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Rental Car Computers to Map Out Directions

Beginning soon, travelers who fly into Orlando International Airport and opt for Avis rental cars may be able to get a car that knows more about the city than they do. Small computer terminals displaying map and routing advice will be available in about 200 Avis rental cars in Orlando, Fla., beginning the last week of February. Called Travtek, the terminals will display the best routes and indicate areas of traffic congestion, as well as offer information on local attractions and events.

Two and a half years in development, Travtek includes a keyboard into which the driver types the current location of the car and the ultimate destination. The terminal--which is on the dash to the right of the steering wheel--then displays the best route. Travtek is a joint project of the American Automobile Assn., Avis, the U.S. Department of Transportation, General Motors, the Florida State Department of Transportation and the city of Orlando. Initially, Avis cars containing Travtek will be available only by reservation through AAA, to be picked up at Avis’ airport outlet. There will be no extra charge for renting cars containing the monitors.

Travel Quiz: What Central American country is the only one not on the Atlantic Coast?

Gambling on Asian Games: Starting Monday, Atlantic City casinos will introduce a new game called Sic Bo in an attempt to keep the business of Asian-American players who otherwise might travel to Las Vegas to play it. The ancient Chinese gambling game is popular in Asia and Nevada, but has never been offered in Atlantic City casinos. It uses three dice, a simple fact that belies the game’s complexity. Pai Gow, a Chinese game traditionally played with tiles but also played in a poker-type variation--which also is popular in Las Vegas and in such Los Angeles-area casinos as the Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens--will make its Atlantic City debut some time in 1992. A spokeswoman for Caesers Atlantic City said a large percentage of casino patrons are of Asian origin.

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Flight to the Finnish: Attention Californians of Finnish descent (there are nearly 60,000 of you). In honor of Finland’s 75th anniversary, 1992 has been declared “Homecoming Year"--and those whose roots are in Finland have been invited to visit during the yearlong celebration. Events will begin in January and include a reindeer driving competition, ice sculpture contests, a nine-hole ice golf tournament played on the frozen Kemijoki River at the Arctic Circle and other more mainstream events, such as music and theater festivals. For those trying to trace their roots, special computer assistance will be available throughout the year. For more information, contact the Finnish Tourist Board, 655 3rd Ave., 18th Floor, New York 10017, (212) 949-2333.

Quick Fact: States that spent the most on building and maintaining roads in 1990: California ($2,498,066,000), Texas ($2,366,817,000), Pennsylvania ($1,931,216,000), New York ($1,791,604,000), Illinois ($1,631,785,000). (Source: Federal Highway Administration.)

New York Restaurant Bills Holding: Considering that the average per-person price is $67.21 at the 20 most expensive New York City restaurants, visitors to the city will be happy to hear that the latest trend in prices is noflation . That’s according to the Zagat Survey, publisher of travel and restaurant guidebooks. Restaurant prices, based on cost per meal, have either stayed flat or nudged downward this year. Asked how their dining patterns have changed in the past two years, diners told the survey that they had become more discriminating and are drawn to more healthy food selections; to informal neighborhood settings; to fresh, authentic ethnic cuisines and, above all, to value. (The average price of the 20 most expensive restaurants in Los Angeles is a mere $50.13.)

Defer Travel to Mali: The State Department is advising U.S. citizens to defer all nonessential travel to the West African nation of Mali, especially north of the Niger River in the regions surrounding the cities of Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu and Mopti. Incidents in these areas have involved banditry, vehicle thefts and insurgent attacks along major travel routes, near the principal cities and in smaller towns. Victims have included foreigners. The travel warning urges U.S. citizens to contact the U.S. Embassy upon arrival in Mali to register their presence and to receive updated security information.

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Just the Fax: A new phone service by Official Airline Guides, an Oak Brook, Ill.-based company that tracks flight fares for publication in newspapers across the country, lets consumers comparison-shop for best air fares and seat availability. OAG FlightFax provides information by phone or fax. Callers can get schedule and fare information for up to seven one-way or round-trip flights per call. Calls are paid for in blocks of 10 trips. The cost is $49 for a 10-trip query. OAG supplies information only; it does not make reservations. For more information, call (800) DIAL-OAG.

Comparatively Speaking: Gasoline pump prices per gallon for March, 1991, in Milan, Italy: $4.75. Dublin, Ireland: $3.90. London: $2.96. Auckland, New Zealand: $2.12. Toronto: $1.79. Washington: $1.15. Caracas, Venezuela: 24 cents. (Source: Runzheimer International.)

Fair Warning: Dunsmuir House & Gardens, a turn-of-the-century California estate in Oakland, is welcoming guests with hot spiced cider, music and carefully decorated stately chambers for a special Edwardian Christmas through next Sunday, Dec. 22. Thirty holiday trees will adorn 37 rooms on the 40-acre estate. There will be carriage rides, and volunteers dressed in costume will be available to answer the questions of visitors on self-guided tours. For more information, call Dunsmuir House at (415) 562-0328.

Quiz Answer: El Salvador.

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