Games: At the shallow end of the gene pool

William Hartston surveys this year's Darwin Awards
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The Independent Online
A report appeared on the Reuters news wires this week concerning a Toronto man who is suing a plastic surgeon for an operation that allegedly went wrong. The man, identified only as "ST", said that the surgeon had not told him that the penis-lengthening procedure he was undertaking involved attaching heavy weights to his penis after the surgery. Quite apart from being left with a scarred and deformed penis, ST complained of considerable embarrassment when, on one occasion, the weights came loose and fell through his trousers in a public place.

Had this all happened a few months earlier, it might well have been a late entrant for the 1997 Darwin Awards, which were announced last Wednesday - on April Fool's Day. As the official website for these Internet-based honours explains: "The Darwin Awards are given, usually posthumously, to the individuals who remove themselves from the gene pool in the most spectacular fashion. However, there is an exception to the requirement to die. If said individual does not die, however does render him/herself incapable of producing any children, they may be eligible for the dubious honour of receiving the award while still alive."

Last year, the award went to a lawyer who had plunged 24 floors to his death after crashing through a window pane when demonstrating how safe the glass was. This year, the winner was an Indian who, with a drinking companion, climbed into the tiger's enclosure at Calcutta zoo and tried to put a garland of marigolds around its neck. What seems to have made his death particularly Darwin-worthy was the fact that the tiger was named Shiva, after the Hindu god of destruction.

The runner-up was a Seattle robber who attempted to hold up a firearms shop when a uniformed, armed policeman was in the shop, together with several armed customers.

The awards have been widened this year to include a section for non-fatal stupidities. The 1997 Stupid Human Travesties award went to two illegal Fijian immigrants to New Zealand who stole five protective helmets and 400 puncture repair kits from a bicycle shop without making any plans for their escape. They had apparently arrived at the shop by taxi, but forgotten to ask the driver to wait. "What is the modern world coming to when a gang of thieves arrive at the place they are going to rob in a taxi?" Justice Morris asked at the Auckland High Court. "I despair of the future for our country when a group of louts like you lack the intelligence to take even basic precautions to avoid detection."

The runners-up included a bank-robber who was last seen "hopping and jumping about" after a dye pack exploded in his pocket and burned a hole through his flies, and a man who was trying to siphon petrol out of a caravan but put his hose into the sewage tank by mistake.

There were 301 nominations for the awards, full details of which may be found on the website at:

In many cases, the heading of the nomination tells the whole story. "Leave the grenade at home if you go drinking" is sound enough advice, while "Suffocated in his own home with Scuba gear" clearly carries a similarly salutary message.

But perhaps the most tragic of all was the death of a young lady reported in "Oral sex underwater". It happened, appropriately enough, in Darwin, Australia.