Today, Answer Man allows readers to punch him around a little bit, take him to task, twist his nose and toss the occasional brickbat.

Regular readers will recall that last week's column about an odd concrete structure in the Potomac River mentioned both a stray hyphen in a road sign about the Potomac Gorge and something described as the "Jennings-Randolph" Reservoir. Ben Shore of Arlington wrote:

"I applauded your spotting of the 'unfortunate' hyphen in the sign on Chain Bridge. But, unfortunately again, it's not the Jennings-Randolph Reservoir. Sen. Jennings Randolph was quite good at keeping the West Virginia tradition of bringing home the pork very much alive."

Bill Sonnik of the Potomac Fish and Game Club in Williamsport, Md., also wrote to set the record straight: "Answer Man was guilty of something he found fault with: 'that little hyphen' that he found unfortunate in a sign. He mentioned earlier in the article about the 'Jennings-Randolph Reservoir on the West Virginia-Maryland border.' Actually Jennings Randolph is the full name of the late Senator Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.) and the dam and reservoir were named after him."

Or, as Robert Tiller of Silver Spring put it: "Like most of us, [Jennings Randolph] never used a hyphen between his first name and his last name." (Yeah, well, what about Ann-Margret?)

In any event, Answer Man must reset the sign he keeps in his office, the one that said: "173 Days Since the Last Embarrassing Error."

Cursing the Darkness? No, the Light

Several readers thought Answer Man's Nov. 7 column about the interesting colored lights that adorn various area buildings was not critical enough of these pulsating and throbbing features.

These lights, wrote Jane Gailey of Springfield, are "light pollution" and obscure such "sublime lights as the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy."

Wesley Mathews Jr. of Arlington bemoaned how wasteful these and other lights are, how they consume energy at a time when energy is in shorter and shorter supply. "Your grandchildren and my great grandchildren will consider us criminals," Wesley wrote, for the profligate way we burn through oil.

Light pollution is an increasing problem, said David Crawford, executive director of the Tucson-based International Dark-Sky Association (and, yes, that hyphen is part of the name).

"Clearly in Washington years ago, people could see many of the brightest stars," said David. "Now they can't. You used to be able to drive down the street without being blinded by glare."

He said that designers may claim that the colored light they bathe various features in is meant to be artistic, but it's really marketing, just an attempt to draw attention to the building, as surely as if it were a billboard or an overlit gas station.

Jeff Gerwing, one of the lighting designers at the architectural firm Smith Group, who designed Silver Spring's Discovery Communications building, defended his work, saying he and his colleagues tried hard to control the direction and quantity of light, selecting fixtures that cast light in long, narrow patterns, "as opposed to a bank of floodlights that throws light everywhere."

Reader Elizabeth Perry said the blue lighted box atop 1625 I St. NW ruins "an otherwise stunning view across the Ellipse from the Washington Monument. . . . Why is light permitted? Aren't there any regulations that preserve historic views?"

Yes, there are. And while the light at 1625 I St. satisfies the letter of the law, some people think it violates the spirit of the law. In 2003, Charles C. Atherton, then the secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, told a Washington Post reporter that although the lighted cube isn't prominent enough to detract from nighttime views of the capital's monuments, it sets a questionable precedent.

"If the skyline gets many more of these, the Capitol Dome is going to be diminished, there's no doubt about it," he said. "It obviously is going to compete with our national symbols. So it worries me a little bit."

The building is just outside the panel's jurisdiction, so the commission couldn't pull the plug on the light. But the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board got involved because the building is next to the Army and Navy Club, a protected D.C. landmark. The board ruled that the design of the new building, which called for the cube to be placed at 160 feet, would not have a negative impact on the club.

The city's height limit is 130 feet, except for a section of Pennsylvania Avenue NW around the Willard hotel. But city zoning regulations allow "spires, towers, domes, pinnacles or minarets" -- along with penthouses containing service equipment -- to rise above that.

"If it is not occupiable space, if it is an architectural embellishment, it is allowed," D.C. state historic preservation officer Lisa Burcham said in 2003.

Answer Man was in the space, and he would definitely not want to occupy it. Unless he was able to wear sunglasses.

Send your Washington-related questions to, or write John Kelly, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include your name and the name of the town you live in.