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AFTER MONTHS of having to lick B-bearing...


AFTER MONTHS of having to lick B-bearing tulips while unsuccessfully trying to master the 29-cent table, it's a pleasure to have some artful, if not mathematical, choices these days.

Pop quiz: 10 x 29 cents= ? Easy math. It's $2.90. But what a nuisance to buy just 10 at a time for home or business use. (First-class stamps is what we're writing about, if you're trying to figure that out.)

So, finally, government printers caught up with the Postal Rate Commission's decision about how we Americans couldn't cope with 30-cent stamps. At last, we could buy real 29-cent stamps bearing your basic, waving American flag. Artfully patriotic, sure, although as a stamp, dull, dull, dull. Just about any Third World nation routinely prints prettier stamps, but they're tough to buy and don't cut it in America's domestic mail system.

15 x $.29 = ? C'mon! What normal citizen can figure that one out standing in a post office line, lacking a calculator? (It's $4.35, in case you've frozen mid-paragraph.)

Then, tempus fugit some more, and art-wise, we could choose between flag or wood duck 29s. The ducks are neat, because the fowl are so colorful and not many of us ever see the real thing up close. Except that gummed-back ducks are the same tiny, fumbly size as flags.

25 x $.29 = ? While you chew on that, note that one Baltimore-area postal clerk has mastered much of the 29-cent table, which made for an amusing moment of post office chit-chat while researching this piece. (Answer: $7.25. Not bad.)

Art-wise, the best news stamp-wise is we have multiple first-class choices again. Recommended is the new, colorful, non-fumbly U.S. Olympics team 29er, sales of which, depending on the stamp you get, will no doubt encourage our nation's pole vaulters, sprinters, hurdlers, discus and javelin throwers.

31 x $.29 = $8.99. That one's a postal curiosity, in case you're wondering. It's as close as you can come on a normal stamp "buy" to giving a postal clerk even bills and getting only stamps in return.

Other artful offerings among 29s, if you haven't visited your post office recently, include one honoring the Desert Shield/Desert Storm effort, some sort of globally blue statement about Love, and a sop to Walt Whitman. (Match that, you Third-World stamp designers. Choice, that's what America is about.)

Aw, bag the math. Just ask for $10 worth of 29s. That approach has drawbacks, too. First, you reveal that you don't know your 29-cent table, so you might feel a bit sheepish. Second, what do you want -- 34 29s, which totals, uh, $9.86? Or how about 35 29s, which works out to $10.15 and can be covered easily if you're carrying normal change?

Nuts. Next time, just go to a bank before you hit the post office, then ask for a sheet of 40 29s, hand over a 20 and let the clerk figure it out. Which means you should get your stamps plus $8.40. Which begs the question, dear students, of how much is 40 x 29 cents?

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