A thing that is earnestly pursued and sought after, but largely considered unattainable, is a holy grail.
Is there one for word lovers and puzzlers? A 10-letter word square would be one – it is a set of words written out in a square grid, such that the same words can be read both horizontally and vertically.
For less avid puzzlers another such grail would be finding a sentence that uses only common dictionary words, makes perfect sense, and uses each letter of the alphabet just once – in short, a 26-letter pangram (as such a sentence is called).
Most readers are familiar with ‘A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’, a pangrammatic phrase that dates back to the 19th century, used to show fonts and to test typewriters (and now computer keyboards), and in other applications involving all of the letters in the English alphabet. Owing to its brevity and coherence, it has become widely known. But alas! It has 33 letters, 11 more than the limit.
The Guinness Book of World Records carried ‘Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz’ as a prizewinning entry for many years, and that’s a beauty too – 31 letters in all.
Dmitri Borgmann, an American wordsmith known for drawing up exhaustive lists of interesting words and phrases in a pre-computer era, coined the present winner “Cwm fjord bank glyphs vext quiz”. That sentence is exactly 26 letters long but is near incomprehensible—the ‘cwm’ at the beginning is Welsh for ‘steepsided valley’, and helped popularise the use of ‘w’ as a vowel or a cheating device by other logologists; in one stroke you could use up the ‘w’ and not have to repeat a vowel.
Legendary New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz once ran a pangram competition with a difference. His rule: Each sentence must use all 26 letters of the alphabet at least once, and also contain the name of a famous person. It’s easy to see why Mr Shortz listed these as his favourite entries:
Beloved Groucho joked with a mix of zany quips. (38)
John Quincy Adams grew vexed by talk of puzzles. (39)
My expensive quartz watch once belonged to JFK. (39)
Watch Jeopardy, Alex Trebek’s fun TV quiz game. (37)
Whacky pangram quiz flummoxed Steve Jobs. (35)
And this elegant self-referential one: Quickly, Shortz dreams up a few vexing jumbles. (38)