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Cashing in

Here is today's math quiz: When does $150 equal $4.35 million? Answer: 153 years later.

In 1843, a couple by the names of William and Polly Anderson owed a debt of $150 to the then-new Chicago school system. History has lost track of the reason the Andersons owed the money, but to settle the debt, they gave the school board 80 acres.

The school board sold the bulk of the property, 77 acres, in 1988 for $3.1 million. Last month, it agreed to sell the remaining 3.8 acres of the property, which is in a suburban area adjacent to the city's southwest border, for $1.25 million to a real estate partnership that plans to build a strip shopping mall.

The district earned $4.35 million from the property--29,000 times the original $150.

School officials considered hiring a title-search firm to research the $150 debt, but they concluded that solving the mystery would not be worth the firm's fee: $150 an hour.

Lunch with Batman

For years, cartoon characters have been plastered on children's shoes, hats, notebooks, and Halloween costumes. Now, merchandisers are even giving the old-fashioned brown-paper lunch bag a makeover.

A New York City-based manufacturer, In The Bag Inc., last month launched a line of paper sacks made from recycled material and emblazoned with Batman, Spider-Man, Tweety & Sylvester, and 11 other popular cartoon characters.

"Kids get tired of carrying a lunch box with the same design all year," said Laurie Pearlman, the director of product development for the company.

And even though the bags cost $2.99 for a package of 20--about seven times more than the plain brown variety--the initial run sold out in a few weeks. The bags are sold in grocery and toy stores nationwide, she said.

--MARK WALSH & JESSICA PORTNER

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