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Pintchik Oracle

One day in 2003, an old-fashioned wooden box telephone appeared at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Bergen Street in New York. On the dial was written "The Pintchik Oracle," and, below that, a psychedelic sticker asked, "Do you have a question? Don't be afraid and speak clearly. Say your name, ask a question." Across from the phone, above Pintchik's Hardware, a black electronic billboard spanned twenty feet of the store's yellow-painted brick facade, spawning red letters like Space Invaders. The Oracle (Jonathan Safran Foer) would sit by a window in an upstairs office, typing answers to questions on a laptop. When Foer was on call, the Oracle's interpreter, Dean Olsher (the host of the public-radio show "The Next Big Thing"), would stand by the telephone with a radio microphone, urging bystanders to make a call.

"I used to be a dancer," one woman told the Oracle. "You have a dancer's body," Foer replied. "I will hum if you will dance." "I think the Oracle is coming on to you," Olsher interjected. "It's safe," Foer typed. "I'm just an electronic sign. And I use surge protection..."

Foer was once stumped by a question, and awarded the questioner a twenty-dollar gift certificate to Pintchik's Hardware. The man's query? "Why do men have nipples?"

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