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Even Prize Winners Find It’s Not the Common Code

--Even the 36 winners are puzzled by the $117,000 Decipher contest. “We’re still asking what some of the clues mean,” said Richard Zucker, a college math teacher from Irvine, Calif. Zucker estimated that he spent 100 hours actually working on the puzzle and an additional 200 hours thinking about it. The eventual answer was a passage from poet e.e. cummings that begins: “Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel.” Zucker won $3,251.71 for his effort, as did each of the other solvers. Decipher’s creator, Warren Holland Jr. of Norfolk, Va., had set a two-year deadline of March 29 for solving the puzzle, which was based on a cipher, or coded writing. The code was a series of numbers. Each number stood for a letter, and the challenge was to find the key to the code and translate the numbers into a message. More than 200,000 copies of the puzzle were sold at $13.25 apiece through catalogues and by major department stores, and more than 1,000 entries were received, organizers said. Holland said a sequel to Decipher will be unveiled next month.

--Christina Onassis had a tip for a traffic policeman in Marbella, Spain, but he wasn’t interested. An officer issued a parking ticket for the Greek shipping heiress’s car in the beach resort, a police spokesman said. Onassis paid the $12 fine and then offered the policeman a $6 “gratuity,” police said. The officer thanked her but said he was simply doing his duty.

--Milton Pitts has been getting in politicians’ hair for years. And they love it. The popular barber celebrated 20 years of work in Washington with a group of about 200 present and former customers, including President Reagan, at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel. “What do you call 10 rabbits that are dancing backward?” Reagan asked. “You give up, huh? A receding hare-line.” Pitts has served as barber-in-residence at the White House, turning his clippers on the likes of Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford and Reagan. President Jimmy Carter imported his own barber.

--Charities might accept donations of groceries, but the Internal Revenue Service deals only in cold, hard cash. Laura Purdy, 22, attempted to pay a $78.38 tax bill at a Houston IRS office with food because of “my strong moral objection to my money being used for military purposes.” As Purdy’s contribution grew with eight pounds of coffee, 16 pounds of sugar and 50 pounds of pinto beans, IRS worker Vincent Chonko told her to take her food and go home. “We can only accept tax payment in legal tender of the United States, and food is not considered legal tender,” he said.

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