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News and Trends
January 9, 2006


Playing Lax to the Max
Mother of All Alphabets?
A Noise That Annoys
Time Warp in the Heartland
Buying Books One Page at a Time
A Mathematical War of Words

Playing Lax to the Max
Lacrosse ("lax" for short), originated by Native Americans in the 1400s, is one of the fastest-growing high school sports in the U.S. One reason is that both boys and girls see it as an opportunity to win college athletic scholarships. Lacrosse offers less competition for spots on college teams: 660,000 students play high school soccer, while 96,000 play lacrosse. Students trying for a lacrosse scholarship often play year-round on teams outside school; some hire personal trainers and go to lacrosse camps in the summer. Still, only a few players will be scholarship material. Rachel Guerrera, 17, a senior at Wantagh (N.Y.) High School, will join Notre Dame's team next year. Guerrera, who plays defense, didn't go to camps or hire a trainer. "It's kind of like a defensive instinct," she says. "It just comes."

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Mother of All Alphabets?
In the 10th century B.C., just south of Jerusalem, someone carved his ABC's on a limestone boulder. Last July, archaeologists at the site in central Israel, Tel Zayit, found the inscribed stone in an ancient building. After an analysis, they concluded that it was the earliest known version of the Hebrew alphabet and a major milestone in the history of writing. If the archaeologists are correct, the stone bears the oldest reliably dated example of an abecedary—the letters of the alphabet written out in their traditional sequence. "All successive alphabets in the world, including the Greek one, derive from this ancestor at Tel Zayit," says Ron E. Tappy, an archaeologist at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the dig's director. Two lines of letters—apparently the 22 symbols of the Hebrew alphabet—were on one face of a 40-pound stone that may have been placed in the building to ward off evil. Lawrence E. Stager, a Harvard archaeologist, says the pottery styles found at Tel Zayit "fit perfectly with the 10th century [B.C.], which makes this an exceedingly rare inscription." Stager adds that more extensive radiocarbon dating will be needed to establish its age.

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A Noise That Annoys
Rowdy teens used to hang out in front of the Spar convenience store in Barry, Wales. According to the store's owner, Robert Gough (rhymes with "tough"), they intimidated other customers and "they'd be in the shop fighting, stealing, and assaulting the staff." So Howard Stapleton, a security consultant, offered to let Gough try his invention: the Mosquito. This small electronic box emits a pulsating squeak at a frequency usually inaudible to anyone over 30. At first, the kids begged Gough to turn off the noise; then they left. "It's loud and squeaky and it just goes through you," says one 15-year-old. The device has not been tested by hearing experts, but Stapleton says, "I didn't want to make it hurt; it just has to nag at them." This wasn't the first time that store owners have used sounds to keep young people away. In the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., some 7-Eleven stores choose high culture over high-tech: loudspeakers blasting classical music and opera.

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Time Warp in the Heartland
Giving someone the time of day can be confusing if you live in Indiana. Most of the state's 92 counties are on Eastern time—except for the 10 counties that prefer Central time. And most of Indiana never goes on daylight saving time, a refusal that dates back 30 years to the complaints of farmers and drive-in movie owners. Of course, there are exceptions: The 10 counties on Central time spring forward and fall back with the rest of the nation, as do a few other counties near Louisville, Ky., and Cincinnati, Ohio. State officials have decided that all of Indiana will go on daylight saving time starting this April, setting off a new debate over the problem of having two time zones in one state. Now, 17 counties have petitioned to switch over to Central time. "You never know what time it is around here, and it looks to me now as though we may never know," says Betty Richards, an Indiana resident who wishes the entire state would settle on one time zone. "I want to be able to go somewhere at 8 o'clock and have it be 8 o'clock where I'm going. Is that too much to ask?"

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Buying Books One Page at a Time
Trying to do for books what iTunes has done for music, Amazon and Google are both developing systems to allow users to buy and download any page, section, or chapter of a book. But there is already controversy among publishers, authors, and online vendors about the idea—and how to split the proceeds. Trade groups representing authors and publishers say Google has violated copyright laws by making digital copies of books from libraries available online. But if copies of older books, long absent from bookstores, start producing revenue for authors and publishers, they might drop some of their objections.

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A Mathematical War of Words
Zobo (a type of Himalayan cattle) could not quite triumph over qanat (an irrigation channel), and the contestant was birsled (scorched). So ended the eighth World Scrabble Championships in London in November. Adam Logan, 30, a mathematician from Canada, became the new world champion, defeating Pakorn Nemitrmansuk of Thailand, 465 to 426. Over four days of triple-letter scores and obscure words, 102 players from 40 countries competed for a top prize of $15,000. Ironically, numerical skill can be more important than verbal skill in Scrabble. "You don't have to have a good vocabulary," says John O'Laughlin, 25, a player from Wisconsin. "It's a mathematical game." The previous champion—Panupol Sujjayakorn, 21, of Thailand—won with an encyclopedic memory of Scrabble's official word list, but had a limited command of spoken English.

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