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23 December

In the headlines

“Can NYE be saved?” asks Mail Online, as studies show omicron is 40% milder than other Covid variants. Tory MPs are urging Boris Johnson to rule out restrictions before the end of the year. Researchers say a third dose of the AstraZeneca jab significantly increases antibody levels against omicron. But in China they’re taking no chances, says the Financial Times. Thirteen million people have been locked down in Xi’an to stop coronavirus outbreaks in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in February. Don’t bother with Christmas lunch, says the Daily Mail. Apparently, 70% of Brits prefer a leftover turkey sandwich in the evening to Christmas lunch with all the trimmings.





One man’s act of kindness has given rise to a new Christmas custom in his Maryland neighbourhood. Last year, to cheer up a neighbour suffering from pandemic depression, Matt Riggs, 48, strung a row of white lights from his home to hers. The whole community joined in, hanging lights from almost every house – and this year they’ve done it again. 


A letter to The Daily Telegraph: “A school report that perfectly summed up my daughter’s personality read: ‘Kate is the life and soul of the party; unfortunately we are not having a party.’”


Parrots in Western Australia are getting drunk on fermented mangoes, says Vice. The rotting fruit produces ethanol, which intoxicates the local red-winged parrots – they have been seen flying into windows and sitting on the floor, unable to move their wings.

Eating in

Manuel Vega Domínguez, 53, is one of six ham sniffers at a jamón factory in Spain, says The Wall Street Journal. His job as a full-time calador is to poke each cured pork loin in four places and check the aroma. The pigs are acorn-fed, so he looks for an “ideal bouquet of woody, umami nuttiness with a slight sweetness”. He smells 800 hams a day during the busy Christmas season – that’s 3,200 sniffs.

On the money

Buskers playing classical music typically earn £23 an hour, whereas jazz, rock and pop performers have to make do with £19. The most lucrative time to play is on a Sunday, ideally in cold weather, according to researchers at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. But the best way to boost earnings is to have a child with you – that’ll get you up to £38 an hour.

Quirks of history

This week in 1913, Arthur Wynne published the world’s first crossword in the New York World, says Walker Caplan in LitHub. His diamond-shaped puzzle was initially called a “word-cross”. A few weeks later, someone accidentally headlined it “cross word” and the game was permanently renamed. Try Wynne’s puzzle yourself. You can check your answers here.  

Snapshot answer

It’s one of the world’s smallest books, which has fetched £3,500 at auction in Belgium. Published in 1952, the leather-bound work is just 5mm square – roughly the size of a pencil end. But it has plenty in it, says The Brussels Times. The tiny tome, which can only be read with a magnifying glass, contains the Lord’s Prayer in Dutch, English, American English, French, German, Spanish and Swedish.


Quoted 23-12

“Don’t just do something. Sit there.”

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh