Friday - - Leisure -

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?

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