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16 rpm: My speed contest takes a spin

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

16 rpm: My speed contest takes a spin 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1991, The Syracuse Newspapers

Richard Nicholas is the first-place winner of the 16-rpm contest.

Nicholas of 50 River St., Homer, won a free audiophile disc. Congratulations, Nick!

Wait a second. What 16-rpm contest?

I was wondering the same thing myself. My alter ego, the gentleman who eats my food and wears my clothes and signs himself "Dr. Gizmo," propelled me into this contest-that-wasn't-a-contest a few weeks ago—all without my knowledge, more or less.

You see, the good doctor stuck a tiny reference to the mysterious and no doubt forgotten fourth record-playing speed in his column, and asked whether anybody out there could name that fourth speed.

The doc figured he'd get two or three replies. That was OK by me, since it meant that I wouldn't have to help the Gizman out when it came to opening the mail. After all, I have enough mail of my own to worry about.

And then the rains came down. It poured postcards and letters here at the paragraph factory. A zillion readers—well, 150 or so, actually—cared enough to write in and tell my friend what that fourth speed is.

So that meant the doctor, who is out on house calls so much that he can't handle his mail sometimes, asked me to help him out. It took a couple of days, but I loved each letter, mostly because Dr. Gizmo's readers turned out to be a smart and witty bunch.

Nick grabbed his modem and fired off the correct answer via GEnie, the telecommunications service. A few others sent electronic mail replies to the Syracuse Newspapers Telesystem, but they were a bit behind Nick.

Among the regular mail replies—we call it "snail mail," by the way—second prize goes to Walt Maguire of 151 Upland Road, Syracuse. I picked Walt because his letter came early and because he's 83 years young.

"Keep up the help to the consumer buyer," Walt said. I'll pass that along to the doctor.

About half of the entries mentioned 16 rpm, and nearly all the others said 16 2/3 rpm. The second figure is the precise one, since the fourth speed was exactly half the third speed of 33 1/3 rpm.

But I didn't count anybody out for missing the fraction, since common usage calls the third speed 33 and the fourth speed 16.

But I awarded third prize to Thomas Kemblowski of 112 Maple Drive, Camillus, for a creative twist. He gave the speed as 17 rpm, which is a closer answer than 16 rpm. I also liked the words he used when he described his four-speed record player: "I used it up about 10 years ago," he said.

Yes, Tom, that's what happens to things we like. They get used up. Things we don't like just get forgotten.

The second- and third-place prizes are audiophile records, too.

And, finally, a possible ringer. One reader, whose letter seems to have been eaten by the parrot in the doctor's living room, said there was even a fifth speed for some record players -- 8 1/3 rpm. I've never heard of that one. The doctor can't get back to that reader unless the parrot learns how to read as well as talk, so the fifth speed remains a . . . well, I'd say a mystery, but that's how the mail got so heavy in the first place.

Let's just put that one in the Twilight Zone of great unknowns. But if any of you know about it, drop the doc a line.

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