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The Readers Ask

Why don't TVs have a Channel 1? What's the world's largest statue? Do roadrunners go 'beeb-beeb'? Why are Dalmatians mascots?

'The Readers Ask' Is Moving

We're moving "The Readers Ask" to The Home Forum pages after today's issue. Submit questions (several, if you wish, as one reader did today) to: The Readers Ask, c/o The Home Forum, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115. Or e-mail queries to: Research is provided by Monitor staff interns Kristina Lanier, John Christian Hoyle, Kerry Flatley, and Karen Gates. Questions without a source were submitted by members of the Monitor staff.

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Q How many candies of each color go into the average bag of M&M's? - Cleveland Ponthieux, New Orleans

A M&M's come in a variety of colors. A company spokeswoman says the formula for every bag is 30 percent brown, 20 percent red, 20 percent yellow, 10 percent green, 10 percent blue, 10 percent orange. "The color mix is a result of consumer preference tests," she says. "Consumers are given different assortments, and they are told to pick out the one that appeals to them most." Of course, our Monitor interns had to check out a bag of M&M's for themselves. They counted 514 plain M&M's in a one-pound bag that divided 29 percent brown, 19 percent blue, 17 percent yellow, 15 percent orange, 12 percent red, and 8 percent green.

Q Why is there no Channel 1 on my TV set knob?

A In 1945, when TV was in its infancy, the Federal Communications Commission assigned television 13 channels in the VHF band. A few years later, the FCC took Channel 1 from TV and assigned its frequency to two-way radio systems. It did not renumber the other channels, so that's why your TV does not have a Channel 1.

Q In the popular cartoon Roadrunner, the roadrunner goes "beeb-beeb." What about in real life? - Fran Wagner, Santa Rosa, Calif.

A Roadrunners are also known as chaparral cocks, ground cuckoos, and snake killers. Instead of beeping like a car horn, they coo in a series of six to eight low, dovelike cries that drop in pitch. They also make a clattering sound by rolling their mandibles together. Both sounds are related to mating. Though they don't go "beeb-beeb," roadrunners are fast. With strong legs, they skim over the ground at 15 miles an hour to catch small birds, mice, insects, lizards, and snakes, which they swallow head first and whole. They are poor fliers and tire quickly. Roadrunners, which are about 22 inches long, are the state bird of New Mexico.

Q Why do fire stations use Dalmatians as mascots? - Josh Caldwell, Dolores, Colo.

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A Dalmatians used to be called English coach dogs because they followed and guarded horse-drawn vehicles, including fire engines. The spotted canines have been hanging around fire stations ever since. Dalmatians are extremely active and intelligent animals and make good bird dogs, trail hounds, and retrievers. They can also perform stunts, as the pooch at the left demonstrated in this February 1997 photo from Chiba, Japan. Yes, the dog is pedaling, a trick he learned in just six weeks.

Q What do street-sweeping machines really accomplish? Do they remove dirt or only move it around? - R.A., Needham, Mass.

A Sweeping machines kick up clouds of dust, but they also have a sophisticated way of cleaning our streets. Ralph Riley, assistant superintendent of public works in Boston, explains: First, there are two brooms in front that sweep dirt and trash from street gutters to the middle of the machine. Once this gunk is under the machine, a sprinkler wets the dirt to keep down dust and to extinguish any lighted cigarettes that could set the unit on fire. Then a broom under the machine sweeps the dirt onto a conveyor belt that takes it into a storage area. Most machines hold about 4 cubic yards of trash. On a really dirty street, a machine can fill up in just 20 minutes.

Q Who is, or was, Alfred P. Murrah for whom the Oklahoma City federal building was named? - Ruth Perot, Fairhope, Ala.

A Alfred Paul Murrah was appointed a federal district judge in Oklahoma by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. In 1940, he was selected by Roosevelt to serve as a judge on the 10th Circuit, where he became chief judge in 1959. He died in 1975. According to "The Federal Courts of the Tenth Circuit: A History - The Judges of the Court of Appeals," Murrah was Roosevelt's "youngest choice to serve on the Tenth Circuit. The President often chose younger judges so that they would defend the principles of the New Deal for a long time, and Alfred Paul Murrah of Oklahoma fulfilled the president's hopes by serving over 30 years." The Murrah building was destroyed by a truck bomb in April 1995.

Q Is it true that all flowers display two of the three primary colors, but not all three? - Ed Cook

A We're raising the white flag on this one. We talked to botanists at Harvard University, Boston University, Boston College, and even tracked down a specialist in India, but no one could help. If you know the answer, please let us in on it.

Q What's the world's largest statue? Josh Caldwell, Dolores, Colo.

A A 394-foot bronze Buddha in Tokyo is the world's largest statue. The massive structure, built in 1993, weighs 1,100 tons and is 115 feet across, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The giant Buddha will not be the largest statue forever, though. When completed, the Crazy Horse Monument in South Dakota will stand 563 feet tall, surpassing the bronze Buddha by 169 feet. The Crazy Horse project was begun more than 50 years ago. So far, only the face of the Indian chief has been sculpted. It could be 2050 before it is completed.

Q Why is Greenland an island and Australia a continent?

A We asked a number of earth scientists this question and got several answers. There seem to be both historical and geographical explanations. Most maps distort the size of Greenland when the contours of the globe are displayed on a flat surface, and that makes Greenland look larger than Australia. At 839,800 square miles, Greenland is the largest island in the world. But it is just 28 percent the size of Australia's 2,948,366 square miles. Yet size apparently isn't the key. Continents are determined by both plate tectonics and history. Greenland is part of the North American plate, placing it with that continent. Even that isn't the only explanation, for Europe and Asia are both part of one plate. Perhaps then continents are more historical, a designation made by different peoples at different times in history.

Q Why and how do fireflies glow? - Josh Caldwell, Dolores, Colo.

A Fireflies glow to find a mate, says Eric Widmaier, a Boston University biology professor. During flight, the male firefly flashes his "lantern" to attract a female. The female waits on the ground and signals to the male by flashing back in a unique rhythm. The male recognizes the signal and descends to meet his new mate. Firefly lanterns contain oxygen and a substance called luciferin. The chemical reaction between the two produces light.

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