This week, find out why the Czech Republic is a marbles "superpower", a country where male fish are helpless against female contraception pills, and a place where mobile phone software manufacturers can sell products that violate the law. This and more in Magazine.

Playing marbles is one of the oldest forms of entertainment in history. It was popular in ancient Egypt and Rome and it is said to have been one of Julius Caesar's favourite pastimes. And it's still around today. The boys who grew up playing the game in the first half of the twentieth century are now grandfathers but some of them still bring out their bag of prized marbles on Sundays for a game with old friends. Although there are only a few hundred players in the Czech Republic - the country is a marbles "superpower". The marbles world champion is Czech - a certain Karel Tesar from Pilsen -who is now bringing up a new generation of marbles players. Last weekend he showed his prowess at the national marbles tournament on Strelecky Island in Prague. International events -often hosted by the Czech Republic - usually attract players from Germany, Holland, Slovakia and the United States - countries where marbles have a long tradition. And part of the fun is comparing marbles made in different countries during their heyday.

The oldest marble ever found came from Egypt - according to experts from around 3000 BC. In neighbouring Germany the game reached the peak of its popularity at the start of the 14th century. In fact in Nuremberg the ground is said to have been so disfigured by marble holes that the local councillors reputedly banned the game within city gates. Today the biggest marble producer in the world is a Mexican firm -which exports marbles to countries around the world - including the Czech Republic. But of course the best ones are those which get handed down from generation to generation and are quite unique.

A Czech couple from Kutna Hora beat all the Easter stories and records this year about who made the biggest chocolate Easter egg or who decorated the best Easter birch tree. They announced to the press that they had a four legged chicken and it turned out the story was no hoax. Chickens with genetic defects of this kind usually die within a couple of hours but "Fast-feet" - as the chicken has been named - is thriving and has learnt to make good advantage of her two pairs of legs. She poses for reporters, gets around twice as fast as any of the other chickens - and one thing is for sure - she won't end up as Sunday lunch, because she has already become the family pet. What more could a future hen want?

Have you ever wondered about the truth of the Latin saying "Nomen Omen" - or one's name determines one's fate? Naturally, one is not inclined to believe these things, but how would you explain the fact that the chef at Czech government headquarters -who cooks for visiting royalty and prime ministers is called Nesnidal - or Mr. Didn't Have Breakfast - while the chef in Parliament - is called Nevecerel or Mr. Didn't Have Dinner? If you need more proof then the head of the Prague Botanical Gardens is called Vetvicka or Mr. Little Branch and a well known Czech gynaecologist has a funny - unmentionable name - that is also a slang word for the process of making babies. So if you really want to believe that your future is entirely in your hands I hope you have a completely nondescript, meaningless name.

Photo: Reaperman,  Creative Commons 3.0
Czech scientists are ringing alarm bells. The fact that an increasing number of Czech women are using contraception - especially hormone pills - which has resulted in a sharp reduction in abortions in recent years is having a very surprising negative side effect. Increased oestrogen-levels are reported in many Czech rivers primarily the Vltava River which flows through Prague. Scientists say that the levels of oestrogen in the Vltava are negligible everywhere but in Prague where there is a sudden, sharp increase. You may think - so what? But the female oestrogen in the water is interfering with nature - it reduces male fertility and in the worst case scenario actually makes male fish grow female organs. Which understandably, the male fish are not happy about. Worse yet, scientists have now confirmed that a tiny amount of the female hormone is also present in tap water - so in one way or another we all consume it. For the sake of our male listeners I will not develop that line of thought any further.

Mobile mania is the Czech Republic is still going strong. Mobile phone companies thought they might have hit a ceiling when the number of mobile phones equalled the number of inhabitants - over 10 million. However sales have now zoomed to a new height and companies report that 12.3 million mobile phones are now in operation. Last year alone one in four Czechs bought a new mobile phone - largely because of the latest software on offer. A certain firm is now reported to be selling mobiles that allow people to spy on their wives, employees or children. If you give the mobile to someone as a gift then whenever it is used the mobile will report back to you - what number has been dialled, or who an SMS message has been sent to. It will even tell you where the mobile is at a given time. And if you are thinking that this is in violation of the privacy law you are quite right - it is. However the police cannot take action unless someone actually breaks the law. And so the firm which provides this dubious service feels safe enough to put out ads about it.

Cellulite and thinning hair - two problems that make billions of crowns for cosmetics companies around the world. Now, a well known Czech beauty expert claims he has found a solution to the latter. He is advising men who have problems with thinning hair to try applying bulls' sperm to their scalp. He reportedly uses it on his own hair and claims that it works wonders. Now he is selling one dose for 180 crowns and knowing what people are like - he is sure to find a clientele. Question is what these guys' wives and girlfriends will think. So if your guy has a problem with his hair - I advise you to take an occasional peek into his bathroom.

Many Prague pedestrians crossing the road last week were in for a shock - the traditional green and red figures on the traffic lights -one standing the other walking - had been replaced with a one legged man, a lady in a dress and a hangman. They appeared in some 50 places around Prague and were the work of an unknown artist who the police would love to get their hands on.

And finally - how long does it take to build a house? Less than a day - if you have the right contacts. A team of builders set a new record last week when they put up a house in twenty one hours -working in three shifts. "We were dead beat at the end of the day but it was worth it" - one of them said. They have won a place in the Czech Book of Records but after this they plan to return to their normal pace - when a house takes about a month to build.