Unsolved puzzles Word puzzles go back a long way, and how the earliest wordsmiths constructed them is testament to their amazing vocabulary and a puzzle in itself. Did they know all those words, or did they spend long hours poring over voluminous tomes in dusty libraries?
The earliest ‘true’ word puzzlers for the most part remain anonymous because their inventions were parlour games constructed to while away long evenings during the pre-Victorian era. A few required paper and pencil but mostly they were oral, such as Ghost, in which one player calls out a letter of the alphabet and the players by turn add others; the loser is the one who completes a word. If the next player says ‘Challenge!’ (implying the word can go no further) and the challenged player says ‘Forward’ (implying it can, but leading to a word with a different meaning) the round continues – a simple example is ‘need’ being extended to ‘needle’.
Coming back to word puzzles as we know them, a number of innovators are American. Even the first crossword puzzle, although constructed by Liverpudlian Arthur Wynne, appeared in The New York World on December 21, 1913. This was just after the death of prolific puzzler Sam Loyd, who made occasional forays into word games such as asking the reader to make one word by rearranging the letters ‘nine thumps’ (work it out!).
One of the greatest word enthusiasts of the 20th century was German-born Dmitri Borgmann of Chicago. Over the course of two books and scores of magazine articles, he played around with every facet of the English language. These publications hold their own even in today’s world of easily accessed information. Borgmann also coined the word ‘logology’ to describe recreational linguistics, and devised dozens of puzzles and interesting pieces.
Here is a sentence constructed by him, in which the ‘nth’ word is ‘n’ letters long:
“I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting, nevertheless extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality, counterbalancing indecipherability, transcendentalises intercommunications incomprehensibleness.” Get the drift?