Exactly 10 to the 10th power … give or take

All-Knowing One, I don’t believe I have ever seen this question asked before. What is the approximate number of possible combinations involving the 10-digit telephone numbering system? Thank you. — D.F., Lake City

I love questions that are fraught with ambiguities and caveats. The easy answer is, there are 10 billion possible combinations, or 10 to the 10th power. But in reality, area codes don’t begin with the number 0 or 1, nor do the "exchange" numbers (the first three digits of the local number), so that reduces the possible combinations to 6.4 billion, by my estimate.

Thanks to D.F. for asking for the "approximate" number ... I’m assuming a few of my math-oriented readers will gently correct my approximation.

Dear Answer Man, I’ve been wondering something for a while. Most processed foods list among their ingredients something called "natural flavors." Just what IS this stuff anyway?

According to federal code, "the term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive," yada, yada, yada, which means according to skeptics that just about anything can be described as a "natural" flavoring. Natural and organic food advocates say this is a truth-in-marketing loophole that’s roughly the size of the Grand Canyon.


Hello, Answer Man! What is the law and what can be done about panhandlers on the street corners in Rochester? Can we call police to have them removed? What can we as citizens do to stop this practice in Rochester?

We contribute to various charitable organizations in Rochester, though we get disgusted by the sign-carrying panhandlers throughout the city. — Concerned Rochester Citizen

First things first: The euphemism "panhandler" is apparently an American invention from the late 19th century, possibly referring to the beggar’s extended arm looking like a panhandle.

Rochester Police Lt. John Edwards says there’s no ordinance regarding "panhandling" or begging, but if the person is being disorderly, causing a disturbance, obstructing traffic or making a racket, police will check them out. "We’ll basically talk to them, find out who they are, check them for warrants" and make sure they aren’t causing trouble, Edwards says, but otherwise police can’t even really suggest they move along.

"The only time we really get a call is when they’re out in the median at a traffic light" or in other ways endangering themselves or others, he says.

How to respond to "panhandlers"? It’s all situational, in my book, but Major Jim Frye of the Salvation Army in Rochester says he’ll refer people to his organization, Dorothy Day House or other agencies that help.

Dear AnswerMagic, do the movie theaters in Rochester that have digital projection get their movies via satellite or on disk? — Best Boy

The digital movies at the Galaxy 14 cineplex in Rochester are downloaded from a big bird high up in the sky.


The Answer Man downloads information from his brain every Friday in the Post-Bulletin. Send questions to or P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903.

What To Read Next
Get Local