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The Straight Dope 

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The spring breeze is blowing, and it's starting to smell like baseball, at least here in Texas. This brings to mind a fundamental question: how do groundskeepers make the checkerboard pattern in the outfield? Alternating types of sod? I've always wondered. --Justin Gaynor, Dallas

For the answer to a classic question, you want a classic source. For my money, you can't do much better than the groundskeepers at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. (I tried Fenway too, but they didn't answer the phone.) The members of the Wrigley crew take their work seriously because they know that after a few innings of a typical Cubs game many fans won't be able to bear the sight of the game anymore and will want to turn their gaze to some less exasperating scene, such as a few choice acres of God's green grass. Thus the checkerboard.

Roger Baird, assistant Wrigley GK, says he gets on his 82-inch riding mower and on day one mows east to west and on day two (or the next time he cuts the grass) north to south. He follows precisely the same path every time, mowing east in the east rows and west in the west rows and so on, always taking care that today's rows (swaths, whatever) exactly line up with those from previous days.

If you've ever tried the same stunt with a vacuum cleaner on a rug, you know what you get: a checkerboard of squares roughly 82 inches on a side. The grass in a square mowed west and north will catch the light differently from one mowed east and south. It doesn't help the grass grow better, it doesn't align with the earth's magnetic lines of force, but it does look pretty cool on color TV.

What does "Judas Priest" mean? Besides being the name of a bitchin' heavy-metal band, it was something my grampa used to exclaim every time the hated Philadelphia Phillies scored a run against the Giants. Was gramps ahead of his time musically, or did the band rip him off? --Tommy Touhey, Augusta, Georgia

The truly great cusswords span the generations, don't they? The answer to your question is none of the above. Gramps was just trying not to scandalize grandma. "Judas Priest," an old-time southernism that a lot of musicians seem to have taken a shine to (e.g., that well-known good ol' boy Bob Dylan), is a blasphemous-sounding but meaningless euphemism for "Jesus Christ."

WHY THE GOVERNMENT WANTS YOUR BLOOD

In a recent column [April 19] you advised a young Los Angeleno on the real reason for premarital blood testing. Although you hit the nail on the head about venereal disease, you left out an important fact. Premarital blood tests are done for another reason as well, namely to test for blood type, including Rh factor.

Rh factor was first isolated from rabbits inoculated with rhesus (hence Rh) monkey blood. It turns out that 85 percent of the population tests positively for the Rh antigen in their red blood cells (i.e., they're Rh-positive). The other 15 percent are Rh-negative. If you are an Rh-negative female and your husband is Rh-positive, as revealed by your premarital blood test, you run the risk of having an Rh-positive child. If so, you would produce antibodies against your own child's blood. The first child might be anemic, and a second or third might well die in utero or soon after birth (erythroblastosis fetalis). If you are planning to have children it is important to know if you are Rh-positive or negative so the proper precautions may be taken. --G. Dellaire, Department of Medicine, McGill University, Toronto

Rh testing is not the reason most states require premarital blood tests. According to the most recent list I have, Rh testing is required only in Colorado. No question it's a good idea though.

--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.

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

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