Thinking Makes It So: Neruda's nitrogen base composition

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By Kelly LeVan

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column about Pablo Neruda, the greatest poet who ever lived, according to Gabriel Garca Mrquez, not according to me. Mrquez has more authority on the matter, what with a canon of extremely popular published books to his name, and me with my long-ish list of Monitor page 4s. So we’ll just assume he’s right, while silently TP-ing Neruda’s soul in our minds.Anyhow, in that particular “Thinking Makes It So,” I spoke at some length of a treasure I found, of all places, in a book of Neruda’s love sonnets. It is a piece of scrap paper containing a few handwritten lines of Neruda’s poetry in pink cursive, and a couple of questions about DNA, maybe practice questions for a test.I described one of the questions previously. I didn’t mention the second, because I have no idea what the answer is and I wanted to sound smart.Today, however, I don’t mind revealing my ignorance. I’m too exhausted from learning the addresses of all my East-Coast relatives and hanging around various shipping centers. My guard is down.So, here it is: “Which of the following is an acceptable nitrogen base composition for double-stranded DNA?” The four answer choices offer various percentages beside their respective As, Ts, Cs and Gs, the four DNA bases.I discussed the possibilities with Michael one recent stamp-filled evening, as well as the grand idea of framing this little scrap of ephemera, and/or working it into a collage with other “Thinking” memorabilia, such as a transcription of a George Carlin bit sent in several weeks ago by one of my sleuthy, less shy readers – or perhaps even the stunning solution to the library hunt I set recently in motion through the columns.As you’ll remember, the objective is to find a snippet of famous poetry I hid.I’m still waiting, wondering anxiously if I wrote too ambiguous a clue or if nobody but me finds the idea of sifting through a stack of library books, praying for a piece of paper to slip out, exciting.I will offer one slightly more overt, clue-like clue, just in case someone needs it: Imagine that our first president confessed to chopping down a single tree, when he had really chopped down a whole arbor, and then think of a playwright who might have found such a story superficially inspiring.Finally, look in the book next-door, or thereabouts, I can’t quite remember.Should nobody respond to my challenge within the next two weeks, I’ll chalk the hunt up as one of those endeavors people love to do in the absence of holiday shopping and shipping and sipping and plopping. I’m tired, too. I understand.Back to the first question on the Neruda scrap. Michael and did not know the answer. For several minutes, we sort of thought nitrogen had its own DNA. We considered whether we’d ever heard of nitrogen-based organisms.We drew double-stranded diagrams and bragged about the only fact we knew, that A went with T, and C with G. We eliminated choice B, which featured a U. Michael narrowed it down to C or D, based on basic test-taking skills, but I held fast to A, arguing something about complements.“Impossible,” Michael said handsomely.We knew nothing, but had a very pleasant conversation, full of heartfelt reasoning and serious listening faces.Every time I think about it, I’m so happy I opened that Neruda book. He might not be the best poet who ever lived, but he has, albeit indirectly, brightened my exhausted holiday self.Merry Christmas to all (even Neruda) and – here’s the important part – to all a good night.

E-mail Kelly your stunning solutions at laeditor@ lamonitor.com. She will not respond until after New Year’s, as she will be on vacation, but her e-mail will be scrutinized.