Player of the Day

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Age: 51.

Appearance: Easy-to-understand flip-chart device from a middle-management conference.

Say, what time is it? Five minutes later than it was. The group of atomic scientists that run the clock decided Thursday to move it forward -- from 14 minutes to midnight to nine minutes to midnight.

And midnight would be? Bigger than El Niño, baby. The big mushroom cloud in the sky.

We're nine minutes to nuclear Armageddon? Head for the hills!It's not that bad. Back in 1953, with the U.S. and Soviets breathing H-bombs down each other's necks, the clock stood at two minutes to.

Wait a minute. This is a clock that can move forward and back? Sure can. Why, only seven years ago, in the post-Cold War glow, Doomsday was a comfortable 17 minutes away.

So what happened? Well, you know, delays in arms reduction treaties and an increase in the amount of weapons-grade plutonium floating around. Plus, of course, the small matter of India and Pakistan playing toss-the-nuke.

Do say: "With early ratification of START II and global acceptance of the Test Ban Treaty, we could move back to 11:30."

Don't say: "Wake me up when it's quarter past one."