Words & Stuff

aaa: At Tea With Squdgy Fez

(3 January 1999)

A new topic for a new year: pangrams. A pangram is a sentence that uses each letter of an alphabet at least once (like "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," a 35-letter pangram); the coolest pangrams are those that use each letter exactly once. MacOS uses various pangrams to demonstrate fonts, including "How razorback-jumping frogs level six piqued gymnasts!" (46 letters) and "Cozy lummox gives smart squid who asks for job pen" (41 letters). Shorter pangrams listed in the rec.puzzles language archives, using only words in Merriam-Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1986), include:

Sympathizing would fix Quaker objectives. (36)
Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. (32) (My favorite; a good compromise between brevity and naturalness.)
Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz. (31)
The five boxing wizards jump quickly. (31)
Waltz, dumb nymph, for quick jigs vex. (29; by Stephen Joseph Smith, derived from one by Gyles Brandreth)

Those are reasonably sensical, but they use more than 26 letters. The 26-letter pangrams usually rely heavily on obscure words and unlikely background situations. For instance:

Cwm, fjord-bank glyphs vext quiz. (26; Dmitri Borgmann)

Allowing additional words from another dictionary, including some marked obsolete or otherwise substandard, provides this rather obscure one:

Squdgy fez, blank jimp crwth vox. (26; Claude Shannon)

There are several fairly well-known pangrams that don't make the rec.puzzles list, presumably because not all of the words used are valid according to the dictionaries specified. "Mr. Jock, TV quiz Ph.D., bags few lynx," for instance. Also my favorite 26-letter pangram, which admittedly cheats by using Roman numerals:

XV quick nymphs beg fjord-waltz.

A week ago, Don Monson came up with a new pangram game: progressive pangrams. Start with 'a'; each successive line adds the next letter of the alphabet. Don's first attempt included one-letter "words" and some questionable abbreviations, but I like it anyway:

a
ab
cab
Cad B
Be cad
Fed cab
Faced GB
Bad chef G
Chafed big
Dig bad chef
Beg, if hack DJ
Fed Jack Bligh
If MGB held Jack
Milk chef bang DJ
Dig bench jam folk
Bind Jack of phlegm
HQ flecking damp job
Fling jerk mob bad chq
Jack finds GHQ problem
Damn! Glib jerk chop sq ft
Junk gift scrambled qoph
GQ batch jumps driven folk
Bold whacking jumps TV freq.
Chalk jumps. Fix wrong debt, qv.
Why jump glib dark convex sq ft?
Fix junk debt vows lazy RCMP GHQ

The line "Fed Jack Bligh" (clearly a man of action), plus the two lines that later use the name Jack, brought continuity and narrative to mind. I said as much to Don, and added that it might be easier to loosen the rules and allow adding any letter, not just the next letter in the alphabet. (So each step along the way isn't very pangram-like -- it's just a word or phrase with no repeating letters  -- but the steps build to a pangram.) Don replied with this little story, titled "A at tea":

(This is a story about a person we will identify by his initial)
A
at
tea
(A's friend appears at the door)
O! eat.
No. I ate.
So, eat in.
Oh! In seat?
No. Share it.
(A goes to the cupboard to see what he can serve)
Oh dear. Tins.
(What's worse, they're leaking)
Darn it! Holes.
(This, of course, defeats the purpose of tins.)
Should retain.
(He finds a bit of dessert in the fridge. But again...)
Hole in custard?
(What's causing all these holes? Worms? Time to call in the...)
Lunch mediator.
(He'll start an investigation. But should we get some pictures first? Or this might be a...)
Rushed complaint.
(Wait a minute)
Film not purchased
Faulty modern chips
(in the camera didn't warn me. So much for..)
My few untold graphics
Badly fetching worms up.
(As the mediator investigates)
Five grumpy blonds watch
Bad luck proving few myths
Jumping TV chefs work badly
(I think it's a network plot against kids with ADHD)
Knew Fox TV grabs jumpy child.
(One just stole a car and crashed it in the boulevard)
Jump, zany ghost. Fix Blvd wreck.
(It all ends on the ski hill where some promoters have hidden a pair of season lift tickets in a mountain of ski jump wax. As it turns out...)
Jump wax dig frenzy blocks TV HQ

I found the piece nicely dreamlike: it starts out with relative normalcy, and gradually dissolves into surreality.

Another direction in which to abstract the idea of pangrams is Scrabble Poems, invented by James Ernest of Cheapass Games. (He modestly points out that the idea was probably independently invented by others as well. Nonetheless, I first heard of it from him, by way of three independent vectors, so I credit him with it.) The idea is to create a poem using every letter in a standard Scrabble set exactly once. (Blanks can stand for any letter.) Apparently Games Magazine had a contest recently for stories written with this method.

Here are two James Ernest originals:

A DOZEN DOGS BARK
OUTSIDE M_ JAIL WINDOW
THEY LOVE TO IRRITATE
LET US IN GRUFF BANG
LO NICE QUIE_ REAPPEARS
ONCE I HAVE MY AX

and:

FANATICS
YOU SEE
HAVE TAKEN OUR QUIET BURG

THEY CLIP POWER LINES
JAM _ADIO AND TV

FIRE BLAZING NEXT DOOR

WOE

I MIS_ GERALDO

He comments, "I mostly liked poems about tedious solitude[...]. Poems that suggested with their content why they had been written with a Scrabble set."

Here's one more Scrabble Poem, from Jim Moskowitz:

NINETY EIGHT LETTERS
AND TWO BLAN_S
JUST BARELY SEEM
ENOUGH FO_
COAXING A POEM
AWAKE
I QUIVER I DOZE
I DROP OFF
DRACULA VII

Jim adds: "The only reason for the author is that's what appeared out of my remaining tiles as I was trying to finish off the poem..."


Readers are invited to submit their own efforts in either of the above genres. For assistance, you may wish to consult the Internet Anagram Server or (Don's suggestion) Genius 2000's Anagram Genius. Don suggests one further variant rule for progressive pangrams: add the letters in the order given by a frequency table.


Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>