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The Straight Dope


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Why do mole hairs tend to grow thicker, darker, and faster than other body hairs? --A.C. Rotundo, Washington, D.C.

Here's what I (and so far as I can determine, the rest of the world) know about the hairs in question: they're called "rogue hairs." End of file. Absent a fat research grant from the Ford Foundation or the Department of Agriculture (hey, any application to cereal crops?), the medical community has greeted the question of why rogue hairs are roguish with yawning indifference. You and I would want to know for the sake of knowing, but you know doctors--they're forced to spend their time on ultrasound scans and pouty-lip implants so they can pay off their crushing student loans.

Why do broadcasting call letters start with certain letters depending on what part of the world the station is in, e.g., K in the U.S. west of the Mississippi, W east of the Mississippi, C in Canada, D in parts of Asia? --Eddie DiLao, Los Angeles

PS: Try to give me a straight answer, smartass.

No sweat, Eddie, I'll explain this so even you can understand. The easy part of the answer is that the starting letters of radio call signs were parceled out to the countries of the world by the Berlin International Radio Convention of 1912. Canada got C, France got F, and so on. The letters assigned to the U.S. were W, A, N, and K--"wank," in other words. Clearly this means something, you are thinking, and you are at least half right. A and N are used by Army and Navy radio stations. Persons having some familiarity with the armed services will now say, hmm, I'll bet Navy stations have A and Army stations have N. But no. You can probably guess which Navy ships have the call letters NFDR and NJFK. A slightly tougher one is NJVF. Time's up: the James V. Forrestal.

W and K were used by other types of stations, eventually including commercial stations. At first there was no distinction between east and west; the first commercial station, in fact, was KDKA in Pittsburgh, established in 1924. But most eastern radio stations chose call signs starting with W. In order to help persons who otherwise could not tell whether they were in Los Angeles or New York, the Federal Radio Commission in 1927 decreed that henceforth west would be K while the east is red. No, wait, that was the Red Chinese. But you know how it goes.

The remaining question is what W and K stand for. I was going to tell you, but unfortunately the rats got the file and I just plumb forgot, since there is a physical limit to the amount of information even Cecil's vast brain can hold. Demented third-party theories vouchsafed to this department include: (1) They stand for "watt" and "kilowatt." Watt? (2) W stands for "watt" and K is from the Spanish que, "what" = watt. I have notified the police to have the author of this picked up. (3) Recalling W-A-N-K, we note that in Morse code A is dot-dash, while N is dash-dot. Add a dash to dot-dash and we get dot-dash-dash: W! Add a dash to dash-dot and we get dash-dot-dash: K!! It tires me just to think about it; I must go home and rest. Maybe it will come to me in a dream.

Can you please tell me the exact month, date, and year that the actress Daryl Hannah was born on? I've never seen it published in any of the gossip columns or on the TV shows that announce such things. Also I would like to know of what ethnic origin she is and the names and ages of her siblings. I would be eternally grateful if you could find out this information or let me know why it cannot be found out. --Jeanne Bradfield, Chicago

Because I don't feel like finding it out. How's that?


Regarding your answer to Paul Bryant's question about presidential succession [September 3], you forgot to mention the very first step--if Hillary dies, Bill becomes President. --Paul Vander Woude, Chicago

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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