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The Straight Dope 

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Does Cecil have an explanation for the sudden gridiron success of Northwestern, e.g., recruiting violations, swapping uniforms? --Russell Clemings, Fresno, California

A 47-year rebuilding effort is your idea of sudden? Get serious. But I'll admit that the 34-game losing streak in the early 80s sure lulled the opposition into a false sense of security. The way I see it, Northwestern's success can be attributed to one of several things: (1) Support from the loyal alumni in Chicago. Before you can have fair-weather fans you have to have fair weather. (2) The approaching millennium. They say it'll be accompanied by signs and wonders. After you've seen NU in the Rose Bowl, who's going to be surprised by the second coming of Christ? (3) Money, drugs, and ice picks. They worked on Illinois, they worked on Michigan, and if it hadn't been for that creep at airport security they'd have worked on Southern Cal too. Wait till next year.

Ever heard the expression mono e mono? I thought it meant "one on one." My brother and his wife vehemently argue that it's spelled mano e mano and means "hand to hand." I think I'm right, but then again I'm only going by what the villain said to James Bond in The Man With the Golden Gun. The bad guy challenged Bond to a duel "mono e mono, one-on-one." Who's right? My brother and his wife or me? --Richard A. Galichon, Chicago

None of you, which is par for the course. But they're closer than you, since all they did was misspell it. Mano a mano is Spanish for "hand to hand." Since hand-to-hand combat typically pits two individuals against each other, the expression is often understood to, but doesn't literally, mean one-on-one. My assistant, Little Ed, made a similar mistake. Having read about the testosterone-driven naming of Grand Teton mountain (look it up), he had for years a giddy idea of the meaning of tete-a-tete. Imagine his disappointment upon discovering it merely meant "head to head."

SICK OF CHOCOLATE

I was intrigued by your column on chocolate poisoning in dogs [December 1], but don't you think we have an overeating problem here rather than one of poisoning per se? You mention a toxic threshold of two ounces of milk chocolate per kilo of body weight. For my Jenny, who weighs 20 kilos (44 pounds), that's 40 ounces of chocolate! Let's put the issue in human terms. I'm a big boy at 100 kilos. If I ate 200 ounces (12.5 pounds) I think I'd get mighty sick, and I don't think we could blame it on the chocolate.

By the way, what the hell is theobromine and what does it do? --Roger Strukhoff, via the Internet

You ever watch your dog eat? Dogs routinely make pigs of themselves if they get unlimited access to a food they like. Vets at the National Animal Poison Control Center say it's not uncommon for a 10- to 15-pound dog to eat a pound of chocolate, wrappings and all. The bigger breeds, proportionally speaking, are almost as bad.

It's true that at extreme doses the sheer volume of fatty food can cause problems such as pancreatitis, which is often the culprit when a dog gets sick after eating garbage. But chocolate alone is plenty toxic. This is more apparent in the concentrated forms of chocolate. I cited the toxic threshold for milk chocolate because, being sweet, it's what dogs gorge on most often. But where milk chocolate contains 65 milligrams of caffeine and theobromine per ounce, semisweet chocolate contains 165 milligrams and baking chocolate has 300 to 400. A dog who eats a package of baking chocolate isn't necessarily overeating but could still wind up dead.

Theobromine is one of a class of chemical compounds called methylxanthines, which also include caffeine and theophylline (found in tea). They're all stimulants and not good for your pooch (or for you, for that matter) in excess.

--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, or E-mail him at cecil@chireader.com.

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