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Dear Matt:

What's the deal with this knack we humans have for hearing a song, especially a really annoying one, and then going around with it playing in our heads all day? And why does it only happen with music? Why not replay episodes of "The Simpsons" instead?

-- Kristina, San Diego

We know the agony, Kristina. A few years ago we lost three elves to the Barney theme song. Just collapsed at their desks. We looked for answers, but science was busy with something else, I guess. They've wised up since then, but the field is still ripe for a definitive study. We might subconsciously connect note patterns and rhythms with the familiar rhythm of our heartbeat; that's one theory about music's power. It's all very subconscious. But at least we now have an official name for the condition: stuck song syndrome; the offending ditty is called an earworm. And wouldn't you know, it was a professor of marketing who did the investigation. An effective commercial jingle is one that clings to our brain's music sectors and won't let go

A company claims their computer program can grind out pop music hits based on common top-ten musical characteristics. If the corporate juggernaut breaks the earworm code, we're doomed. Please sing the following to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands."

If your brain's clogged with an earworm that won't die,

You most likely are a gal, researchers sigh.

Women suffer more than men do,

Though it's also bad for those who

Are musicians or neurotics. Who knows why?

Very simple, repetitious tunes will stick.

If the song has lyrics, that will do the trick.

And a quirky pattern's helpful,

(Pink Floyd's "Money," for example),

To dislodge it, hit your forehead with a brick.

Music kicks us in a very primal part.

But the same cannot be said for Marge and Bart.

They are visual, not aural.

Smells have power too. Our moral?

The most magical of all must be a fart.

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