HIGH LIFE : 5,850 Characters to Hunt and Peck

In Cecil Adams’ column “The Straight Dope,” which has appeared in alternative newspapers since 1973, he answered the following letter:

“Typing is one skill I’ve never been able to master, but whenever I get hung up, I think of what the poor Chinese must have to go through with all the thousands of characters in their written language. Is there such a thing as a Chinese typewriter?”

Adams replied: “The Chinese have been manufacturing typewriters for decades, the standard model offering in the neighborhood of 1,500 selected characters. In 1962, the new improved Hoang model hit the market, packing a mind-numbing 5,850 characters on a keyboard that measured 2 feet by 17 inches. A Chinese typist is considered excellent if he or she can handle 11 words a minute, which is still, apparently, somewhat faster than drawing the characters by hand.

“Among the alphabetic languages, Cambodian poses the biggest threat to the typist, with 74 letters. If you lived on sun-drenched Bougainville Island in the South Pacific, though, the secretarial life would be a blissful one. The native language, Rotokas, uses only 11 letters, a, b, e, g, i, k, o, p, r, t and u . No problem.”


The children of children are a fast-growing population. And their numbers appear unlikely to decrease anytime soon, according to the April issue of NEA Today, the magazine of the National Education Assn.

A 1986 national poll of children ages 12 to 17 years, conducted by Planned Parenthood, shows that one of nine U.S. children 14 or younger has had sexual intercourse. Among the group surveyed, one of five 14-year-olds and one of 10 13-year-olds claimed to be sexually experienced.

Among the 12-year-olds, 4% said they had tried sex. Translated into raw numbers, this means that 120,000 12-year-olds are sexually active.

“A rule of thumb is a homemade recipe for making a guess,” writes Tom Parker in his book of compilations, “Rules of Thumb 2.”

“It is an easy-to-remember guide that falls somewhere between a mathematical formula and a shot in the dark.

“Frankly,” Parker writes, “I can’t say that all of these rules of thumb work. Some would be pretty hard to test. Consider these a treasury of private inventions that work for the people who sent them in.”

Pouring Milk for Cereal: You have enough milk in the bowl when the edge of your pile of Cheerios first starts to move.

--Mike Rambo, photographer, Ithaca, N.Y.

Getting Something Done: If you want something done, give it to a busy person.

--Scott Parker, Beaumont, Tex.

The Radio Contest Rule: The listener response to a radio call-in contest depends on the size of the prize. You can expect 10 call-in contestants for every dollar you are giving away.

--Don Burley, radio talk-show host, Kansas City, Kansas

Catching a Liar: A good liar will look his victim in the eyes in an attempt to be convincing. Two tip-offs are an increase in his rate of blinking and overly complicated explanations.

--Dr. Joyce Brothers

“Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.”

--Mark Twain (1835-1910)