When Stan Mazanek's mailbox crowds up with junk mail, he often sends back the unsolicited order blanks with outlandish answers. One such form was from the Globe Life & Accident Insurance Company, for a student-discount life insurance policy. For $1 the company offered a $5,000 policy good for six months, with an option to renew at an additional $11 a year. Mazanek, then an agricultural student at the University of Arizona, decided to insure his pet guppy, which he dubbed Fred Finn Mazanek.

The form was carefully filled out: "Age of the insured: six months, weight: 30 centigrams, height: 3 centimeters, good health: yes, in the military service: no, relationship of the beneficiary to insured: owner."

Mazanek expected only to raise an eyebrow or a chuckle at the other end. Instead, the company's computer obligingly issued a policy. Six months later the guppy was still alive, and Mazanek decided to continue his private joke for an additional $11. A few weeks later, Fred Finn died (a guppy's life expectancy is only about eight months), and Mazanek filed his claim.

This time, a human employee of the company noticed the discrepancies, and a vice president hurried to Maricopa, Ariz., where Mazanek now lives, to negotiate. "We argued back and forth for a long time," Mazanek recalls. The evidence, Fred's body (at left), was conveniently nearby, in the family freezer, where it still maintains a place of honor. Finally, Mazanek and the insurance executive agreed to settle for $650 to spare the company further embarrassment. Appropriately, Mazanek and his wife Diane spent the first chunk of it on a lavish dinner in Fred's honor. The main course, of course, was fish.