yy: Minced Spam

Arthur once received a piece of junk email with the subject line "Priceless Information - 200 Unusual Secrets." It was apparently an advertisement for a collection of "secret" methods of doing things; the spam listed the titles of the secrets, but of course not the secret contents. Some of the secrets turned out to be […]

xx: What Has It Got in Its Pocketses?

As any algebraist or fan of The X Files knows, x often symbolizes an unknown quantity. This week's column is full of unknown quantities. In a previous column, I discussed Anglo-Saxon riddles, which used a certain alliterative form and often suggested a risqué answer as well as the mundane one. I neglected to mention, however, […]

ww: Punctuated Equilibrium

Computer folks hate to waste time or syllables. I've heard that commands in the UNIX operating system are so short and cryptic because one of the creators of UNIX hated to type. In the spirit of brevity, short whimsical names have been assigned to many items of punctuation: for instance, rather than saying "exclamation point," […]

vv: Seven Letters, More or Less

I like playing word games for fun rather than competitively. So I like the general idea of Scrabble®, but I don't much enjoy playing it with devotees of the game; they tend to score lots of points by playing dozens of two-letter words that nobody except The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary has ever used. (I […]

uu: Here’s to You, Mrs. Byrne

The game of Fictionary (also known as Dictionary) is played like this: One player, the word-picker, picks a word (from a dictionary) that none of the other players are familiar with. Each player other than the word-picker makes up and writes down (on a slip of paper) a plausible-sounding definition for the word. (The word-picker […]

tt: Putting the TM in HTML

Ever wonder why trademarks are so goofy? Most of the time you can't tell what a product is by its trademark name—why would anyone name a breath mint "HailStorm," or "Brexy"? The answer is that a trademark has to be something nobody else would reasonably use for a product name—that way if someone else does […]

ss: Toffee or Key? (Reader Comments and Addenda)

Pierre provides some English contrepet tongue twisters from the International Collection of Tongue Twisters: I am not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's son but I'll be plucking pheasants When the pheasant plucker's gone. Suzie, Suzie, working in a shoeshine shop. All day long she sits and shines, all day long she shines and […]

ss: Toffee or Key?

Piggledy-higgledy, William A. Spooner was known for his penchant for mixing things up. When hungry, the Reverend ate mobster in lint sauce; when thirsty, he drank from an old cuter pup. —JEH Reverend William A. Spooner was at one time the Dean of New College, Oxford. He occasionally mixed up words, or parts of words, […]

rr: Tablespoons (Reader Comments and Addenda)

Further notes about Graffiti: Palm PDAs come with a little card showing how to draw Graffiti characters; you can see a version of the Graffiti card online if you're curious and don't have access to a Graffiti-capable PDA. If you try the Graffiti applet on that page, note that you need to draw really slowly […]