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Dear Matthew Alice:

Today my boss asked me to fax something to Canada. I didn't have to dial the international code. Why is Canada so special?

-- Jamie Reeves, downtown

Hey, Matt:

This bugs me. Every time I call a number using an old area code, say 614, I get this recording that says, "The area code has been changed to 325. Please hang up and redial using area code 325." Then, just when my short-term memory is maxed trying to remember that new area code, the recording says something like "6142T." The tone of this last part sounds like a sneak comment, like when a car leasing company puts all the "special conditions" at the end of a radio ad. What is the meaning of this?

-- Joe via electro-mail

Dear Matt:

Would you and your elves know anything about that most mysterious of answering machine messages that begins, "If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try again"? It is despised and found a nuisance by those on whose answering machines they keep appearing.

-- Max, Clairemont

Max, blame your answering machine. The irritating message from the phone co just means your line is still active, though there's nobody at the other end. They've hung up, your answering machine hasn't. It also kicks in if you hang up your phone but don't get it back the right way in the base. It keeps your line from ringing busy until you discover there's a problem. Joe's 6142T is an identifying code for the error message you've just heard. Other messages have other codes. If you have a problem, you give them the error-code message, and they can troubleshoot problems faster.

And for Jamie, Canada is special for so many reasons... F'rinstance, where would American sketch comedy be today without, say, Kids in the Hall and John Candy and all those jolly Great White Northerners on SCTV? But anyway, in the big world of international numbering, Canada, the U.S., and a few shady offshore Caribbean Islands are all part of the North American code area, administered telephonically as a single "country." This may be Canada's worst nightmare come true. From our point of view, it makes it slightly faster to dial up the Yukon or St. Kitts. But if you're faxing something from Vatican City to Saskatchewan, the country code you dial is 1.

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