Recently in the Games Category

Unfortunate Forever Stamps

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I'm guessing most Americans know by now that the US Postal Service sells “Forever Stamps”; you buy a Forever Stamp at today's first-class one-ounce stamp price, and it will be good for the first ounce of regular first-class postage forever. And instead of a price on the face of the stamp, it says the word “forever.”

Which can result in interesting juxtapositions with the subject matter of the stamp.

Many such juxtapositions can be seen as reasonable declarations of, or hopes for, the longevity of the subject. For example, the Forever Stamp with the word “Freedom” on it seems like a reasonable thing to hope for. And the Forever Stamp with a picture of Dumbledore on it seems like a nice way to declare your interests.

But I recently got a sheet of stamps titled Made in America: Building a Nation, featuring black and white photos honoring America's industrial workers. As Lewis Hine, one of the featured photographers, wrote, “I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected[, and] I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.”

And sure, it's great to express an interest in remembering our industrial workers forever. But it nonetheless felt a little weird to me to use a stamp that showed (for example) a millinery apprentice, who I suspect did a lot of hard work for not much pay, with the word “forever” on it.

So I started wondering what more-unfortunate things stamps could show with the word “forever.”

But before I could post asking for suggestions, I came up with an answer that I think will be hard to top:

A 1984 stamp. With the words “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face.” And then the denomination “forever.”

...Still, I welcome other suggestions. And while I'm here, I may as well link to my similarly-themed license-plate-slogan challenge from 1997.

Fake Ludlum titles

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Nice list of winners of Slate's 2012 Fake Robert Ludlum Title contest, along with notes on Salman Rushdie's Ludlumization of Shakespeare plays.

Commas, multiple

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The following sentence contains a comma after every word:

Ahead, Edmund, inevitably, lurked.

I'm not saying it's a good sentence, but I believe it to be grammatical.

So what's the longest sentence you can construct that has a comma after every word, while maintaining grammatical accuracy?

More generally, how about the longest sentence in which every word has some punctuation mark after it, even if they aren't all the same mark?

Let them eat...


Mary Anne was talking about eating cake the night before surgery. I noted that cake is the best medicine.

Which led me to think there could be a whole series of proverbs with “cake” substituted in, along the lines of the Star Warspants” meme (that linked-to Words & Stuff column is NSFW; the pants quotes are at the end of it).

So I came up with the following:

  • Cake is a dish best served cold.
  • Red cake at morning, sailors take warning; red cake at night, sailors delight.
  • A cat may look at a cake.
  • All cake comes to he (or she) who waits.
  • All that glisters is not cake.
  • An army marches on its cake.
  • You made your cake; now you have to lie in it.
  • Half a cake is better than none.
  • You can't make a cake without breaking a few eggs.
  • Cake is wasted on the young.
  • Misery loves cake.

Eric Z replied with a comment about “the boy who cried cake.”

And then Shmuel took the idea and ran with it:

  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of cake.
  • It was the best of cake, it was the worst of cake.
  • Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover cake.
  • They say when cake comes close ranks, and so the white people did.
  • There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved cake.
  • He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the cake which swung from the rafters.
  • Cake, light of my life, fire of my loins . . .

As Mary Anne noted, that last one may be hard to top.

However, I invite y'all to try, or at least to have fun with the idea. Take a well-known phrase, saying, or quotation, substitute in “cake” for one or more words, and post it as a comment here.

Okay to make slight alterations to make the grammar come out right, make it funnier, or otherwise improve the MFQ, but try to stick close to the original where possible.

A sign to help with the alphabet game


The alphabet game involves trying to find a written instance of each letter of the alphabet while traveling by car. Sometimes the rules require that the letters appear only on license plates (so it's also known as "the license plate game"); sometimes they can also appear on any sign or other textual context.

The blog Oddly Specific provides a photo of a road sign in Wyoming that helps out travelers who are stuck in the game.

Boggle poetry


I've been playing an iPhone game called Befuddled that lets you find words in a grid, sort of Boggle-style (but a much bigger grid and with many many complications). It's got me thinking about words in letter grids, and this evening the idea popped into my head that one could write poetry of a sort in the form of a letter grid.

For example, the following Boggle board:


could be read as a vaguely romantic exhortation to a beloved seamstress or seamster:



(Perhaps you can tell by now that this entry is not entirely serious.)

Of course, one problem with this sort of poetry is that all sorts of other words also appear in the grid, such as:

  • SURD
  • USED

Still, I'm intrigued by the possibilities of the form.

So today's challenge is to create poetry (by some definition) in the form of a letter grid. The grid can be any size you like, but if you're looking for constraints, stick with 4x4 or 5x5. The words should be findable using standard Boggle letter-connection rules. (That is: to get to the next letter of the word, move one space in any horizontal or diagonal direction, without repeating letters within a given word.) Words can be of any length, in any language, and proper nouns are allowed.

The words of your poem don't have to appear in any sort of connected order (that is, the end of one word doesn't have to be next to the start of the next), and it's fine for multiple words to use the same letter or letters (as long as no letter is used more than once within a single word).

Your poem does not have to rhyme or scan, but bonus points if it does. Even more bonus points if it also manages to make sense.

If poetry is not your thing, feel free to try for a coherent prose sentence.

Post your grid in comments on this entry (or in your own blog, if you prefer, but in that case link to it from a comment here).

You can format your grid using an HTML table, but that's kind of a pain to write; you can also just post it as a series of lines. But put blank lines between them or the comment system will combine them onto one line.

You can choose to either explicitly mention the intended words of the poem in your comment, or hold off and let people guess. I suspect guessing will be rather difficult, though.

New iPhone word game

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Some day I'll review various iPhone word games that I like; in particular, Jumbline (also available in a free lite version) was my favorite until now.

And it's still pretty cool. But what I'm posting about today is a new one: Befuddled. (On sale right now for 99¢, to celebrate the release of their Spanish-language version, Aturdiras.)

You find words in a grid, Boggle-style. But the grid is large (8x8), and when you find a word, the letters are removed from the grid, and the letters above them drop down a row, and new letters are added at the top. (Also, there's no timer; you can take as long as you want.)

And there are a bunch of elaborations—for example, the letter tiles are made of various materials, and a word must be made up only of one material. And you get "coins" that let you buy various special actions, like a bomb to remove tiles.

It all may turn out to be too complicated for my tastes in the end. But what I'm really liking about it right now is that you can strategically pick words that cause other tiles to fall into the right places to make some great words.

For example, I just arranged things to allow me to spell CASUISTRY, for 4,984 points, and I am mighty pleased with myself as a result.

House rules, part 4

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I've previously posted various fortune-cookie fortunes that I find entertaining when you add ". . . in bed" to the end:

While cleaning my room this past week, I came across a bunch more than I've collected in recent years. (For two-sentence fortunes, usually insert "in bed" at the end of the first sentence.)

  • Care and attention to the key relationships in your life will pay off.
  • Concentration leads to success.
  • Contentment is just around the corner for you.
  • Do something unusual tomorrow.
  • Don't be so critical and overly concerned about details.
  • Flowers would brighten the day of your close friend tomorrow.
  • A friend or partner will be giving you needed information. Listen!
  • Friends long absent are coming back to you.
  • If a true sense of value is to be yours it must come through service.
  • Investigate new possibilities with friends. Now is the time!
  • It's kind of fun to do the impossible.
  • Learn to listen, not hear.
  • No obstacles will stand in the way of your success this month.
  • Now is the time to call loved ones at a distance. Share your news.
  • The philosophy of one century is the common sense of the next.
  • Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought.
  • Time is what keeps things from happening all at once.
  • Try something new and different. You will like the results.
  • The world is always ready to receive talent with open arms.
  • You are thorough and very organized.
  • You will be happily surprised by a long time friend.
  • You will be selected for a promotion because of your accomplishments.
  • You will be showered with good luck before your next birthday. (A separate fortunate was less specific about time: it just said "You will be showered with good luck.")
  • You will enjoy razor-sharp spiritual vision today.
  • You will stumble into the happiness of your life.
  • Your hard work is about to pay off.

And my favorite from this batch:

Put the data you have uncovered to beneficial use.

(I've now collected all the fortunes from all the abovelinked pages, as well as these new ones, in a new page: Fortunes collection.)

Latest spam subject lines

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My favorite spam subject lines of the day:


the social networking site no one else knows about

Now I want to generalize that to a sort of a game: take a positive attribute that one might use to praise one thing, come up with a different thing that turns that attribute negative. "shimmering vermilion milk," say, or "waterproof breakfast cereal."

Anyway, the other spam subject line of the day, in a totally different vein:

Women will be your resigned slaves

Somehow I think "resigned" isn't really the word they had in mind, but I'm amused by the image. I'm thinking of a harem full of women sitting around, bored, rolling their eyes at every command given them by the hapless slave master. "~Yes, 'master'~," they say sarcastically. "I suppose I'll wash your feet. If I must. Sigh."

The interior of that one was funny, too:

Your woman will be shocked by your fang's astonishing progress.

Go, fang!

Online Encore


Are y'all familiar with the game "Encore"? There's a boardgame version of it, but I first encountered it as a parlor game (not sure which version came first), in which one person suggests a word and other people try to come up with a song whose lyrics contain that word.

But just thinking of the song isn't enough; for it to count, someone has to be able to sing at least eight consecutive words of the song, including the specified word.

Depending on how you're playing, players can take turns trying to come up with more songs that contain the given word, until nobody can think of any more. To make it more challenging, you can set a time limit. In the boardgame, for example, players are divided into two teams, and after being assigned a word (from a deck of cards), the teams take turns coming up with songs for that word; the first team that can't come up with a song within 30 seconds loses that round.

The game can be fun and challenging even with pretty common words--it can be hard to mentally search through the songs you know to find one that contains the given word, and it's harder to do so within a time limit, and then you have to remember enough of the lyrics to count, and you have to sing them. And then you (or others, depending on what rules you're using) have to keep doing that, coming up with different songs with the same word.

But one of the things that appeals to me most about the game in the abstract (though this makes it a rather different game, and probably less fun to play in person) is coming up with words that don't appear in very many songs--possibly even a word that's a hapax legomenon within the space of all song lyrics. I mean, okay, there are really an awful lot of songs, so the chances of a given word appearing in only one are very low. But when I hear a particularly unusual word in a song, I often think "That would be a good Encore word."

As noted above, this version of the game would probably be no fun in person. It essentially amounts to "I've got a song in mind; guess what it is!" There would be long pauses while everyone thought; it would become a game of silence rather than of song.

But I think it might be fun in an online version, where there's no time limit. If it helps, think of this as a puzzle rather than as a game.

So: For each of the below-listed words, come up with a song whose lyrics contain the word.

As with Encore, for it to count, you have to be able to sing eight consecutive words of the song (including the specified word). The singing part is on the honor system; we won't know whether you have the tune right, but as you type the words into a comment, try singing them to yourself.

Also, at least one other player has to be familiar with the song for it to count.

No using Google, your music library, or other aide-mémoire.

And no cheating, unless it will make the game more fun for everyone. (For example, if you want to write a song that uses these words, you can break the "one other player has to know it" rule. But if you're gonna do that, try to use at least two of the words, and do tell us that the song is by you. And come up with a tune for it; I don't think it counts if you just use the words in a poem.)

Note that I have a specific song in mind for each of these, but I imagine that there's more than one song for most of them; any song that contains the word counts. Which is good, because some of the songs I have in mind are fairly obscure. Though I'm pretty sure that for each song, at least one of my regular readers knows the song.

Added later: I've adopted a variation of Vardibidian's notation system: boldface for words nobody's found yet; strikethrough for words where someone's come up with the same song I was thinking of; italics for words where someone's come up with a different song; italic strikethrough when both my song and another song have been found.

  • adorn
  • blazing
  • cellar
  • defied
  • embers
  • frequently
  • gavel
  • happens
  • incidents
  • judgment
  • kangaroo
  • longitudes
  • monarch
  • NYPD
  • observe
  • perpendicular
  • quarter
  • resist
  • sacrificial
  • tranquility
  • unexpectedly
  • vittles
  • whom
  • XII (yes, this one's silly, but the other X words I came up with were worse)
  • yawning
  • zombie

There were a bunch of great words I had to leave out in order to end up with an alphabet. My favorite of those was probably "antepenultimate," from the Flanders & Swann song "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear"; I left that out because I don't know the song well enough myself to be able to sing eight consecutive words including that one.

I was also sad to leave out "petrochemical," but "perpendicular" was too good to pass up (and the song I had in mind for the latter is probably better-known than the song for the former).

I should note that you of course don't have to answer all of these at once. Anytime you think of a song for one of them, go ahead and post a comment.

Also, feel free to post other words to challenge others. I recommend that you try for unusual words (ideally two or more syllables apiece).

Oh, and to prevent the comment thread from becoming unmanageable, after three or four people have come up with songs for a given word, please don't post any more on that word unless you've thought of something too good to pass up.

One thing I considered when I was coming up with this list was trying to use only songs that matched a theme. It became clear that that was going to take too much time, so I gave up, but in case anyone else wants to try, you don't have to do a full alphabet of words. You could do a group of five that start with the same unusual letter, for example. Or a set of words that are all place names, or all people names, or all math/science terms, or all verbs. Or a set of songs that are all Christmas songs, or all musicals, or all songs by the same person or people. And so on.

All of those things, of course, tend to make this more puzzle-like and less game-like; it becomes more a matter of finding The Right Answer and less of coming up with a multitude of different answers. But puzzles are fun, too.

platypus beatkeeper

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I'm sure y'all know about hinky-pinkies. Here's a sort of quasi-variant: one person gives a clue, others try to find an answer that consists of two adjoining words (or phrases) that are anagrams of each other.

For example, the clue might be "platypus beatkeeper." For the answer, see the extended entry.

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