How do they "draw" the winners of contests when you submit entries over the Internet? Do they print them out and actually draw a name or is it done by a computer program? -- J.K.L., of Belleville
If you ever need a random flip of a coin, roll of the dice or deal of the cards, you might try a site called, oddly enough, random.org. (I'm sure there are countless others, but this was the first one I stumbled across.)
In the summer of 1997, a small group in Dublin, Ireland, was starting an online gambling site. And to run a reputable site, the folks knew they needed a way to generate true random numbers.
"We decided that a radio picking up atmospheric noise was a cheap and elegant way to gather entropy for random number generation," they say on their Web site. So they went to Radio Shack to spend $10 on the cheapest, noisiest radio receiver they could find.
Now, nearly 20 years later, they offer a site that anyone can use free of charge to generate random events of chance. For example, you can flip dozens of coins -- your choice of modern or ancient -- at once, roll up to 60 dice or draw a given number of cards from up to eight combined decks.
In a sense, radio station KMOX tells me, that's how picking a winner in a contest run over the Internet works. All entries are submitted to a third-party company (Triton in KMOX's case), which compiles them in their specially programmed computer.
Then, at the end of the contest, someone who handles the contests at KMOX pushes a button and the computer randomly spits out the winners. So, no, there's certainly none of the muss and fuss of printing out thousands of names, cutting them up and then drawing one out of a hat.
"We just basically hit a random selector button, and it chooses a winner for us," a station spokeswoman told me. "It kind of keeps us out of any kind of legal difficulties that might be presented from us just randomly picking somebody. It's a little more scientific and it's out of our hands basically."
Can you tell me who Jan on the Toyota commercials is? She kinda looks familiar, but I can't place her. -- Tom Greene, of O'Fallon
If you watch a lot of TV and can remember faces after a brief glance or two, you may remember her.
She's Laurel Coppock and, since 2007, she has enjoyed bit parts on more than a dozen TV shows, including "2 Broke Girls," "The Office," "Modern Family" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Her only movie credit, however, seems to be as Sophia in the 2011 flick "Crazy, Stupid, Love."
Other than pushing Toyotas, her major claim to fame currently seems to be as a member of the main company of The Groundlings improvisational and sketch comedy troupe and school in Los Angeles.
I thought I remembered you recently writing about someone who repairs antique watches. I have such a watch from my husband's grandfather and now I'd like to fix it up for my husband's eldest son. Any recommendations? -- V.H.S., of Belleville
You're probably remembering the stories we did this year on Stephanie Frankhauser, who decided she wanted to learn the business after her daughter had knocked a cuckoo clock off the wall and broke it while cleaning it.
Unfortunately for you, while Stephanie will change a battery, she does not work on mechanical watches. Neither does Keil's Clock Shop.
So it's probably time to visit a downtown Belleville institution -- George Blanquart Jewelers at 111 E. Main St., which says it will be glad to take a look at your family heirloom if you bring it in.
Otherwise, you might consider places like Timekeepers, which has been handling vintage timepieces in St. Louis since 1979 (17 N. Meramec in Clayton, www.timekeepersclayton.com) or even shipping it off to Govberg in Philadelphia (govbergwatchrepair.com), which says it has Swiss-educated watchmakers on site.
Here's hoping someone will be able to keep it ticking for generations to come.
What state apparently owes its name for having been discovered during the Easter season?
Answer to Wednesday's trivia: "Hello, Dolly, this is Louis, Dolly ... " When legendary jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong rode that Broadway showpiece to No. 1 in June 1964, he stunned the music world in more ways than one. Not only did he become the oldest artist ever to top the Billboard pop charts in the rock era (62 years, 9 months and 5 days), but he also bumped the Beatles out of first place for the first time in 14 weeks. It was the Grammy Song of the Year that year, and Armstrong won the Grammy for best male vocal performance. Satchmo died of a heart attack in his sleep on July 6, 1971, just a month before his 70th birthday.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-239-2465.