2002's Strangest Stories

Top eaters from around the world met Feb. 21 in Las Vegas at The Glutton Bowl, competing for a top prize of $25,000, eating everything you can imagine, including butter and ice cream by the pound.

It's more than money. Pizza champ Ed "Cookie" Jarvis — who's been known to chow down a 17-inch pie in three minutes — is just happy the sport's finally getting the recognition it deserves.

"In the last year, I've traveled all over the country," he said. "I can't believe how many people have come up to me and said, 'Aren't you that food guy?'"

The International Federation of Competitive Eating has 300 registered "athletes" and sanctions events in chicken wings, matzo balls, oysters, burritos, onions, pickles and hamburgers. Legends like jalapeño pepper champ Jed Donahue ate 152 jalapeño peppers in 15 minutes.

"Nobody has ever been hospitalized at one of our events," said Federation president Richard Shea. "There's an EMT there, just like a football game."

6. Donald Duck's Political Career — Al Gore and Strom Thurmond aren't the only people without a political future. You wouldn't be surprised Donald Duck had a political career if you were a fan of Swedish politics.

Swedes have a tradition of writing in joke candidates for president. Fringe groups like the Tax Evader's National Party, the Beer Party and the Professional Bachelors Party vie for seats each year in the Riksdag, Sweden's 349-member parliament.

But it's clear who's the big bird of the disenfranchised. In fact, over the last 20 years, the Donald Duck Party — better known in Sweden as "Kalle Anka" — has scored enough write-in votes at points to theoretically be the country's ninth-most-popular political organization.

Now, Sweden is changing election rules. By 2006, voters will be prohibited from choosing nonexistent candidates, eliminating the potential embarrassment of having to open an embassy in Tomorrowland.

While Donald's now a political lame duck, he can rest assured that he's consistently outpolled Bugs Bunny, SpongeBob SquarePants, and even his old rival, Mickey.

7. Kingdom of Dracula — You can probably imagine how long your wait would be at airport security if your passport read "Kingdom of Dracula."

Still, the last known relative of Vlad the Impaler — the medieval Romanian nobleman who inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula — led a tax revolt in his hometown outside Berlin, threatening to turn it into a vampire paradise.

"We could change 'I want to suck your blood' to 'I come to collect your tax arrears," said Ottomar Rudolphe Vlad Dracul Kretzulesco, who warmly embraces the moniker "Count Dracula."

Several elected officials in Schenkendorf, with a population of 1,200, are backing him in his bid to secede from Germany and create a country with a more responsive government.

Vlad, a 61-year-old retired banker and antiques dealer, has become a social activist in recent years, sponsoring "bloodletting" drives for the International Red Cross. "I want your blood," he said in advertisements, "for a very good cause." Vlad's in the process of turning his home — a Gothic castle — into a tourist attraction with a golf course, restaurants and vampire rides. For kicks, he wears a black cape. But forget fangs. He said, "They're tacky."

8. Muppet Sexuality — Are Ernie and Bert more than just best friends? Just like Tom Cruise, these two Muppet stars were threatening to sue independent filmmakers to prove they're not gay.

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