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Hey, Matt:

About a year ago on the radio there was a call-in trivia question that went something like this. "Every year, the average person eats four of these in their sleep." The answer was spiders. I heard it again the other day when my daughter came home and said one of her teachers told her that if you sleep with your mouth open, spiders will crawl in there when you are sleeping. He also told her that the average person swallows up to four a year. I spent the day looking it up on the web, and the only information I could find on the subject said it was an urban legend. Do you or your elves have any information on the subject?

-- Grossed Out in Clairemont

Adults with heads full of nonsense are par for the course here. Most of us can walk around without getting hit by falling anvils or disappearing into a manhole even though everything we know is wrong. But when adult nonsense is forced on children, well, we have to protest. We're not talking about the traditional idiocy from textbooks. We mean stuff like this spider factoid that's just so cool that you have to tell as many other people as you can.

Your daughter must have heard one of the early versions of this spider-swallowing urban legend. Other versions say 10, 30, or 57. That 57 must have something to do with ketchup, but we'd rather not think about it. My favorite versions include extra scientific detail to throw skeptics off the track momentarily: the spiders are "microscopic"; they crawl in your mouth because spiders like warm, dark, moist places; and the original study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Official-sounding bunk is still bunk.

But, hey, we'll bite. Let's find the call-in trivia show and try to track back the source. Mike Cook hosts Hooked on Trivia on KFMB-AM, the only such show in our market. Mike can tell you who co-starred with John Barrymore in Hold That Co-ed, but he's never heard the spider story. Terry Ford, who runs the FunTrivia website -- a treasure chest of irrelevancies -- says the story is posted hundreds of times a month by visitors, and he dutifully edits them out. "Ask yourself," he says with as much pique as you can muster in an e-mail, "what would you use to measure this phenomenon, a mouth spiderometer?" The elves and I suggest that anyone sleeping with his/her mouth open would be snoring like a moose and would likely scare off any spiders within earshot.

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