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- Jon Carroll
Friday, January 14, 2005

Let's talk about tunnels! Everyone wants to, it seems, particularly civil engineers. I had no idea I had so many civil engineers among my readers.

In the most recent Xmas Quiz, I asked a question about the number of tunnels in the Bay Area. The answer was ... it doesn't matter what the answer was. It was probably wrong, depending on many things.

It turns out that not all tunnels are tunnels. True tunnels are made by boring through something -- the Caldecott tunnels are a fine example of that. Other tunnels are really tubes, constructed aboveground and then placed into the earth by giant machines with cool names. The Posey Tube linking Oakland to Alameda is, not surprisingly, a tube. Then there are "cut-and-cover" quasi- tunnels, which are made by digging a hole and then covering the top, like putting plywood over a rain puddle.

When a cut-and-cover roadway goes on for a long time, it seems like a tunnel to the average layperson. If you lose radio reception, it's probably a tunnel in the layperson world. But when does a cut-and-cover bridge become a cut-and-cover tunnel? Science provides no answer.

Thus, anything you think is a tunnel is a tunnel. If you eliminate both cut and cover and tubes, the answer is 10. The Grand Ten, as they are frequently known.

There is also a longish auto tunnel at the San Francisco Airport. It's available to airport staff members only, so probably it doesn't count, unless it does. My thanks to reader Michael Merola for the tip.

N.B.: I know that the tunnel above Sausalito is called the Waldo Tunnel. I've listened to enough traffic reports. I'm sure Mr. Waldo was a worthy individual, even if he was hard to find in crowds. But it's still the rainbow tunnel to me. Hey, you knew what I meant when I said "rainbow tunnel." Communication was achieved -- and I am in the communications business.

Deadlines and timelines: In the Xmas Quiz, I also asked for a two- syllable plural word that, when an "s" is added to the end, becomes a three- syllable singular word. In addition to my answers, several people suggested Saltines/saltiness (proper nouns were not excluded). Craig Griffith weighed in with glassines/glassiness, gamines/gaminess and the questionable cosines/cosiness before he decided to lie down with a damp towel on his forehead.

Elvis: An Xmas quiz question asked about Elvis Presley's first television appearance. His first national television appearance was indeed on "Stage Show" with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, but his first show ever was a TV broadcast of a country music radio show called "Louisiana Hayride." It was a local TV show, but it was TV all the same. Reader Terry Abad was the first to provide that correction.

Stamps: Another post office on American soil that doesn't fly the American flag is the U.N. post office in New York. Reader Bob Nyden first brought this to my attention.

Etymology: The origin of the word "dada" is muddled, and there probably never will be a definitive answer. In "The Dada Manifesto," Romanian poet Tristan Tzara wrote: "Freedom: DADA DADA DADA, the howl of clashing colors, the intertwining of all contradictions, grotesqueries, trivialities: LIFE." And there you have it.

Easter: Reader J. Lemic notes that in the Eastern Orthodox Church -- I did not specify whose Easter, after all -- the date of Easter must always be after the date of Passover in order to coincide with the historical time line of events. Most years, the two Easters fall on different days.

It's a grand January tradition, the annual corrections, clarifications and amplifications of last year's Xmas Quiz.

There's also a cool railroad tunnel, now sealed, that runs from Montclair to Canyon. When it was opened, inner bay residents used to take the train to Canyon, there to picnic and visit a small zoo, says Ron Valentine, who is not jcarroll@sfchronicle.com.

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