Czech students try their hand at the Spaghetti Bridge Contest. A chess master plays ten games simultaneously - blindfolded! And, why would anyone want to store Stalin's head in a factory? Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

Think you have a good memory? You could put that to the test by playing a game of chess blind-folded. The Czech Chess Society recently organized a chess tournament for the blind in which a sighted chess master - Ivan Hausner- played ten games of chess simultaneously - blindfolded. He lost five games and won five - which is said to be a phenomenal achievement -since he alone had to commit to memory the game on ten different chessboards. The occasion was a rare treat for chess lovers - a blindfolded chess tournament was last held in the Czech Republic in the late 1990's, but it was a popular form of entertainment much earlier. It was quite widespread in the 19th century, but there was a lull in the mid twentieth century when it was completely banned in the former Soviet Union at the recommendation of doctors who claimed that it was a serious health hazard. They argued that playing chess blindfolded - especially several games simultaneously - put so much pressure on the brain that there was serious risk of permanent brain damage. Some chess players who engage in it have confirmed that they'd had some problems - they couldn't drive a car immediately after the game, they sometimes hallucinated or got very bad headaches and eye problems.

Josef Stalin and Klement Gottwald
Visitors to the town of Odry are often perplexed by a bizarre sight on the outskirts of town - two huge headless statues stand abandoned in a small private park, behind a factory. They would be even more surprised to know that the giants'heads are being stored inside the factory itself and they belong to two notorious communist leaders - Josef Stalin and the first communist president of Czechoslovakia Klement Gottwald. Both the heads and bodies are rather battered - having been attacked and splashed with paint during the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Odry was one of the few places in the eastern block where you could still see a statue of Stalin on display in the late 80s. The problem is that he was "welded" together with Gottwald and it was impossible to take one down without the other, the owner of the factory explains. He's definitely not a fan of either having lost his job in 1968 for openly opposing the Soviet led invasion and suffered persecution from the communists in later years. But he says that the statues are part of the town's historic legacy and it is important for young people to see the bad as well as the good. "One day we can put together a sort of communist era show place - and explain to kids why they were "decapitated" in 1989", he says.

People living close to the Vltava river in the Lesser Town are going to get a very special Xmas present this year - workmen are just finishing installing effective anti-flood barriers which should keep them dry - if not high - in future floods. The project took quite a long time to complete, not least because historians and conservationists insisted that the barriers should not in any way change the look of the Lesser Town. As a result the huge iron barriers will be hidden below ground and will slide up to form a protective wall along the bank of the river only in the event of need.

The new high speed train Pendolino set a new train speed record in the Czech Republic, when during its trial run it clocked 237 kilometres per hour on a track between Vranovice and Breclav in south Moravia. This evoked plenty of interest since the previous railway record of 219 kms per hour was set 32 years ago. However when the train starts operating regularly it will have to observe a maximum speed of 160 km per hour - since tracks in the Czech Republic are not built to handle faster speeds.

Cobra,  photo: Jan Frodrich
A new single-engine, five-seat plane - christened Cobra- soared off on a test flight - over the town of Kunovice, Moravia earlier this month. The plane was constructed by a 35 member team of specialists at the Brno Technical University and the firm Evektor-Aerotechnik. "It's a fantastic moment," said Antonin Pistek who headed the project, as he watched the small civilian plane soar. "We've put three years of our lives and a lot of money into this baby". Production is expected to start in 2006 and the cost of the plane should be some six million crowns -or around 250 thousand dollars. The last Czech model in this category was constructed 30 years ago.

Students from the Technical University in Liberec this year tried their hand at the Spaghetti Bridge Contest organized by the Okanogan University College in British Columbia. Before actually enlisting they decided to hold a trial run - and thoroughly enjoyed the experiment. The idea is to build a bridge out of spaghetti which is light but still capable of supporting at least two kilograms for a minimum of 5 minutes. You can bend the spaghetti in hot water or cut them and you can use glue - but no other building materials are permitted. The absolute record in this discipline is a bridge weighing 130 grams which passed all the required loading tests. Czechs - who are, after all, a dumpling nation - clearly need a bit more practice. The local record was a bridge of 202 grams which managed to hold two kilos for a period of five minutes. However, the structures produced are not to be scoffed at from an architectural point of view. Moreover, you have no idea, what we can do with dumplings!

The streets of Prague will be filling up with devils, angels and St. Nicolas figures on Sunday night - December 5th. According to tradition all Czech children are visited by this trio - St. Nicolas, a devil and an angel - on this particular night every year. It is a moment awaited with a mixture of longing and dread since they either reward children for their good behaviour over the past year or wag their fingers at the naughty ones. Good behaviour merits small presents, sweets and fruit - being naughty gets you black coal from the devil. It is something that every Czech kid has grown up with - and the moment they are in on the secret they start dressing up as angels and devils themselves -so on December 5th you get something like a pre-Xmas carnival - dominated by these three figures. Indeed on the Old Town Square there is now and annual contest for the best angel, devil and St. Nicolas costumes. With street parties and Xmas carols this night really starts off the Xmas spirit. So if you are listening to us here in Prague - don't miss out on the fun!

And while you are at it - you may as well try another Czech tradition -that of cutting a few cherry tree branches and putting them in water. You are supposed to do that on St. Barbara's day -which is actually today -December 4th. But I guess tomorrow will do just as well. The branches should produce a mass of breathtaking white and pink blossoms for your Xmas table. In the past women believed that if their cherry tree branches bloomed in time for Xmas that would bring them love and happiness in the coming year. And many Czech families keep that tradition to this day -simply because it's such a beautiful sight.