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TAP DANCING

In your column of June 14 about tapping Coke cans to reduce fizzing, you said people did this because of "the same repressed macho ethic that makes people tap the ends of their cigarettes before lighting up." Have you never smoked? As an occasional smoker, I learned as a teen the importance of "packing" one's cigarettes before smoking. "Packing" is the process of compressing the tobacco toward the filter end, ensuring smooth burning. Unpacked cigarettes may burn unevenly, which can cause the cherry, or lit portion, to fall off. This process is usually accomplished by tapping the unopened pack repeatedly on the filter end, but an alternative method is to tap an individual cigarette before striking. (I use my watch face as the striking surface.) --Paul Krieg, via the Internet

I don't believe this. Next you'll be telling me you bury knots at crossroads to get rid of warts.

In a halfhearted attempt to be scientific I bought a pack of cigarettes. I tapped a couple and compared them with some untapped samples. If there was a difference it was only slight.

And why should it be otherwise? Sure, we ex-Boy Scouts know you tap the bottom of an ax handle on the ground to seat the ax head more firmly on the other end. But an ax is rigid and heavy; a cigarette is soft and light. Surely it's not possible to work up enough momentum to significantly compress a product that's already pretty tightly packed to start with.

Not being a smoker and having no desire to start for the sake of something this ridiculous, I didn't put these thoughts to the practical test. But I did call up a couple of the major tobacco companies, and I did have this question posted to the Usenet. The result, if we eliminate certain extraneous data points, was unanimous agreement that I was right. The most anyone could offer by way of an excuse for this practice was that it may be a throwback to the days of hand-rolled cigarettes.

The best reply came from Bill Penrose of Aurora, Illinois:

"The reason people tap cigarettes is because Humphrey Bogart did it. It is one of the rich vocabulary of gestures that cigarettes allow you to make.

"1. Tapping cigarette on end: Suave, sophisticated.

"2. Throwing cigarette on ground and grinding it out: I'm about to do something significant.

"3. Blowing smoke in someone's face: (If a man) Let's take it out in the parking lot. (If a woman) How fast can you get your clothes off?

"4. Holding smoke a long time and exhaling through nose: I'm thinking real hard.

"5. Blowing smoke out through ears: I have defective eustachian tubes.

"6. Going to sleep with cigarette in mouth: In the next scene the firemen will be putting out the fire.

"7. Lighting one cigarette from another: (If a war movie) You can share my foxhole anytime. (Between a woman and a man) We can share oxygen tents.

"8. Quitting a 3-pack-a-day habit overnight: My doctor just discovered a tumor the size of a cantaloupe.

"My $0.02."

You missed the most obvious explanation for tapping on a soda can: tapping takes time, and with the passage of time the CO goes back into solution. --Jonathan Cook, via the Internet

You raise a legitimate point, a sufficiently rare occurrence in these parts that I went right out to the Backyard of Science to do another experiment. I got two cans of Coke Classic at room temp and shook them each vigorously 60 times. Setting both on the pavement, I opened one immediately and got a good-size gusher of froth. Then I waited 60 seconds and opened the other one. There was no gushing to speak of. Mind you, I had done no tapping.

So you may well be right that what tapping chiefly does is kill time, an issue to which I perhaps gave inadequate attention in my original column. But that doesn't change my main point, which is that tapping per se doesn't do squat.

--CECIL ADAMS

Is there something you need to get straight? Cecil Adams can deliver the Straight Dope on any topic. Write Cecil Adams at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611, E-mail him at cecil@chireader.com, or visit the Straight Dope area at America Online, keyword: Straight Dope.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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