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While leaving Las Vegas the last few times, I've noticed a sign for Zzyzx Road. How do you pronounce this word and what does it mean? I have a feeling it's Las Vegan for "sucker." Please check your Funk & Alice dictionary.

-- Mark, Escondido

Once again, not a bad guess. The word Zzyzx (Zeye-zix) means nothing, but the area was a sucker magnet for 30 years. It's officially Soda Springs, at the edge of a dry lakebed. Historically, it was a small fresh-water source used by local Indians. This attracted the attention of a stage line, then the U.S. cavalry, so they booted the Indians out and set up shop. By the late '40s it wasn't much of anything, so a radio evangelist leased the joint from the bureau of mines. He built a health spa (much of it still standing) using labor he conscripted from the taverns and gutters of San Pedro, hauling them back to Zzyzx in his big yellow bus. By the time they sobered up, they were out in the Mojave making adobe. The main street through town was named the Boulevard of Dreams, another Las Vegas touch.

Curtis Springer was his name. He taped his L.A.-broadcast shows out there, administered Epsom salt-based elixirs to the thousands who flocked to his "mineral springs" for a cure, and hawked Hollywood Pep Tonic, Antediluvian Desert Herb Tea, and his "Seven-Day Cleansing Plan." He also concocted the name Zzyzx "so he would always have the last word." The FDA caught up with him in the 1970s, gave him some jail time, and Springer died in relative obscurity, appropriately enough, in Las Vegas. The site is now a center for desert studies, frequented by biologists, volcanologists, and other ologists and administered by the California State University system.

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