BENTONVILLE, USA: Wal-Mart, the planet's mightiest retailer, normally expects favors as of right. Unless, of course, it wants something money can't buy. Like altering the official global dateline so that this coming Saturday officially becomes Friday.

Wal-Mart, its tongue thrust - uncharacteristically but firmly - in its cheek, said it had asked the Royal National Observatory in Greenwich, London, (through whose property the international dateline runs) to put back the date so that the traditional post-Thanksgiving shopamania can extend for an extra twenty-four hours.

More seriously, such a concession, were it possible, would be mighty welcome, not only by Wal-Mart but by a host of other sales-starved retailers as well.

But so unused are the media to wry (or any other kind of) humour from the retail titan, that its press office was besieged by calls asking why it had approached the august British institution.

Nor was Martin Rees, holder of the ancient honorary title Astronomer Royal available for comment.

It seems that his day job as Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics and Master of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge leaves little time to answer a barrage of fatuous phone inquiries.

Data sourced from Business Week (online); additional content by WARC staff