Strange but true: To hide your age, button your lips

And, learn words with 2 letters for Scrabble success

Published: Wednesday, May 8 2002 12:00 a.m. MDT

Question: How well can people tell your age from hearing your voice over the phone? What else are you broadcasting?

Answer: Listeners can guess age accurately to within about a decade, says Indiana University speech and hearing scientist Moya L. Andrews. That is, they couldn't peg a speaker at exactly 34, but between 30 and 40.

But there are red herrings. For males, voice frequency starts high in youth and drops steadily until the late 40s, then swings back up in senescence, says David Crystal in "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language." For females, pitch is stable through middle age, then drops.

He swings up, she down, and at some point in the aging process phone gender mistakes become common. If you want to hide your age, avoid digital audiotape recorders — too true to the signal, says Utah State University's Kim Corbin-Lewis. Some people sound even older than they are, so for them bad phone machines and lines may camouflage.

Other telltale acoustic aspects have to do with body size. Bigger bodies tend to issue lower pitch. Health and vitality can affect voice volume and tone. Even height is somehow evident. So striking are these, noted Columbia researchers Robert Krauss, et al., that sampled auditors of live voices could guess speaker height to within 3 inches, and weight about as accurately as others could from a photo.

Question: Ye Scrabble savants, know what the following letter pairs have in common? aa ae ai ay ee fa fy gu io oe oi oo oy po ti yu zo . . .

Answer: Right, they're just a handful of the 100-plus 2-letter words — along with ad ah am an as at etc. — in the board game's official word-lists, published by Chambers, says "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language." Few players can say what they all mean, which of course is no bar to using these brief word linkers or offshoot new directionals for nabbing more points.

If you're ever scrabbling in earnest, with a 4-slot beckoning and a Q begging for use, keep in mind aqua, qadi, qats, quat, quep, quod, quop and suqs, plus at least 10 more before this little Quiz will Quit without so much as a Quip.

Question: Numbers puzzle from the 'Net: What was the first day ever with seven even numerals in its date, assuming our 1/1/2001 system?

Answer: A retired math teacher answered this as 2/20/2000 on the Mathforum.org site, then was challenged by someone saying 0 is not an even number. How could it be, the person asked, since if you try dividing 0 by 2, you get a result of 0, which is neither a positive nor a negative integer?

But integers can be positive, negative or zero, with the even numbers being . . . , -6, -4, -2, 0, 2, 4, 6, . . . . So there's no problem on that score. Only if you stick with natural number quotients would 0 be ruled out — 1, 2, 3, etc.

Here you get into definitions. But an even number is defined simply as one that is divisible by 2, with an integer as a quotient. And 0 certainly fits this. It follows that zero is even, and that 2/20/2000 nicely cracks the puzzle.

Yet it's always surprising how much people are bothered by calling zero even, says Penn State mathematician George Andrews, who recalls a time of gas rationing in Australia.

Cars with license numbers ending in an even digit could get gas on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, an odd digit on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. Then someone in the New South Wales parliament asserted this meant plates ending in zero could never get gas, because "zero is neither odd nor even. So the New South Wales parliament ruled that for purposes of gas rationing, zero is an even number!"

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com

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