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Scouts' handshake promotes ambidexterity

March 26, Monday — Two "Supremes" born today: the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in 1930; and Supremes singer Diana Ross, 1944.

March 27, Tuesday — U.S. jazz singer Sarah Vaughan born, 1924. Poet Walt Whitman died, 1892.

March 28, Wednesday — Washing machine patented by Nathaniel Briggs, 1797. Boston subway construction began, 1895.

March 29, Thursday — The Cumberland Road, the first federal highway (a k a Great National Pike) was approved in 1806. It extended from Cumberland, Md. to St. Louis, Mo.

March 30, Friday — Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh born, 1853. Assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, 1981.

March 31, Saturday — Listen for the peepers (frogs) now. Eiffel Tower officially opened in Paris, 1889.

April 1, Sunday — All Fools' Day. Daylight Savings Time begins, 2 a.m. Set your clocks forward.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Why is the Boy Scouts handshake done with the left hand? — T.H., Roanoke, Va.

Answer: It was all part of being prepared, we'd guess. Boy Scout founder Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (1857-1941) was a strong believer in the practicality of being ambidextrous, or able to use both hands with nearly equal dexterity. While many lefties can tell you how inconvenient it is to use their left hands for tools such as traditional scissors, many power tools, machinery and even cars, Baden-Powell evidently believed the ability was a handy one. No doubt the handshake was devised to help promote that ability. Around the beginning of the century, Baden-Powell was joined in his belief by others who formed the Ambidextral Culture Society, whose mission it was to promote the training of both hands to perform fine motor tasks. It is surmised that the group eventually dissipated for lack of practical accomplishment.

In "The 1995 Old Farmer's Almanac," Jon Vara wrote an informative piece on the subject called "The Sinister Truth About Handedness," which is filled with odd facts and surprising discoveries about lefties, or "southpaws." Did you know, for example, that lefties typically stir their coffee counterclockwise, while a right-handed person will stir clockwise? Or that upon entering a room, lefties typically bear to the left?

We'll leave it to you to find some practical use for that knowledge.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: What can you tell me about numerology — G.J., Somers, Conn.

Answer: You might say that numerology is to numbers what astrology is to the stars. Similarly, there are those who believe in it and others who don't. Numerology is the study of numbers and how the occult may influence them. Each person, for example, has a numerological "reading" assigned to his or her birth date. Someone born on March 26 takes the number 26, adds the digits 2 plus 6 to make 8, and is therefore "ruled" by the number 8. According to one source on the subject, "People born on this date are often greatly misunderstood in their lives and therefore often feel extremely lonely." Another source suggests, "Those ruled by the number 8 can be overly self-sacrificing."

To some extent, of course, anyone sharing a birthday on the 26th of any month would be considered to share similar traits, numerologically. Those with birthdays on the 26th, for example, are said to share the trait of building careers slowly and gradually. Those with birthdays on the 31st (3 plus 1 make 4, their "ruling" number) evidently share a quality of being "difficult to fathom," in part, perhaps, because there are only seven months that have a 31st, so there are fewer who share these birth dates.

Some numerologists go beyond the date of the month you are born and add also the month and year. So, for example, if you were born on March 26, 1930, your numbers would reduce to 3 (for the third month, March), plus 26 (the day), plus 1930, adding these three numbers in column form, making 1959. That number is then reduced further, 1 plus 9 plus 5 plus 9, equals 24, and reduced once again, 2 plus 4 equals 6. So instead of being ruled by number 8, you have fine-tuned your numerology and found you are ruled by 6. There are two exceptions to the rule of reducing these numbers. If you find yourself with either 11 or 22, these are special "master numbers" and you stop there instead of reducing further. Numerologists on the Internet have all sorts of decoding charts for assigning values to the numbers you end up with.

There is also a system for reducing your name in numerology, by assigning each letter of the alphabet a number between 1 and 9. Starting with A as 1, go along until you get I as 9. Then J becomes 1 again, R is 9 again, S is 1, and you end with Z as 8. Simple.

Now assign your full name its rightful letters, add them up, reduce them, and voila! You have another number to guide you. Some numerologist readers take your birth number and your name number and give each half-weight in the overall view.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: I once heard the list of hibernating animals called the "seven sleepers," but I can't name seven. Can you? — K.O., Detroit, Mich.

Answer: Sure, we can. We may even have been the ones who called them the "seven sleepers" to begin with. Mammals that hibernate in the winter include raccoons, chipmunks, skunks, bears, bats, woodchucks and jumping mice. It's tricky, though, because raccoons and skunks are not true hibernators, and they will rouse themselves from a nap of only a few weeks if the weather warms. Skunk families, by the way, sometimes merge their dens, bunking together in a group of up to 30 skunks. Imagine inadvertently surprising the inhabitants of that wintry den!

Many amphibians (toads, frogs, snakes, etc.) hibernate, as well, but we'll assume that's another set of sleepers. While animals are hibernating, their body temperatures and pulse rates decrease and their metabolism is slowed. During the period of hibernation, they live off stores of body fats, which is why you hear of bears storing up those final layers of fat by raiding the blueberry fields in late summer.


Send your questions to: Ask the Almanac, The Old Farmer's Almanac, Main St., Dublin, NH 03444; Web site: www.almanac.com; © Yankee Publishing, Inc.