Calling all bugs

Q: Their official taxonomic names are "Heerz tooya," "Heerzlukenatcha," "Verae peculya," "Mantis religiosa," "Dicrotendipides thanatogratus" (thanatos = dead, gratus = grateful), "Gretchena dulciana"–sweet, "Gretchena concubitana"–possessed, and M. dizzydeani (pitcher nonpareil). What's being named? ­A. Trebec

 A: Bugs. These are the formal– if lighthearted– designations for three wasp species, the European praying mantis, a small fly (named by its discoverer in honor of the rock band), two insects named after taxonomist Carl Heinrich's love interest Gretchen, and a "pitching" arachnid spider capable of tossing pheromone-imbued balls to lure moths, says entomologist May Berenbaum in Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs.

Even after a million or more named bugs, the naming's far from done, as estimates are that three-quarters of all animal species are insects, and for every insect already named, there are three to 30 more awaiting appellations.

Q: What's the "cellular" in "cellular phone"? ­A. G. Bell
A: Space in a wireless system is divided into local "cells," like polygons in a honeycomb. Travel to 'Frisco and call home to your wife in Alabama on your cell, and your phone communicates via RF (radio frequency) with the nearest cell tower, which sends the signal into POTS (plain old telephone system) to ring up your home phone, says Auburn University wireless engineering specialist Richard Jaeger. If she's on her cell, your signal goes to the Auburn tower with which her phone is communicating. Then as the two phones roam (venture outside their service providers' coverage), signals pass from cell to cell. It's a honey of a system, really.

Unlike the old CB radio setup, where one person talks, then must wait while the other person replies, each cell conversation goes on two simultaneous frequencies, back and forth, so you could sing a cell duet, if you pleased.

Limiting talk is the number of available frequencies per primary RF carrier, and the number of carriers at a given cell site, says Jaeger. There may be hundreds of callers in theory, but most systems don't achieve this many. Then these same frequencies are reused a couple of cells away, which is why cell-phone broadcast ranges are short. So if a thousand people in a city block felt a simultaneous conversational urge, some of them might be forced to forget wireless and make do the POTS way.

Q: Ye Scrabble(R) 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... ­S. Johnson
A: Right, they're just a handful of the 100+ two-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.

Q: Numbers puzzle from the 'Net: What was the first day ever with seven even numerals in its date, assuming our 1/1/2001 system? ­P. Gregory
A: 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 NSW 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)