Bevan, who used to be a falconer, wanted to shed new light on the squirrel and decided to commission the work. “I absolutely love wildlife but we’ve all seen pictures of squirrels just sitting around time and time again and I wanted to do something different,” he said. “I was trying to capture a moment frozen in time, which people don’t normally get to see and hopefully I’ve managed that. It takes patience but it wasn’t really difficult getting the pictures because squirrels are much more co-operative when they have something to do.”


Tough love

Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen have once again proved that they are the top wife-carrying team in Finland, after the couple won the infamous Wife Carrying World Championship for the third time running.

The pair were victorious in the novelty race in Sonkajarvi, taking the title for the third consecutive year. No other couple in the 16-year history of the competition has managed to take three successive wife-carrying championships.

The event sees husbands sprint 250 metres, leap hurdles and then cross a water pool in around one minute. Throughout, each man must carry his ‘wife’ — competitors do not have to be married — over his shoulders, with her legs wrapped around his neck.

However, their latest victory was hard-earned, with Miettinen and Haapanen taking the victory by less than a second. Miettinen said, “The course was trickier this year due to the water obstacle, which was deeper. The weather conditions were also particularly tough, 30 degrees Celcius is too much for me.”

Legend has it that the sport of wife-carrying is based on the story of Finnish thief Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen, who was said to steal food and women from nearby villages and run off carrying them over his head.


Your boss won’t ‘like’ this!

So you can’t log on to Facebook at work. No worries. A new website lets you browse Facebook at work without fear of getting caught.

The website developed by a sly Ivy League university student is attempting to change all that for good — or for bad, depending on which side of the office you may be sitting. The ingenious site, named, automatically converts your Facebook news feed into an excel spreadsheet, so procrastinating at work appears to onlookers like dedicated number-crunching.

Users can instantly see what their friends are up to on Facebook, with updates from friends appearing as new spreadsheet rows. Pictures and videos uploaded can be viewed by hovering over the entries and users can interact, ‘liking’ the updates with a simple click on the spreadsheet. The page, with its intentionally corporate look, is slyly titled ‘daily cash reconciliation’ so wasting time appears to nosy onlookers as diligent financial work.

The site was created by Yale computer science major Bay Gross, 20, after a friend doing a government internship told him she had to wait until after work to read his Facebook updates. Gross launched the site last Sunday after spending just 15 hours developing it. It has been immensely well received since its launch, receiving 10,000 unique visitors per day.


Peeling out

A Pennsylvania man cruised into Flint, Michigan, US, in his giant, motorised banana and parked it on the bricks of Saginaw Street.

Some looked confused. Many snapped pictures. Banana car owner Steve Braithwaite said he had no idea how much he was going to enjoy people laughing and smiling at him.

Braithwaite brought the former pickup truck back through the area, more than two years after buying the original vehicle from a junkyard in Genesee County’s Argentine Township. One day he decided he wanted to turn a Ford F-150 into a banana and travel the world in it. So, what he calls his, “Crazy desire to do something ridiculous” became a yellow-tinged reality.


The case of the missing prisoner

A woman was caught trying to sneak her common-law husband out of a Mexican prison in a suitcase following a visit. Staff at the prison in Chetumal in Quintana Roo state noticed the woman seemed nervous and was pulling a bulky, wheeled suitcase. Prison guards checked the bag of 19-year-old Maria del Mar Arjona and found inmate Juan Ramirez Tijerina curled up inside in the fetal position.

The prisoner is serving a 20-year sentence for a 2007 conviction for illegal weapons possession. Arjona was arrested and charges are pending. Security at Mexican state prisons is notoriously lax. Jailbreaks are common, inmates are often found to be directing criminal operations from behind bars, and corrupt guards are often found to be involved.


Is it Zonkey, Donkra or a Zedonk?

A rare ‘zonkey’ has been born in a China zoo, the result of a moment of passion between a female zebra and a donkey who shared an enclosure at Xiamen Haicang Zoo in the south-east of the country.

The zonkey/donkra came into the world last Sunday, sporting cute striped legs and pale lines down its brown body. Staff at the zoo say the creature had a difficult birth. However, the zonkey weighed 30kg and was nearly a metre tall when it eventually arrived.

When a male zebra mates with a female donkey — an opposite scenario — the newborn is known as a zebroid, a creature that’s apparently more common than a zonkey/donkra, according to people who know about these occurrences.


Biting off more than you can chew

Grill chefs at the Alameda County Fair wowed the crowds and Guinness World Record officials by unveiling the largest commercially available hamburger, weighing in at an incredible 777lbs (352.4kg). The burger, which easily surpassed the previous record of 590lbs (267.6kg) was cooked by barbecue chef Ted Reader in Toronto, Canada, last May. It was created by the combined genius of Brett Enright from Juicy’s Outlaw Grill in Phoenix and Nick Nicora from local company Ovations Food Services. The burger took 15 hours to cook, having started at 5am in order to have the hefty meal ready for an 8pm sit-down, and was made with just one huge beef patty. Enright said he came up with the idea while on a month off from his job in December 2010. “I thought, ‘I bet I could build the world’s largest burger’,” he said.

“So I looked it up.”

Anyone that fancied a taste of the burger behemoth paid 99c (Rs85), with all proceeds going to the Alameda County Community Food Bank.


Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2011.

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