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Simon's big secret

Quick Takes: The mystery of the model train set in the wine cellar

Illustration by Rachel Beatty

Simon's big secret
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For months, Simon George of Wakefield in northern England hid a truth about himself from his girlfriend Maria. The secret: He is a model train hobbyist with big-ticket tastes. Eight years ago, George started collecting photographs to recreate a rail station from his childhood. He rented out the basement of a local business to construct what would eventually become a 200-foot-long model that cost him more than $330,000. Rather than admit to the expensive hobby, he lied. “I kind of led her to believe I was a wine merchant because that sounded cooler than building a model railway,” he told the BBC. According to George, Maria discovered the trains when she went to what she thought was his wine cellar. George said the woman was actually impressed by the detailed model, and the two are now engaged. George’s trains were on display in Wakefield in an exhibition that ended in December.

Juvenile joyride

After receiving calls about a car seemingly abandoned in an Ontario hayfield on Dec. 13, officers in Central Frontenac discovered a 5-year-old boy in the driver’s seat. According to police, the boy confessed to driving the family car into the field, saying he had intended to drive to the store to buy a pink toy tractor for his sister. Officers reported the boy was unhurt and said the vehicle had sustained very little damage. Ontario Provincial Police didn’t charge the child but used the episode to remind local parents to keep car keys stored properly.

Little green surprise

A Tulsa, Okla., resident’s December purchase from a local Whole Foods grocery store turned out to be more organic than he was expecting. Simon Curtis, 35, said he found a small green frog in a package of romaine lettuce he purchased from the store. The singer-songwriter then began recording his experiences with the frog on Twitter, reaching out to his sizable following for tips on how to keep the amphibian alive. By Christmas, Curtis decided to keep the frog as a pet, setting the animal up in a terrarium with some of the lettuce and wax worms to eat.

Efficiency expert

Police in Wilmington, Del., didn’t need much help solving a Dec. 11 bank robbery. According to law enforcement officials, 44-year-old McRoberts Williams walked into a local Wells Fargo and handed the teller a note announcing his intention to rob the bank. Police say the teller gave cash to Williams, who then walked outside and deposited the cash into his account using the bank’s ATM. Police arrested Williams a short time later and charged him with second-degree robbery.

Consolation consoles

How hard is it to get an Xbox Series X video game console? Xbox-maker Microsoft struggled to get enough to put on the company’s own video game tournament. Microsoft subsidiary and game developer 343 Industries had to borrow consoles designed for game developers in order to host the Halo Championship Series on Dec. 17 in Raleigh, N.C. A tournament official warned that some participants would be playing on the modified consoles, known as game developer kits, but noted they’d be configured for normal play. A spokesman for 343 Industries placed blame for the shortage on global supply chain problems.

Inattention to detail

At the beginning of the fall semester, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga professor wanted to see whether his students read the syllabus. Performing arts professor Kenyon Wilson decided to hide a $50 bill inside a university locker and include directions for getting the prize inside his syllabus as a parenthetical. “Thus (free to the first who claims; locker one hundred forty-seven; combination fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five), students may be ineligible to make up classes,” the syllabus read. According to Wilson, none of his 71 students read the syllabus closely enough to find the prize, and the professor reclaimed his cash at the end of the semester in December.

A nose for ham

December means double duty for Manuel Vega Domínguez, a professional ham sniffer or calador from Jabugo, Spain. Domínguez told The Wall Street Journal he evaluates roughly 800 hams per day at his job with Iberian ham maker Cinco Jotas during the busy season leading up to Christmas. Taking four samples from each Iberian ham means Domínguez whiffs 3,200 times per shift. The marathon sniffing, Domínguez says, puts him “at the limit of human possibility.”


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