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Dear Almighty Matt:

Okay, here's the deal. I, along with many of my fellow Americans, have a strange fascination with beer. I mean, what's better than beer? Not much. Well, the other night I was once again enjoying a healthy dosage of my favorite brew when I noticed something. There were small Braille sequences on the bottom rim of the bottle. This was not a concern at first, until I started to examine other bottles that we had lying around. All the sequences were different on different brands. Some of the same brands from the same case are all different. This is really starting to bother me, as I cannot even hold a bottle in my hand anymore without trying to figure it out. What do they mean? Are they the name of the beer? Or the price? Do blind people read them in order to determine what they are drinking? Perhaps they are really the map to some treasure or the secret of the universe. Either way, I don't think I will be able to rest until I know.

John, Chula Vista

What a charming picture you paint of your living quarters. And why should our fascination with beer be strange? It's cheap, it's legal, it gets you stoned. What's so strange about that? And, no, the little dots aren't there as a guide for people who get blind drunk.

Real-world factlet: Beer-makers make beer. Beer-bottle makers make beer bottles and sell them to people who make beer. So, as we found out, brewers don't know what the little dots are either. According to our friends at Owens-Brockway, makers of lots and lots of bottles for lots and lots of beer companies, the string of tiny lumps is a binary or hex code (depending on manufacturer) that indicates in which set of molds the bottle was made. It's for quality control, so if a lot of defective bottles are coming off the line, they'll know where to start looking for the problem. Bottles from a single manufacturer will have many different dot patterns, so by the time the product gets to you, you probably have bottles from various parts of the manufacturing grid and therefore various dot patterns.

To translate the code into useable information, the bottle-maker illuminates the bumplets, then scans them with a light meter hooked to a computer. Newer technology allows printed codes to be scanned directly, so you�ll eventually see fewer dots and more readable letters and numbers. And now that I've answered that one, let me save you 39 cents and answer your next question. Beer bottles have concave or lumpy or otherwise marked-up bottoms to keep the wet glass from creating a vacuum when it's placed on a flat surface, so you don't lift the table off the floor when you pick up your drink. By the way, if you had anything in glass in your house besides brew, you'd note that the dot codes are ubiquitous, not just a beer thang.

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