Bargain Castles

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NEW YORK (AP) -- There may still be hope for those who once fantasized about buying a palace, but had to settle for a raised ranch. This month's Travel + Leisure magazine reports that Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are teeming with castles and estates that can be had at fire-sale prices. Some even have moats, drawbridges and private hunting grounds.

One of the best bargains around, the magazine says, is southwestern Poland's Grodziec Palace. The 75,000-square-foot Baroque structure was completed in 1728 by Count Hans Wolf von Frankenberg, vice chancellor to the court of Vienna. The palace, whose stone facade is still intact, features vaulted ceilings, a ballroom with frescoed ceiling and a hidden underground tunnel that leads to the nearby village of Grodziec. The magazine did not specify whether an EIK or MBR were available. The catch? Apparently the place could use a lot of TLC and someone who's good with a weed wacker. But it could all be yours for just $327,000.

Dumb decisions

ATLANTA (Cox) -- American business has witnessed some "breathtakingly boneheaded moves," says management magazine MBA Jungle (May), listing "the 25 dumbest business decisions of all time." No. 6 on the list was New Coke, Coca-Cola's 1985 change in the formula of the historic beverage. Reaction was so negative the firm soon went back to the original formula, calling it Coca-Cola Classic. Other bad decisions included Ford's Edsel, No. 15; the Red Sox's sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees, No. 12; and Walt Disney's opening of a park in Europe, No. 11. Among historic bad decisions were passage of the 18th, or prohibition, amendment, No. 23; the Dutch tulip bulb mania in the 17th century, No. 7; and No. 1 on the list, the South's secession from the Union.

Games may get big break

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Even as video game and movie companies vie for the consumer's entertainment dollar, industry officials on both sides of the battle are closely watching to see whether the latest melding of the two can translate into box office success. Two high- profile movies opening this summer -- the computer-animated Final Fantasy from Columbia Pictures and the live-action Tomb Raider from Paramount -- are based on blockbuster video game franchises.

Unlike previous tries at courting video game fans, such as box office bomb Super Mario Bros., analysts said on the eve of this week's Electronic Entertainment Expo that this might be the year it works. "Tomb Raider looks like it could be one of the biggest films of the summer," said Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office receipts.

The line between video games and other forms of popular entertainment has been blurring for years. Some of the most complicated games take 18 months to two years to produce and can cost millions of dollars. Thanks to technological advances in software and in game consoles, the graphics in many games are increasingly lifelike. The story lines also have become more important, with simple shoot-em-up plots and one-dimensional characters giving way to complicated story lines that often are advanced with several minutes of video-quality scenes between game levels.

In recent years, sales of video and computer games have surpassed domestic movie box office receipts. A report issued last week by the NPD Group indicated that retail sales of U.S. video game hardware, software and accessory sales increased 18 percent during the first quarter.

"People often tend to think of video games in a broad negative sense," said Chris Lee, the producer of the Final Fantasy motion picture. "You don't get to be a $10 billion dollar industry catering to that one audience that likes to shoot each other."

Rent the Onassis yacht

PIRAEUS, Greece (AP) -- Aristotle Onassis' fabulous yacht, where President John F. Kennedy first met Winston Churchill, where the widow Jacqueline Kennedy later celebrated her wedding to the Greek shipping magnate, and Grace Kelly toasted her wedding to Monaco's Prince Ranier, can now be rented by ordinary folks. …